TCS Daily

Model Politics

By Meelis Kitsing - June 29, 2004 12:00 AM

Jesse "The Body" Ventura taught Third Party Politics at Harvard's Kennedy School of Goverment this spring. If Ventura's career path - from former professional wrestler to governor of Minnesota - is an indicator, Harvard should soon be poised to offer a job to former NHL star Peter Stastny, a 1998 inductee to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Stastny could teach New European Politics, citing his recent run as lead candidate on Slovakia's governing party ticket, which won three seats in the European Parliament in June.

Voter apathy and strong support for the opposition were not the only common characteristics of new member countries in these European parliament elections. Reflecting the close links between the US and the New Europe, the American trend of celebrity politics has been eagerly adopted by these European friends; perhaps it is fitting, then, that some of the celebrity candidates, such as Peter Stastny of Slovakia and supermodel Carmen Kass of Estonia, appear to spend more time in the United States than in their native countries. Venturazation, the tactic of recruiting a celebrity to help out a fairly small and unknown political party, and Shwarzneggerization, drafting a celebrity for one of the major parties to increase votes, were the dominating strategies employed by political spindoctors in countries ranging from Slovakia to Estonia.

While governing parties failed all across Europe - both East and West - Shwarzneggerization proved fruitful in Slovakia. The list headed by Stastny of the center-right Democratic and Christian Union, which was based on the prime minister's party, won 3 seats out of 14, the same number as held by the left-wing opposition list headed by former premier Vladimir Meciar.

However, a similar trick did not save the Estonian governing party Res Publica and its ruling partners from total humiliation in the election. Although Res Publica had enlisted Kass as a candidate, the governing party won zero seats while opposition parties got four.

At the same time, former astronaut (or kosmonaut, as they say there) Vladimir Remek was elected to the European Parliament on the Communist Party ticket in the Czech Republic. It is hard to judge whether that was effective proof of Venturazation or Shwarzneggerization. Although communists are no longer as strong as conservatives and social democrats, they were once the leading (and only) party in the Czech Republic.

Some examples of Venturazation failures stand out. Not only did Czech porn star Dolly Buster fail to lead her Independent Initiative Movement to election victory, she could not even cast a vote in her own favor; as it turned out she wasn't registered. Estonia's Erki Nool, the Olympic gold medalist featured on the candidate list for Pro Patria, a conservative opposition party in Estonia, got 3,045 votes - an unspectacular showing that placed him among mediocre politicians in 18th position.

So, after months of irrelevant debates and media frenzy surrounding celebrity candidates, these European Parliament elections in the end delivered some refreshing realities and old truths out of the new member countries. First, celebrities were treated like regular candidates by the electorate. While some of them succeeded in the elections, many did not. Contrary to pre-election assumptions, celebrity status did not lead to automatic success in politics. As is the case with other candidates, some celebrities fare well in politics but many lack the political teeth.

Second, outlandish spending on personal campaigns alone is not sufficient for making electable candidates of even world-class celebrities. In Estonia, Kass and Res Publica outspent the Social Democrats several times over. Yet limited spending did not keep the Social Democrats from gaining half of the seats available to Estonia. Kass ended with 2,315 votes (in 21st position, alongside average politicians), compared with the 76,128 votes collected by Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former foreign minister and the top name on the Social Democrats list for these elections.

Third, the doings of European Parliament seem so far removed from the majority of voters that even the addition of glamorous celebrities fails to generate excitement. On average, more than 70 percent of the electorate in the former communist countries simply did not bother to vote. Even the prospect of seeing famous homegrown personalties from the pages of Vogue, the sports section or porn channels did not liberate the European Parliament elections from a dull image. Victory or no victory, even Stastny's contribution was questionable: In the end, Slovakia (with only 17 percent of its electorate casting votes) had the lowest voter turnout in all of the EU. More viewers probably tune in to a hockey game than turned out to vote.

Such apathy can be partly explained by considering that the majority of voters in the new member countries have little or no knowledge of the role played by the European Parliament, or even the EU itself; for many, the traits dullness, distant and boring are synonymous with irrelevant. Politicians may point out that over 50 percent of domestic law is directly dependent on EU legislation, or that the European Parliament makes co-decisions in many crucial issues. However, most of its work concerns so-called low politics, where even domestic legislation attracts little attention from ordinary voters. Even the thought of having a covergirl or hockey player present the latest merits of the EU law on mergers and acquisitons, for example, does not make it any more enticing.

Despite the grandiose strategies crafted by political spindoctors to draft sportsmen, supermodels, actors and even astronauts in an effort to make European politics exciting, voters stuck with the centuries-old political truth: All politics is local. With that in mind, perhaps Harvard should forego the Stastny option and headhunt Shwarznegger instead.


1 Comment

Europe's East is trying to take off economically still, definitely hoping to send the past (Communist)policies to History Lane. The old Communists demons are not far though, Western Europe old sinking democracies are there to show it. The most interesting is to see how some US "leftist" universities try hard to keep the utopia socialist dream alive when history showed its failure everywhere it developed. The appalling weakness of these western democracies how they surrender to the Mullahs especially the UK and Belgium will drive down these new East European countries. The divide will not ease and unfortunately American schools help.

TCS Daily Archives