Slovakia’s presidential race was not big news in May, as the world’s attention was focused on NATO’s destruction of a small Slavic country to the south. The predictable first-round results pitted the controversial former leader of the fledgling democracy, Vladimir Meciar, against the ex-communist mayor of Kosice, Rudolf Schuster. Throughout his stormy career, Meciar, who played a significant role in the break-up of Czechoslovakia, has been accused of cronyism and arrogance, and in the final run-off, the well-liked Schuster walked away with 57 percent of the vote.

Some Western commentators are hailing a “new era” in Slovakian politics. Meciar’s nationalism and intransigence on minority questions had kept the country somewhat isolated from the rest of Europe. Like many older Slovaks, he turned a deaf ear to Hungarians claiming special status. Down to the end of World War I, Hungary had inflicted a repressive campaign of Magyarization on the Slovaks in an attempt to deprive them of their language, culture, and nationality, and the Hungarians belated respect for ethnic diversity, while attractive to Western powers looking for an opportunity to interfere, seems just a little hypocritical.

Mayor Schuster campaigned on a platform of continued economic reform and a promise of productive cooperation (wherever possible) with the government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda and support for the tough austerity measures it has imposed. The European Commission (among many other Western interest groups) has been pressuring the Slovak government to solve its ongoing economic crisis, but such pressures—when they were applied to Russia and, to a lesser extent, Poland—proved to be socially and politically destructive.

Schuster’s election should clear the way for closer cooperation with the European Union and perhaps entrance into NATO. While most businessmen in Bratislava and Kosice will welcome these developments, others may some day look back with nostalgia to Meciar’s flinty nationalism, forgetting all the reasons they were happy to send him into a retirement that will probably be permanent. The challenge to the new president will be to steer his country through its post-communist economic crisis without turning Slovakia into a province of the NATO empire.