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National dignity at stakeEDITORIAL
11 Mar 2013 Beata Balogová Opinion
A RECENT medal-swapping ceremony between Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič and his Czech counterpart Václav Klaus has reduced the concept of presidents awarding the highest state honours to individuals for extraordinary achievement to mere political theatre. Klaus, on his penultimate day in office, decorated Gašparovič with the Order of the White Lion, the highest state award of the Czech Republic, while in return, Gašparovič presented Klaus with the Order of the White Two-Barred Cross of the First Class. The ceremony’s organisers, meanwhile, made sure that journalists weren’t able to ask any questions, which might have disrupted the peaceful tone of the medal-swapping ceremony.
The act would have seemed more genuine had Klaus and Gašparovič exchanged Pokemon cards or postage stamps, due to the fact that a mere week before the ceremony, the presidents were taken aback when a journalist asked them why Klaus has not received a state award like his predecessor, Václav Havel, did a decade ago. Klaus, according to the Sme daily, responded “perhaps we feel internally that we would deserve such an award, but we will not provide the opportunity for you to mock this issue”. The Slovak president then admitted that he had not thought about it.
A week later, Klaus and Gašparovič met in Tugendhat, a villa in Brno in the Czech Republic, where back in 1992 Klaus and the then Slovak prime minister Vladimír Mečiar reached a deal to dissolve the Czechoslovak federation and, as the Sme daily noted, then awarded each other with the highest honours in a move that rather resembled two collectors casually exchanging collectible items without any real meaning or significance.
A 1994 Czech law stipulates that the Order of the White Lion of the First Class is the highest award bestowed to people who make an “especially outstanding contribution to the Czech Republic”, while the Order of the White Two-Barred Cross goes to people who make a significant contribution to the Slovak Republic. Gašparovič awarded Klaus as a form of “appreciation of brotherly Czechoslovak relations and his personal contribution to the development of alliance and multifaceted friendship”, according to the official website of the Slovak presidential office. Gašparovič has contributed to a “permanent, open partnership and dialogue” between the two countries. Yet, for many this medal-swapping ceremony, and the way it has been handled, rather shows how the presidential offices in both countries have lost their lustre.
Slovakia’s political theatre recently offered its audience another performance which, unfortunately, has caused much more harm than a hollow exchange of medals. Prime Minister Robert Fico, rather than try to repair the damage he inflicted when he said that “we did not establish our independent state in the first place for minorities” but mainly for what he called the “Slovak state-forming nation”, added insult to injury by suggesting that all those who felt hurt by his statements had simply misunderstood him.
What was there to be misunderstood? Fico, in his fiery speech, said that some minorities have been trying to “blackmail” the state via the issue of minority rights: “be it the Roma, [or] people of a different orientation, minority of opinion or ethnic [minority]”, Sme reported. He also said that he detected a “strange tendency to put forward the problems of minorities” to the disadvantage of the Slovak nation, while according to him it is becoming a tradition for minorities in Slovakia to be seen with outstretched hands pressing their demands, but “without any responsibility towards the state”.
Fico could have simply said “I am sorry” or “I apologise, I did not mean it”, but such an approach is really not fashionable in Slovak politics. Instead, in a rather promptly granted interview for Slovakia’s main Hungarian-language daily, Új Szó, Fico claimed that he had one particular minority in mind and that he simply did not want to come across as an old gossip by being more specific about who he was referring to.
What this really implies is that Fico feels he can say such things when fishing in the pond for nationalistic voters, who are likely to applaud such talk, while telling everyone else that they simply misheard him and that he feels sorry about that, but not for the words that he actually uttered.
Though many realise that it was just more political theatre in which groups of people are so easily turned into hostages of political goals, labelled as sponges, enemies or whatever serves the real intention of diverting the attention of his target constituency away from what really pains the country, it helps them little because at the moment this theatre is their homeland.
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