ARGENTINE writer Jorge Luis Borges told a story in which the cartographers of an absurd empire drew up a map so detailed that it covered the whole territory of the realm. The tale has become a classic allegory among post-modern philosophers for the inability to distinguish between simulation and reality.
Over the past several weeks, journalists, political analysts and anyone hoping to confront their opinions with a pre-election political debate often felt that they were watching a simulated debate that had the formal attributes of a discourse but lacked any substance.
Although the official election campaign is entering its second week, and the actual campaign is several months old, many people feel they are being given a map whose only purpose is to cover up the landscape and hide its problem spots.
Some believe that this pretense to be debating real issues says a lot about the state of Slovak politics and perhaps the state of politics in general.
The media often uses the lack of serious political debate as an excuse for indulging the petty fights of politicians and reporting in detail about who plans to sue whom for what statement.
One wonders what relevance could possibly be attached to reports that Vladimír Mečiar is telling stories about the "incurable disease" that his former finance minister Miroslav Maxon suffers from. Maxon leads a party of HZDS defectors with little chance of winning seats in parliament, and is demanding Sk1 million from his former boss.
On the other hand, these petty fights may actually give a better picture of the true and enduring nature of Slovak politicians than pompous statements that lack even political sincerity.
In the same way, the receipt by the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) of nearly 1,000 vulgar e-mails on May 22 with the text "You Hungarian whores", sent from a general e-mail address owned by the far-right SNS party, is also convincing evidence that anti-Hungarian feelings will be endlessly played no in Slovak politics, no matter how irrelevant borders become in Europe.
Although the SNS denied sending the emails, its leader, Ján Slota, has himself spiced up this insubstantial campaign with clownish but telling behaviour while apparently looped at a bar in Bratislava (including spitting at men speaking in Hungarian).
Slota described the email gag as a conspiracy and suggested that Hungarian intelligence agents might have been behind it, just as the party has claimed that intelligence agents were behind a waiter's decision to call TV cameras while Slota was staggering around the bar.
SNS spokesman Rafael Rafaj was also quick to announce that his party had also received 703 emails, although not from the SMK but from the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party.
Emails from firstname.lastname@example.org contained the message "Vote for me, Dzurinda", apparently encouraging the SNS faithful to cast their ballots for Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda.
The SDKÚ called the case a joke, saying "of course the SDKÚ has never sent such emails".
An even more absurd situation emerged when Marián Kotleba, a candidate of the Slovak People's Party (SLS) and the boss of the outlawed Slovenská pospolitosť party was allowed to speak on a political talk show with the public service Slovak Radio. Kotleba, whose pospolitosť was banned by the Supreme Court for its extremist ideology earlier this year, used the air time to advocate the same thoughts that cost his party its legal existence.
Kotleba's party had been banned because its program violated the universal right to vote and run for office as protected by the Slovak constitution. The party advocated an "estates-based" society in which only the members of 10 select groups would have the right to cast ballots and be elected. Kotleba advocated the same thoughts during the radio programme.
Kotleba has said several times that he wants to rid society of "the influence of communists, socialists and liberals", suggesting that his followers will continue working until Slovakia becomes "Slovak, Christian and white."
Pospolitosť members wear uniforms resembling to those worn by Nazi groups in Slovakia during the Second World War.
While the public radio claimed it had not breached any broadcast law or any other piece of legislation during the scandalous election spot, many wondered why the station had not checked on the candidates before inviting them, or why the anchor did not just stop the debate after it started to get out of control.
If the average Slovak were asked to cite the moments he remembers so far from the election campaign, he would likely mention one of these clownish episodes described above, perhaps adding a few of Slota or Smer's more extreme warnings about the hostile impact of the Dzurinda government's reforms on people's health.
As the campaign still has several weeks to go, the Slovak voter may still be treated to a serious debate on political party financing and what promises they gave in return for what support. Maybe the voter will hear why we keep seeing the same old faces on the candidates lists of the country's parties, and how the parties intend to finance the ride to paradise that they promise the voter.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe voters will just have to learn to feign trust in a political party, just as politicians feign sincerity about their programmes. If both sides can manage it, at least the media will have to feign perplexity at the low turnout.
By Beata Balogová