WE GOT a call the other day that our neighbour was piling junk into a stream on our property to make it overflow. Since we moved to a village near Bratislava a few years ago, this neighbour has been a constant hair-shirt, but recently it's been getting out of hand. On this latest occasion, when I asked politely why he had been on our land, the neighbour started cursing in front of my son and wife, and then continued yelling at us from over the fence.
I'm at a loss for what to do about the neighbour, because once a person abandons civilized behaviour and rational communication, there isn't much point in talking to them. The best you can do is ignore them and hope they leave you alone.
When this person is the prime minister of the country, however, it's not so easy.
PM Robert Fico used a question hour in parliament on May 10 to blow another poison dart at the Slovak media. "It's true, the bigger a prostitute or a scammer someone is, the bigger a celebrity they are for the media," he said. Pretty tame stuff, really, but coming after so many jibes at the press, at investors (Fico called PSA Peugeot Citroen boss Alain Baldeyrou a "liar" in April), at NATO ("I won't be anyone's lapdog") and at regional neighbours Poland and the Czech Republic for agreeing to a rocket defence system, it starts to wear on the nerves. Just who exactly is Fico talking to?
And then the answer came to me - he's talking to my neighbour.
Even when he's talking to MPs about the economy, he's talking to my neighbour ("it's generally known that when it comes to the social area, this government has done more for citizens than the previous one did in eight years"). Even when he's talking to an Austrian newspaper, he's talking to my neighbour (he doesn't understand "why we were punished by the Party of European Socialists"). And he's especially talking to my neighbour when referring to anything that has to do with communism (i.e. his claim not to have noticed any revolution taking place in November 1989).
Fico's populism is like one of those annoying noises you usually don't notice until they stop. But since Christmas it's been turned up a notch, and you can't escape it. I'm sure I'm not alone in wishing Fico and my neighbour would take their reality-denying conversation out of the public domain, and maybe continue it in our village pub. There are many other people in the village - with a few more teeth than my neighbour, it is true, but equally unimpressed by facts - who would enjoy his rich repertoire of 'good ones' at the expense of journalists, Western monopolies and global imperialists.
It would also leave the public domain free for intelligent debate on less urgent matters such as pensions, health care, and the future of the country.
By Tom Nicholson
14. May 2007 at 0:00