MANY of us remember a time - however dimly - when the professions we chose meant more than just a salary. It wasn't just what we did: It was what we were. And so you could tell a policeman by his frankly challenging stare, a teacher by his didactic nature, or a priest by his faith. Just as you knew they would go on policing, teaching and preaching until they retired.
Nowadays it seems people change their professions as easily as their jackets. Journalists become PR agents, language teachers become tour guides, bureaucrats become businessmen. Money is at the root of many of these decisions, and people cannot be faulted for trying to provide better for their families.
But at the same time, the moral content of previous 'callings' is being either denied or discarded, like an irritating burden restraining the social climber. Men whose names featured on the police 'mafia lists' released in 2005, such as Ľuboš Jesenský or Fero Borbély, now employ former policemen to run their security companies. A former secret service boss, Vladimír Mitro, provides legal counsel to Ašot Mkrtyčev, an arms dealer and a convicted murderer. Former dissident and Christian Democrat Ján Čarnogurský does business with Michal Hrbáček, a man he exposed in 1998 as an SIS (Slovak Information Service) agent and who spent time in jail accused of kidnapping the former president's son.
This kind of professional apostasy is far from only a Slovak phenomenon. The Wall Street Journal reported on April 17 that William Sessions, a former director of the FBI, was providing legal counsel to Semion Mogilevich, one of Russia's most powerful organized crime bosses. Policemen everywhere cooperate with the mafia, while many countries are losing skilled journalists to the better-paying communications sector.
But it is a phenomenon that may have an unusually severe impact in Slovakia. With money increasingly becoming the main factor in career choice, and the moral status or social worth
of one's job increasingly disregarded, there will be little incentive for people to remain in 'worthy' professions like teaching, medicine or policing, which in Slovakia are exceptionally poorly paid. Indeed, as a Labour Ministry survey published on May 23 showed, some 80 percent of Slovak university students studying medicine or pharmacy intend to emigrate for work, with most considering emigrating
Again, this is not unique to Slovakia. Even in a wealthy country like Canada, people have to wait up to three years to find a GP willing to take them on as patients, as many of the country's doctors have taken more lucrative jobs in the US. However, Slovakia does not have the resources of a country like Canada to combat a flight of professionals, while the latter, when offered better pay, do not have a strong professional self-image or social credit built up over decades to help them resist the temptation.
Increasing doctors' wages may convince some to remain in the country. But unless a moral content is restored to the process of choosing a career, Slovakia risks losing its most socially valuable professionals to the highest bidder.
By Tom Nicholson
28. May 2007 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson