A POLITICIAN who gets drunk and insults members of minority groups embarrasses only himself. If he is allowed to repeat such primitive behaviour, he embarrasses the society that tolerates it.
Every country sets different standards of behaviour for its politicians and public figures. In politically-correct Canada, for example, liberal MP Boris Wrzesnewskyj was forced to resign last summer after saying that Israel's offensive against Lebanon was "state terrorism". In the sexually prudish US, meanwhile, Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders was forced out by President Clinton in 1994 for saying that masturbation "perhaps should be taught" in schools.
In more permissive societies, politicians can get away with more. In Korea, the head of a state-run think-tank, Suk Ho-Ick told a group of businessmen earlier this year that "women are more developed creatures than men since they have one more hole." An apology was deemed sufficient to redeem him, as it was in the case of Gwangmyeong Mayor Lee Hyo-Seon, who told a group of American visitors that "when I visited Washington D.C., I saw niggers swarm all around the city."
On the other hand, some remarks spell political disaster in any country. Austrian extremist Jorg Haider was forced to quit as the governor of Carinthia in 1991 after claiming that "an orderly employment policy was carried out in the Third Reich, which the government in Vienna cannot manage."
In Ján Slota's case, therefore, his critics cannot point to a single global standard of political behaviour in calling for his resignation. In Canada he would be gone before he put down the phone; elsewhere it might be enough to burp an apology before opening the next beer. It all depends on what Slovaks are willing to put up with from their "leaders"; Slota has once again given people an opportunity to decide.
Foreign Minister Ján Kubiš is wrong when he says that Slota's statements do not hurt Slovakia's international image. The shame of his words may be Slota's alone, but the fact such drunken bigotry has been tolerated for more than a decade is a scandal.
18. Jun 2007 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson