AT A wedding in St. Egidius church in Bardejov this past weekend, the priest spoke of the nature of love, sacrifice, forgiveness and patience. Even though he had probably made the same speech thousands of times, the audience listened intently, and married couples exchanged significant looks.
It's in our nature to want to be better than we really are. For most of us, however, it's a Herculean struggle, and we need to constantly be reminded of the goal and the value of achieving it. Hence the priest: His role is to lift our moral gaze from the ground at our feet. We don't require that his speech be original, but we do need it to be delivered with conviction. The priest's faith helps us to believe that moral virtue is both important and attainable.
In the same way, we need our civic leaders to extol civic virtue, to demonstrate an exemplary belief that society can be improved. We need them to speak repeatedly of justice, tolerance and probity, and with a conviction that helps us believe that we too can be more just, tolerant and upright.
Robert Fico's frequent outbursts of cynicism - most recently his suggestion that the governor of the central bank had been bribed by private pension funds to oppose the government's pension plans - have the opposite effect. It does not lift our civic spirits, for example, to be told that "politics are never about values, but always about interests, business and power". It does not reaffirm our civic faith to hear that "if I had agreed with the policy towards Transpetrol (the state oil transit firm) that my predecessors had prepared, neither I nor 15 generations of my descendants would have had to work". It does not deepen our civic understanding to be told that the Party of European Socialists suspended Smer last October "because we are doing politics for the people". It does not inflate our civic pride to hear the prime minister refer to the Bulgarian nurses jailed in Libya as "perpetrators". And it does not sweeten the civic mood to hear the leader of the country refer to "slimy snakes of journalists" and "you (media) hyenas".
Leaving aside the question of whether any values can be found in politics, these statements make it very clear that few civic values can be found in Slovakia's current leader. The "interests" that define Fico's politics are clearly his own, not those of the country. The corruption that he claims to see everywhere does not motivate him to fight it, but prompts him to use it to smear his political enemies. And in his pursuit of power and advantage, he has no qualms about kowtowing to Libya's ruler Muammar Gaddafi or promoting the ridiculous fiction of an international socialist conspiracy against Slovakia's civic-spirited government.
Worse than that, he appears to have no plan. His attacks on the reformed and functioning health care, pension and tax systems threaten to destroy what has been achieved at significant cost since 2002, but they resemble sniping or guerrilla warfare rather than an organised campaign. Will the destruction give way to something better? Or is it just vandalism, much as soldiers destroy artefacts they can neither understand nor make themselves?
If a priest used his pulpit to speak darkly of infidelity and divorce, and to question the foundations of marriage (no principles, just interests), people would stop attending his church. What a pity the same doesn't apply in the case of Robert Fico, and his mournful sermons on human baseness.
Commentary by Tom Nicholson, Sme
8. Oct 2007 at 0:00