Ten most important Slovaks list "truly sad"
I just checked the list ["The millennium's 10 most important Slovaks", by Rick Zedník, Spectacular Slovakia travel guide] and frankly, I was absolutely shocked. I am not sure what are your qualifications which give credibility to your choice, but to include Vladimír Mečiar as third most important figure [he was actually ranked fourth - ed. note] of the millennium?! Right after Ľudovít Štúr and M.R. Štefánik [and Anton Bernolák]? Also, you include Mr. (or should I say 'comrade') Gustáv Husák, which is the ultimate insult and humiliation to Štúr, Štefánik and ultimately to the whole Slovak nation. How truly sad.
Unless you raise the standard and quality of information you provide about Slovakia to the whole world, you will continue to pay 50 crowns to the US dollar for quite some time. I wish you all the luck, you will need it.
Slovakia beautiful, but grey
It must be extremely uncomfortable to make the adjustment from the poverty but security of communism to the actual or potential poverty and insecurity of a market economy, and the transitional desolation is readily visible as one moves eastwards across Slovakia. The withdrawal of the Russian market has clearly taken a heavy toll on both industry and employment.
What strikes most forcibly is a landscape in ruins or, where not in ruins, in uniform and somewhat tedious shades of grey. If the Slovak people lack the confidence to embrace capitalism, with all its faults (but where is the alternative?), perhaps this is, in part, a consequence of too many years of living under an alternative political and economic regime in which little value was accorded to the individual human being. To have self-confidence, the individual needs a sense of human dignity, of self-worth and having some control over his destiny including an ability to secure a reasonable standard of living. Were I engaged in politics, it would be a matter of great concern to me that so many of the country's young people have concluded that their future is dependent on securing work abroad. If Slovakia loses its young talent, what hope for the next generation remains?
I am not qualified to judge government policies, but I am sure that moves to decentralise power to the regions, provided that these are accompanied by stringent measures to ensure the proper use of tax revenues, is a signal of a maturing democracy.
In the meantime and at a very simple superficial level, it should be possible to alleviate a little of that gloom which is exacerbated by the present austere environment. I propose four, relatively inexpensive measures:
1. Embark on a programme of replacing and standardising lighted station name plates at every railway station throughout the land. Whilst the present patchwork guarantees that the foreign visitor hasn't a clue where he is, I have noticed many Slovak citizens equally bewildered as to their whereabouts, often having to drop carriage windows to try to establish where the train has stopped.
2. Concurrently with promoting the beauty of its rural landscape, I think it is incumbent on Slovakia to ensure that anyone travelling by train can actually see the views! On the assumption that the present rolling stock is to remain in use for a further 10 years or more, every train carriage window needs either to be thoroughly cleaned or replaced.
3. In common with other European countries, Slovakia appears to be criminally afflicted by graffiti. At a relatively low cost, it should be possible to establish a two to three year programme for the long-term unemployed to eliminate this menace in return for a modest wage.
4. One method of expressing individuality is through the use of colour. What if the government were to purchase thousands of cans of paint in a range of shades to be distributed free of change to all house or apartment dwellers to encourage the exterior decoration of their homes? Of course, only some people would carry out the work and, of course, the extent of the potential decoration might require some reasonable planning restrictions, but even a few thousand pastel-coloured homes would relieve the greyness of so many Slovak settlements.
Please set these somewhat critical observations in the context of the warmth I feel towards your country and its peoples. I do hope to have the opportunity to visit Slovakia again soon.
P.S. I had the good fortune to hear Jana Kirschner and her band whilst in Bratislava. They are terrific and I do hope that their popularity will spread across western Europe. Jana should be classified as a national treasure!
Mečiar got what he deserved
One thing that comes to mind after reading the article regarding the hard knocks that have befallen Vladimír Mečiar lately ["Mečiar: Down for the count, or biding time?", by Martina Pisárová, Vol. 6 No. 45, November 27-December 3], especially the scant 20% turn-out during the last referendum, is that democracy has a logic all its own, and if you are not in tune with it, you may be out on your ear.
Unfortunately for Mr. Mečiar, his political instincts do not seem to work in this arena. Participatory government is proving not to be a speciality of the former prime minister.
It is the irony of ironies that he has tried to use a quintessentially democratic function - the referendum - to further his own ends, which he has shown are something other than democratic. What is more, he has been scuppered in his attempts precisely by the muteness of the people, an apathy which is actually the pillar of his politics. The muteness that flourishes under all oppressive political systems has emerged as a tool of the people of democratic Slovakia against an attempt to re-establish the very oppression that would bring on the muteness involuntarily! It has denied Mr. Mečiar an early election and the disruption that would be wrought upon Slovak democracy and society by such a spectacle.
Of course, there will be an election eventually. But we have just seen how very difficult democracy can be for politicians who are not inclined to work within it, especially while the people are so inclined.