Beyond the blinding glare cast by Slovak politics one can find many examples of courage and dedication in this country, not least in the man and woman we have chosen to honour in this issue for their contributions to the common weal. Such people are proof of how much the country has changed since 1998 elections; less naive and vulnerable, more stoic and confident, Slovakia is slowly producing a vision of itself, no matter how bitterly intellectuals may claim the opposite.
Where the country is failing, however, is among the leaders it has elected or appointed. A cursory glance back at the last 12 months produces a catalogue of names deserving of dishonourable mention.
So here's to Jozef Migaš, the leader of the SDĽ ruling coalition party and speaker of parliament, who this year 1) voted against the prime minister in an April non-confidence motion; 2) led the party to less than 6% in the polls after a 14% 1998 election showing; 3) held up crucial reforms because they trespassed on narrow party interests; 4) took so many trips to far-flung places that one MP suggested he set up a travel agency in parliament; and 5) managed to secure a government bail-out for Slovak-Russian financial house Devín banka, which has been called the "Trojan horse" of Russian interests in this country.
A similar award certainly has to go to President Rudolf Schuster, who following his summer illness accused the government of trying to "get rid" of him by taking over his powers while he lay in a coma in an Austrian hospital. Schuster, a high ranking communist official before 1989, also led a Slovak pilgrimage to the Vatican, meddled in Foreign Ministry ambassadorial appointments, stuck his nose into domestic politics by holding a series of meetings with government and opposition leaders, and in general made a nuisance of himself. His New Year's Day speech is reported to already have been recorded; it will be interesting to witness the battle between self pity and hypocrisy in the president's address.
Kudos also to the opposition, such as nationalist MP Víťazoslav Móric for his plan to help Romany "idiots" by herding them on to reservations, or to the Žilina town council for approving yet another plaque for Jozef Tiso, the leader of Slovakia's WW II fascist state. And let's not forget Vladimír Mečiar, who in political exile dreamed up perhaps the dumbest political idea of the year 2000 - a referendum on early elections. The man who once described himself as "a walking brain who occasionally stops for nourishment" should think about improving his diet.
Politics have been a rich source of farce and infamy, but we shouldn't omit a few words about sporting heroes. Rifleman Jozef Gönci, whose trainer before the Sydney Olympic Games described the athlete's success as "material proof of God's existence", came down with a heavy cold and a raft of excuses in Australia. Perhaps proof that God's influence should not be divined in every minor sporting achievement.
Marathoner Róbert Štefko dropped out of Olympic competition at about the 35th kilometre, and later confessed to having been looking for a place where the spectators were thinnest. Ah, that old Olympic spirit.
It's a list that begs more space. But lest we risk dampening anyone's holiday spirit, let's close by remembering Aise Bouma, a very successful young Dutch farmer out in western Slovakia who refuses to be interviewed because he says he's already had his car stolen as a result of media attention, and that anyway, he's far too busy with the milking to have time for such nonsense. So here's to him, a man who has his priorities straight.
And here's to all those in Slovakia who are moulding the country in their own quietly heroic shape, for all that their leaders do to the contrary.
25. Dec 2000 at 0:00