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The Last Word

In its last January issue, the Slovak weekly paper Domino Fórum spoke with Slovak economist Eugen Jurzyca about economic reforms, the influence of interest groups on politicians and current economic issues in Slovakia. Excerpts appear below.

In its last January issue, the Slovak weekly paper Domino Fórum spoke with Slovak economist Eugen Jurzyca about economic reforms, the influence of interest groups on politicians and current economic issues in Slovakia. Excerpts appear below.

Domino Fórum (DF): How have you viewed the last two years of the Slovak economy ?

Eugen Jurzyca (EJ): The government was trying to stabilise the country's economy during the first 12 months after the parliamentary elections (September 1998). It was and has been quite successful in this. It has not been so successful with structural reforms.

DF: Why has the government pushed through some reforms and postponed others?

EJ: The reforms that haven't occured yet are more difficult than the others: good bankruptcy legislation has been around for several hundred years, while health-care reform has never been finished anywhere. Another thing is that the reforms which have been approved were in the interest of strong and well-organised economic interest groups.

DF: Do you think that politicians do what is necessary for the country only when a sufficiently strong interest group supports it?

EJ: Yes, to some extent. Politicians aren't leaders, but followers. They are under the influence of various groups. I believe that interest groups have stood behind many decisions that were made by politicians, if not all of them. If a politician came up with a unique idea that key interest groups opposed, they would discredit him, have him recalled, invent scandals in which he had been 'involved', or ensure that his solutions wouldn't make it through the county's bureaucratic machinery.

DF: How do such groups push their interests?

EJ: A minister is visited by a boss of a big company who tells him that if a commodity that his company produces keeps being imported to the country he will have to lay off some of his employees. On the next day, the minister writes a letter to the customs offices, who in turn don't allow it to be imported to the country.

Every politician has to differentiate between and evaluate the pressure applied by individual interest groups in order to balance these in the medium term.

DF: Is this only the case of Slovakia?

EJ: No, I think this is how it works everywhere.

DF: Do you intend to get into politics?

EJ: I'm not ready to be at the beck and call of interest groups (laugh).

DF: As far as fighting corruption goes, Slovakia is lagging behind its neighbours. Why?

EJ: Some laws took longer to approve than in other countries, and we also privatised later than other countries, so state property was a lure for a longer time here.

But Slovakia also tolerates corruption more than other countries. One MP told me that one's career could be destroyed by not giving bribes, adding that the only thing worse was not accepting bribes.

DF: Why is it so?

EJ: We had a period of socialism here. Apart from that, Slovakia wasn't independent, and people were used to a 'serf environment' in which deceiving the master seemed normal.

DF: Slovaks are notoriously dissatisfied even though things have been improving. How do you explain this?

EJ: In olden times, a man couldn't change his fate, couldn't move and change his job. He could only curse his master. This behaviour has persisted here, even though there are now many new possibilities.

DF: Is Slovakia destined to be provincial?

EJ: Yes, for a short time. Many people here behave according to what I call the 'mountain philosophy', not the 'harbour philosophy', which is dynamic, with people moving and doing business. While others build factories, the 'mountain philosophy' insists that lawns be mowed. But in the long term, with the development of communications, the mountains won't serve as such an obstacle any more.

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