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EDITORIAL

Too much politics? Slovaks can't afford not to care

The Slovak daily paper Pravda has a new editor-in-chief, Petr Šabata from the successful Czech daily Mlada fronta dnes. In one of his first public pronouncements on the Slovak media scene, Šabata said he thought Slovak media wrote far too much about politics.
"[Slovak journalists write about] who said what, how the other side reacted... It's amazing how Slovak journalists write about every piece of nonsense which falls from a politician's lips. That hasn't been done in the Czech Republic for a long time. Journalists there have understood that people aren't interested."
Šabata's intent to have his new Slovak paper carry what does interest people has already seemingly found an echo in Pravda's main competition for 'serious' readers, the daily paper Sme. But it does not seem to have provoked any discussion of why Slovak journalists are so fascinated with politics, and whether people who read Slovak news really care.

The Slovak daily paper Pravda has a new editor-in-chief, Petr Šabata from the successful Czech daily Mlada fronta dnes. In one of his first public pronouncements on the Slovak media scene, Šabata said he thought Slovak media wrote far too much about politics.

"[Slovak journalists write about] who said what, how the other side reacted... It's amazing how Slovak journalists write about every piece of nonsense which falls from a politician's lips. That hasn't been done in the Czech Republic for a long time. Journalists there have understood that people aren't interested."

Šabata's intent to have his new Slovak paper carry what does interest people has already seemingly found an echo in Pravda's main competition for 'serious' readers, the daily paper Sme. But it does not seem to have provoked any discussion of why Slovak journalists are so fascinated with politics, and whether people who read Slovak news really care.

There is a great difference between writing about politics, and slavishly reporting every bon mot uttered by members of parliament. No one, indeed, cares what politicians have to say unless it affects their lives in some concrete way, or disgusts or amuses them for being out of touch with reality. But if politics reflect what a nation deeply feels about itself, then it makes for fascinating, compelling reading.

Mr. Šabata said in his interview for the weekly Domino forum paper that Slovaks were more emotional than Czechs, which may in itself explain much about this country's political fixation. Slovaks are naturally melancholy by disposition, and the depth to which the current Dzurinda government has disappointed people after three Mečiar governments feeds this trait. In the first year of the new cabinet, the fear was that Mečiar might come back; now, the dour realisation is that it wouldn't make much difference if he did. These are deeply affecting views for politically conscious people, and just as Slovak politics are a festering wound in the corpus of the nation, so people need to scratch it by reading the full truth.

For another thing, so much remains to be done in Slovakia in reforming the education, health care, pension, public administration, legal and business sectors that politicians here have far more real impact on people's lives than they do, say, in the US where a tax cut is the most important issue of the day. Given that so little has been done with the media eye fixed on government, one can only imagine what would be accomplished if newspapers started putting 'human interest' stories on their front pages and relegating tales of political turpitude to the shadows.

In other countries, furthermore, politicians tend to be polished spokesmen of more powerful interests, begging the question of why one would prefer their utterances over those of the puppet masters. But in Slovakia, this separation has not yet occurred, meaning that MPs are often themselves the 'business interests' behind the laws they pass. In their unguarded and sometimes frankly racist statements they also say much about social trends that deserve mention; indeed, they often epitomise so perfectly what ails or troubles Slovak society that in writing about them journalists are actually covering issues of far greater import than the paltry human material they profile.

Of course, one can't get away from the sheer entertainment value of Slovak politics, where it's still OK for MPs to return to work after a four-beer lunch with tuna on their ties, or for elected representatives to call gypsies "retards" and urge they be put on reservations. There is so little to quietly respect, and so much to lampoon with gleeful satire, that Slovak papers would be all the poorer without their daily comedy material.

But in the end, Slovakia's fixation with politics is a depressing reminder that much of the nation's fate remains in their unworthy hands. The United States can produce books such as Washington Babylon, a muck-raking review of the antics and antecedents of buffoons like California's Sonny Bono, and readers may shake their heads - and then go on with their lives. Here, journalist Marian Leško's Masky a Tváre Novej Elity (The Masks and Real Faces of the New Elite) is enough to make people think of emigrating. Slovak politics are a flash-point for people's feelings about where their lives are heading, and a reminder of how little has been preserved from Slovakia's two great democratic 'awakenings' - 1989 and 1998. It's about disillusion, and will remain essential reading until things either improve, or people become too cynical to care.

Note: The Slovak Spectator is 51% owned by Grand Press, which also publishes the daily paper Sme.

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