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EDITORIAL

Rivers of Babylon: Yea, there we wept

It's with trepidation that we revisit an editorial written by this paper in January 2000, penned in heated indignation after we had been told by a senior police official that investigations of expat documents - and summary deportations, we adduced somewhat hastily - were about to begin.
The truth, distilled in slow drops over the months that intervened, differs in detail if not in essence.
We're all a bit wiser now about the effects of the police action, if not about its aims. Few people are being physically put on buses, but a great number of us are now facing longer paper chases in the amusing sport of renewing or getting green cards. The aim of the police is to ensure that we pay what we should on the salaries we earn, and one can understand if the cops - one of the lowest paid professions in the land - are unsmiling at the image of expats - one of the highest wage-earning groups - dodging their tax and insurance dues.

It's with trepidation that we revisit an editorial written by this paper in January 2000, penned in heated indignation after we had been told by a senior police official that investigations of expat documents - and summary deportations, we adduced somewhat hastily - were about to begin.

The truth, distilled in slow drops over the months that intervened, differs in detail if not in essence.

We're all a bit wiser now about the effects of the police action, if not about its aims. Few people are being physically put on buses, but a great number of us are now facing longer paper chases in the amusing sport of renewing or getting green cards. The aim of the police is to ensure that we pay what we should on the salaries we earn, and one can understand if the cops - one of the lowest paid professions in the land - are unsmiling at the image of expats - one of the highest wage-earning groups - dodging their tax and insurance dues.

At the same time, we all know that the police are increasingly challenged by their lack of resources, and given estimates floated by the Slovak government of the number of people claiming social benefits illegally, surely their energies would be better spent clamping down on domestic criminals. And if they're really concerned about people avoiding their dues to social insurance companies, they would do better to knock at the door of the grossest non-payers - state-owned companies.

We're also told that getting tough on residence documents helps the police satisfy other demands on their vigilance, such as forcing landlords to pay taxes on the proceeds from illegal leases. That again is a worthy goal, but perhaps one better achieved by going after the thousands of native Slovaks who live under similar arrangements, but don't undergo an annual inspection as expats do.

The tone of that far-ago opinion piece was one of righteous anger, and that emotion is still one we all have access to as we go through the loops again. But a recent visit to the Border and Aliens Police headquarters by one of our reporters gave us the feeling that anger is wasted on the uniformed servants of the state. After all, the boss's office was so small that we kept accidentally bumping elbows as we moved around, and he was such a pleasant fellow, with his snaggly teeth and harassed countenance, that one felt discourteous in asking the ill-humoured schedule of 'searching' questions one had prepared. His unanswered correspondence, his peremptory telephone, that one grimy window that overlooked a lovelorn courtyard...

No, if any of us have a beef, it has to be taken to the people that have left him lost among his piles of papers, that weary police colonel. To Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, to the scions of foreign investment who don't have to submit to being stuck like pincushions during annual medical tests.

Alan Sitár, investment advisor to Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, told this paper last week that after the government finished deliberations on its latest investment strategy, it would address the question of residence permits. We're waiting for an answer, guys, with steadily ebbing patience.

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