One of the most agreeable things about summer is the power the season has over human life. Business people don't answer their phones, politicians rest their jaws, and city centres slow to the beat of a Sunday afternoon. As if global warming were less about what we are doing to the planet than about how its rhythms still control us.
While the climate conspires to reduce work output and increase pub traffic, I thought the time might also be right to write a letter instead of a standard editorial opinion. After all, who wants to hear anybody else's opinion at this time of year? This is the season of personal correspondence.
Last week I took part in a discussion forum on the www.slovensko.com web page. It was rather cheeky of me, because I was actually seeking feedback from people who visited the page on our own content at www.slovakspectator.sk
What I heard both heartened and disappointed me, which now that I think about it is probably a pretty good score-card for the opinions of disinterested judges of what one does for a living.
Many people seemed unhappy with how much negative coverage they felt The Slovak Spectator was giving Slovakia. Some saw in it a downright sinister plot sponsored by advertisers and the newspaper's owners to give Slovakia a bad name; others ascribed it to the rather flippant and ill-tempered attitude foreigners new to the country sometimes take.
I could write at length about how advertisers and newspaper owners (ours, anyway) would far rather all the news be good news; about how they wince and writhe to see yet another front page blaring corruption, murder and mismanagement.
But I had much better address the second criticism, for it hits far closer to home. At 34, I am the oldest on our staff by a solid margin of misspent years. Were we all older, greater experience of the world might have taught us not to be so optimistic that the Mikuláš Dzurinda government would be able to make a decisive break with the authoritarian and corrupt practices of its predecessor under Vladimír Mečiar. We might also none of us have been so far from our homes, working through the difficult process of getting used to life in a foreign country.
It has at times for us been a dangerous combination - a disillusionment at the Dzurinda government's foibles fuelled by the frustrations implicit in being an expatriate. I, for example, met my wife on September 26, 1998, at Dzurinda's SDK party headquarters as the first exit polls started to come in, promising an end to Mečiar. While neither of us joined Slovak journalists in high-fiving the future PM, we did mark the day as one holding great promise both for our own lives and that of the country. The latter enthusiasm began to ebb as the Dzurinda government's first corruption cases broke; it found a personal echo as we stumbled our way through Slovakia's marriage red tape.
Countries going through such tumultuous changes as Slovakia are bound to produce more bad news than good, and I don't want to suggest that Spectator reporters have been doing their work over the last several years with a disapproving scowl on their faces. But I've found it's virtually impossible not to let your mood somehow affect at least your writing of opinion pieces. As many novelists have protested when asked for an interview - the real truth was always in the writing. What do you need to talk to me for?
But we all eventually outgrow our illusions - you can see it in how the Slovak press has covered the news with increasing skepticism since 1998, as well as in recent warnings by NATO and the European Union against the return of Mečiar to power in 2002. No one believed in 1998 that such a promising political change could three years later be rejected so thoroughly by citizens in opinion polls, with the popularity ratings of the Dzurinda government plunging from about 60% to roughly 30%.
And with this painful shedding of illusions comes a more abiding truth - that Slovakia is changing ultimately for the better, and that the stories that emerge from this transition, be they murders of ethnic minority citizens or political boorishness, could be written of any country at some time in its development. As the Roman poet Horace wrote, mutato nomine de te fabula narratur - change the name, and the story is told of yourself.
On this note, let me add that this year's edition of our travel guide, Spectacular Slovakia, will be available by the end of July - delayed slightly, perhaps, by the extra effort of presenting the country's best face to the world. If you can't wait to receive a copy in the next newsstand edition of The Slovak Spectator, you can get a free guide from our office during the next two weeks.
Happy holidays and less negativity - global warming permitting.
Editor in chief
30. Jul 2001 at 0:00