It seems that a serious road accident on August 31 in Yugoslavia - and no disrespect intended to the three people killed and the eleven injured - has finally given Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda a view of Slovakia not hitherto available from his government BMW.
It's a view of a country he has helped these past three years to shape, but one which his concern with the ethereal affairs of state has apparently hidden from his gaze. It's a view in which powerful people who don't obey the law have little to fear from the law, and in which - more to the point - people who would otherwise follow the rules are given little positive reinforcement by police investigation or court convictions. It's a view, in the widest frame, of a country in which justice is a privilege instead of a right, and one that is both decided and enjoyed by people of influence.
One can imagine that Dzurinda's Yugoslav road accident, in which a speeding black Mercedes apparently tried to pass a bus on a busy stretch of road and hit three Slovak government convoy cars, brought him for a moment in touch with life's basic elements: fear, confusion, shock and a heap of twisted, smoking metal.
But as in the past, he reacted to the event with little thought for how many Slovak people daily experience such trials as road idiocy. His first move on returning to Bratislava was to ask Interior Minister Ivan Šimko to investigate the rules governing the transport of state officials, and - as an afterthought - to declare war on Slovakia's road pirates, who irritate him and his wife by passing them on the highway at excessive speed.
Road pirates are a nuisance, yes - many Slovak streets in the summer become a speed track for motorcyclists testing the performance of their machines. Slovak cities year-round are host to grimacing, shaven-headed fools in Mercedes blasting through yield signs and red lights on their way to another violent rendezvous.
But such piracy has far deeper roots, in a general feeling that theft, racism and corruption are, if not sponsored, at least tolerated by a government that promised precisely the opposite when it came to power.
What can one say of Devín banka, which was never a real bank but a money-maker for its present and past government backers, and which was allowed by the central bank to continue over a year after its failure seemed certain?
What can one say of the dozens of current and former government officials who still live in luxury far beyond the scope of their legal incomes?
What can one say of Penta Group, an amoral corporate raider which has held up privatisations, and is currently buying back bad loans its former business associates may have known the terms of?
What of public areas frequented by aggressive money changers, of public and private property soiled by incontinent pub patrons, prostitutes and drug addicts?
Slovakia's pirates are many and multiplying, and they are not all of the road variety. Their number includes privatisation pirates, mafia buccaneers and all of the taxpayer-funded scofflaws who impassively demand bribes for carrying out their legal function. The PM's recent horripilation at speeding 'big bosses' is confirmation of how little he and his 'handlers' understand the scope of crime on Slovakia's high and wild seas.
Dzurinda's pledge of 'war' is also suspect given that we have already had an indecisive government war on corruption and a totally abortive Interior Ministry war on skinheads. If war it is to be, let it be of the fashion pursued by the Picts, an ancient Scottish tribe who poured off the ridges against Roman legions naked, clad only in blue paint and a surety that they had more at stake than the invaders.
Dzurinda's problem remains that he doesn't recognise his country's true enemies, and doesn't have the courage to strip himself bare in defence of what his compatriots hold most dear: justice for all, against all manner of pirates.
9. Oct 2001 at 0:00