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EDITORIAL

The nature of justice: Citizens, not leaders, must decide

Despite the Dzurinda government's 1998 promise to restore the "rule of law" in Slovakia, it will take years if not decades before society agrees on what the concept of justice means in practice.
An example of how confused the country and its government remains about the basic pillars of justice was provided to one of The Slovak Spectator's reporters in late January. The reporter had stumbled on information that the Interior Ministry was preparing a fresh batch of charges against current members of parliament. One of the embattled MP's invited our reporter for a cigarette to discuss the case and its origins.
"They're after me," the miserable MP said, holding his cigarette with trembling hands. "But I'm only a witness - I didn't do anything."

Despite the Dzurinda government's 1998 promise to restore the "rule of law" in Slovakia, it will take years if not decades before society agrees on what the concept of justice means in practice.

An example of how confused the country and its government remains about the basic pillars of justice was provided to one of The Slovak Spectator's reporters in late January. The reporter had stumbled on information that the Interior Ministry was preparing a fresh batch of charges against current members of parliament. One of the embattled MP's invited our reporter for a cigarette to discuss the case and its origins.

"They're after me," the miserable MP said, holding his cigarette with trembling hands. "But I'm only a witness - I didn't do anything."

The man was suspected of having taken a multi-million crown loan from the labour office to create jobs at a firm he owned, and then closing the firm and pocketing the money. The evidence in the case, he said, had been turned over to police by the leader of his party, who wanted to get him into trouble for political reasons.

Until the veracity of the documents is confirmed, The Slovak Spectator will not reveal further details of the case in its pages. But the incident provokes at least one observation, that corruption still remains very much a part of public life, and that investigations are begun more for political reasons than from any conviction that theft and fraud are unjust.

The moral confusion of the nation's politicians matches that of its citizens. People are still trying to decide if they feel angry at privatisation swindlers because they acted illegally, or because they have more money and priviledges than the average citizen. Fierce personal struggles are being waged, especially among Slovakia's youth, over whether it is better to toil away in relative poverty and obscurity, or shave one's head, pack a pistol and drive a BMW. Whether to cheat in school or take the time to study. Whether to give one's seat to an old lady, or pretend you don't see her.

This confusion over what justice means in practice is deepened by a muddle over priorities. Should the country spend its energy and resources on putting a fat thug like former secret service boss Ivan Lexa behind bars, or should it crack down on tax evasion? Is cultivating respect and generosity for strangers more important than drafting a new political party financing law?

Slovakia derives as much of its cultural identity from western Europe as it does from Russia, where the basic tenets of democracy simply aren't supported by common people (one political analyst said the West had come to grief in Russia because it had never come to terms with the fact that Russians respect a bright thief over a law-abiding drudge). If Slovaks are to sort out what justice means they must first find a distinct national identity, something far beyond the scope of government programmes and their empty insistence on the rule of law.

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