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Review: Global Report in a class of its own

It's early December, and Grigorij Mesežnikov is on the phone to America. "Yes, Zorka," he says soothingly, "I'll make sure the changes are made." Several seconds pass, and his knuckles whiten around the receiver. "Yes," he repeats, "I'll make sure."
This scene was replayed countless times at the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank at the end of last year. Mesežnikov, as IVO President, was committed to produce the english-language version of the country's only reliable almanac - the Global Report on the State of Society - before Christmas.
The authors of the book's 20 chapters, however, all had the right to approve the changes made to their work, which had passed through the hands of up to five editors, translators and proofreaders. A trial of patience any way you slice it.


The only Almanac of its kind in English on Slovakia.
foto: IVO

It's early December, and Grigorij Mesežnikov is on the phone to America. "Yes, Zorka," he says soothingly, "I'll make sure the changes are made." Several seconds pass, and his knuckles whiten around the receiver. "Yes," he repeats, "I'll make sure."

This scene was replayed countless times at the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank at the end of last year. Mesežnikov, as IVO President, was committed to produce the english-language version of the country's only reliable almanac - the Global Report on the State of Society - before Christmas.

The authors of the book's 20 chapters, however, all had the right to approve the changes made to their work, which had passed through the hands of up to five editors, translators and proofreaders. A trial of patience any way you slice it.

But on December 23, Mesežnikov and his IVO colleagues proudly handed out the first copies of undoubtedly the thickest and most complete Global Report yet.

Slovakia 1998-1999, the third Global Report to be released in English, is a comprehensive account of events leading up to the pivotal national elections in 1998 as well as changes during the first six months of the Dzurinda government.

Relying heavily on empirical data, its authors include respected names from almost every walk of Slovak life except party politics; this is in fact one of the operative rules of the Report, that it be written as objectively as is possible in Slovakia's politically riven society.

Building on the usual accounts of domestic politics, foreign policy and economy, the new edition adds chapters on the Roma, the Internet, corruption, gender, poverty and organised interests. The list of authors is dominated by names from the third sector and the Slovak Academy of Sciences, while data is assembled from public sector sources like the Slovak Statistics Office, as well as various opinion polls and surveys.

The Report has built up a solid reputation among English speakers with a more-than-casual interest in Slovakia, the book's target audience: academics, diplomats, political and economic analysts, journalists and second-generation Slovaks living abroad. It is, quite simply, the only work of its kind on the market, which makes it all the more indispensible.

At 439 pages, however, Slovakia 1998-1999 takes some getting through. The prose, which tends towards the formal, can sometimes be almost prohibitively academic, particularly in the chapter on legislation and constitutionality. It can also be annoyingly formulaic, and readers may leave with the impression that each chapter begins with the words "1998 was a year of great change in Slovakia."

Readers who are not passionate about Slovak politics may also be put off by the relentless criticism of everything done under the Mečiar government, although less so by the tempered optimism over what to expect under the Dzurinda government.

This, of course, is one of the greatest dilemmas of life as an academic or journalist in Slovakia - as much as one would like to deal out praise and criticism in equal measures, to be 'objective', it is simply impossible to be anything but scathingly critical of Mečiar and his politics.

And while Slovak academics may support any one of the four parties of the current government, it is unthinkable that a respected authority would have anything kind to say about life under the former prime minister.

Finally, although the English-language version was put out in record time this year - six months after the Slovak version appeared - it may seem somewhat dated to readers by the time it arrives in their mailbox.

But the book is not meant to be read as a newspaper or current events journal; rather, it is meant to add depth to our understanding of what actually happened at the end of the decade, and to fortify our opinions and predictions for Slovakia's future.

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