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PRESS DIGEST

Out of thin air

We, the citizens of this country, enjoy living under illusions, which is why we are permanently disappointed. Illusions by definition are an inability to see reality for what it is or to influence what is going on around us. In the past these illusions used to be fashionable. For example, ten years ago the communist regime collapsed. That was reality, and it surprised us. We had been living under the illusion that communism would be here forever, and that we had to get used to it. Nobody expected it to end so quickly, and it left us with nagging worries. Why had nobody bothered to inform us of such an important historical event? What did it mean? Why didn't they tell us that socialism would be followed by another period of capitalism? If we had known, we could have at least prepared ourselves psychologically for the day that communism ended. It was, quite simply, unfair. Out of thin air, we lost the yoke of slavery which we had grown accustomed to and which had begun to seem bearable.

We, the citizens of this country, enjoy living under illusions, which is why we are permanently disappointed. Illusions by definition are an inability to see reality for what it is or to influence what is going on around us. In the past these illusions used to be fashionable. For example, ten years ago the communist regime collapsed. That was reality, and it surprised us. We had been living under the illusion that communism would be here forever, and that we had to get used to it. Nobody expected it to end so quickly, and it left us with nagging worries. Why had nobody bothered to inform us of such an important historical event? What did it mean? Why didn't they tell us that socialism would be followed by another period of capitalism? If we had known, we could have at least prepared ourselves psychologically for the day that communism ended. It was, quite simply, unfair. Out of thin air, we lost the yoke of slavery which we had grown accustomed to and which had begun to seem bearable.

And suddenly - capitalism. Out of thin air. The market mechanism, supply and demand, free market prices, all of which made us wonder what would become of us. Who would take care of us? And instead of rational thought came new/old illusions: Slovakia will turn into another Switzerland, we don't need foreigners, we won't give up what's ours, we will lead ourselves, in six months we'll be ahead of Austria, we need sovereignty, independence, grandiose plans, we've got what it takes.

Today we are disappointed that the Austrian schilling is more expensive than 10 years ago, that Switzerland is still in Switzerland, and that instead of grandiose plans we have complete devastation. All that remains is our sovereignty, independence and illusions. The illusion that prosperity can be created by laws or rules. That a class of rich people can be ordered into existence. That transformation can be painless. That a language law is more important than a tax law. That the Hungarians are still after us. That political party problems are more important than functional legislation. That Americanisation threatens our culture. That everyone is a thief except us. That Slovaks who find success abroad will one day come home. That things were better under communism. That actors are to blame for everything. And that the state is at the same time our saviour and the source of all evil in the country.

Under the burden of our illusions we fail to understand that WE are the state. We can change the government, but we ourselves will remain. How we are is how we will be. It may surprise us, but we'll manage. No sweat.

Milan Lasica is a Slovak actor and playwright. This column first appeared in Slovak in the Domino Fórum weekly, Issue 39, Sept. 30 to Oct. 6

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