ONCE again that time of year for self-improvement has arrived, when people around the world make New Year's resolutions they usually end up breaking or forgetting a week later.
In the Spectator office, one staff member has vowed to learn German. Another gave up beer, or so she told me last night while drinking a draft Zlatý Bažant. Another gave up having boyfriends, another smoking.
It seems that some Slovak politicians have made resolutions as well. Ján Slota, head of the 'Real SNS', made an easy one: to continue being a major thorn in the side of Anna Malíková and the party she heads, the SNS which kicked Slota out last year.
Former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar has resolved to ignore all western politicians and diplomats warning that his return to power could block the country's entry into Nato and possibly the European Union. No word yet from Nato Secretary General George Robertson or new American Ambassador to Slovakia Ronald Weiser on whether they have resolved to continue dropping anti-Mečiar hints to the Slovak voting citizenry.
Members of Parliament and Cabinet have hopefully made a collective New Year's resolution to avoid crashing their armoured government cars. Since this government took power in late 1998, Telecoms Minister Gabriel Palacka, Culture Minister Milan Kňažko, Finance Minister Brigita Schmognerová, Justice Minister Ján Čarnoguský and Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda have all been in serious accidents, resulting in five deaths and tens of injuries.
President Schuster, meanwhile, has been involved in two crashes, prompting him to give up driving a car in the wintertime. His latest accident left him so shaken and happy to be alive that he vowed to travel only by train from November till February because of the dangers of the icy Slovak roads. "I'm going to take the train in winter whether anyone likes it or not," he said.
It's probably a smart idea. Since taking office, Schuster has been like a cat, if only in that he seems to have nine lives. First, his own team of doctors nearly killed him when they misdiagnosed and failed to treat a perforated colon, instead saying he had "eaten something bad". After Czech and then Austrian doctors managed to save the comatose president, he returned to Slovakia, kissed the ground and installed in every Slovak a great sense of national pride - not to mention a sense of security when trusting their lives to their doctors - by declaring that he would never again see a Slovak physician. Another resolution.
Then in June last year he survived a car crash outside the wine-making town Modra near the capital city. The presidential motorcade suffered minor damage, but the Škoda it crashed into was nearly demolished and six people were injured.
The president had yet another dance with danger last summer while vacationing in the Amazon. Besides being hospitalised for dehydration and diarrhoea, Schuster claimed to have been abducted by a local Indian tribe. They released him only after the president promised to satisfy a list of demands, such as sending the natives a few Mercedes cars and some cows.
And now the crash outside Nitra, in which Schuster and his wife suffered minor injuries after their chauffeur drove into a pileup on the highway. Travelling by train certainly seems to be the safest option for the unlucky president, who apparently also gave up flying after a scandal last year in which it was discovered that his wife, among others, had rung up thousands of crowns in phones bills while making personal calls on state-paid mobile phones. "We don't have money for telephones, let alone planes," the president sniffed.
Perhaps Schuster should also give up delivering televised speeches. Last year, he whined that Dzurinda often ignores him, and this year claimed that certain members of the Cabinet and Parliament had started a "witch hunt" against the beleaguered president, resulting in "personal attacks against me and my family".
On the topic of witch hunts, however, Schuster failed to mention his own persecution of Aleš Kratky, the Nový Čás journalist who may face two years in prison because he dared exercise freedom of the press by writing a scathing editorial in response to Schuster's insipid state of the nation address last year. As the former Chairman of the Slovak Communist Party, Schuster used an outdated law held over from socialism which states that it is illegal to criticise the head of state.
Schuster cannot even handle meeting the first born baby of 2002 with any grace or intelligence, telling the new-born's mother that he hoped the child would not one day end up in the poor house. Thank you, Mr President.
The year 2002 will be crucial for Slovakia, with general elections and a possible Nato invitation. For that reason, it would be in the country's best interest if their increasingly asinine president would make a new New Year's resolution: to simply be quiet and stop embarrassing the country. Perhaps then, as Schuster himself said, will "every day of 2002 be pleasant and happy". At any rate, a presidential gag order could not hurt.