Uncertain times: Not much to laugh about

IN THESE volatile and uncertain times, it's tough to figure out what to laugh at. More than ever, other people's views and feelings have to be considered, not only as a matter of principle, but because one never knows what could set a person off.
At first glance, it seemed that the news clip of US President George Bush choking on a pretzel and then fainting while watching American football on television was, well, laughable. With the image he has created by coining such phrases as 'I am a pit-bull on the pant leg of opportunity' and 'We have to ask ourselves, is our children learning more?' it can be easy to confuse comedy-clip quotes with the man who speaks them.
But just as quickly as the idea was blossoming into a belly laugh, it became putrescent. A human being choking to the point of losing conscience is just not funny, even if many of the things he says are.

IN THESE volatile and uncertain times, it's tough to figure out what to laugh at. More than ever, other people's views and feelings have to be considered, not only as a matter of principle, but because one never knows what could set a person off.

At first glance, it seemed that the news clip of US President George Bush choking on a pretzel and then fainting while watching American football on television was, well, laughable. With the image he has created by coining such phrases as 'I am a pit-bull on the pant leg of opportunity' and 'We have to ask ourselves, is our children learning more?' it can be easy to confuse comedy-clip quotes with the man who speaks them.

But just as quickly as the idea was blossoming into a belly laugh, it became putrescent. A human being choking to the point of losing conscience is just not funny, even if many of the things he says are.

The next idea to come to mind: the on-going row between the country's ethnic-Hungarian and Slovak politicians on a law passed in Budapest allowing Hungarians living in different countries to apply for a special card granting them certain privileges. Because the anti-Hungarian charge is being led, as always, by the far-right Slovak National Party, this issue also seemed laughable because, well, Ján Slota and Anna Malíková are two of the funniest people in the world, even if both are completely void of anything even resembling a sense of humour. But because so many politicians from so many different parties are involved in the disagreement, it seemed that a foreign-language paper should study the issue a bit more before taking an official stand.

In the last week of news there was one story above all which clearly was not funny: the continuing occurrence of Slovaks being murdered by drink-driving Slovak police.

In less than 72 hours, three people died: a 41-year-old cyclist, a young mother and her 14-month-old baby boy. Struck down in the streets by two off-duty policemen, both of whom were drunk. And these were not low-ranking cops: one was the head of a district police unit, the second the vice-head of the Trenčín police headquarters.

One incident would be a tragic mistake, if not entirely shocking. Two in as many days could perhaps, at a stretch, be called a fluke, but would demand fast and convincing action. Six drunk-driving police crashes since July, 1999, however, is inexcusable. It is more than tragic, it is not a fluke and it demands the most expedient of investigations and the severest of punishments, all to be followed by extensive police policy reform. This is a necessity now that we know the lax rules Slovak officers live by today: according to existing law, cops caught driving drunk can not even be fired unless they actually are involved in a crash.

The recent events have prompted Interior Minister Ivan Šimko and Police President Pavol Zajac to propose a new police regulation which would call for any drunk officer involved in an accident to be fired without financial compensation. 'Without financial compensation'? Why would the state pay even a single crown to a drunk who killed somebody because he didn't have the wits to walk or get a taxi?

'Any drunk officer involved in an accident'? Why not finish that sentence after officer? Why let any on-duty guardian of the law drink even a sip of booze?

Last week's deaths were an outrage. They must be dealt with swiftly and severely. And the fact that these criminals can face a 'maximum' of only five years in prison if found guilty - which with this country's unbelievable and unpredictable court system is anything but sure - is ludicrous.

In case Minister Šimko and Police President Zajac need reminding, here are the numbers over the past two and a half years: six deaths and four injuries - three of which were serious - in six different incidents of drunk Slovak police officers crashing their cars. And let's not forget the three cops who ran from the scene of the crime after their buddy hit and killed a teenager on a bike.

While we're at it, let's not forget Karol Sendrej, the Roma who died after being beaten by police and then chained to a pipe for 12 hours. And let's not forget that recent EU report alleging that police brutality in Slovakia was "rampant".

It is indeed tough to figure things out nowadays. But consideration for others is, as always, crucial. It could even be life-saving. Amidst all the confusion, all the controversy and uncertainty of the times, at least one thing is perfectly clear: several innocent people - including a young mother and her 14-month-old son - would be alive today had these cops, these select few who are expected to protect the citizenry from evil-doers, considered the well-being of others before making their fatally stupid decisions to drive drunk.

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