Ivan Mikloš, Deputy Minister for Economy and the cabinet's star free market reformer, is so determined to make his austerity package work that he even spends weekends checking train tickets and handing out fines. Go get 'em, Ivan.
As of January 15, the price of a single fare ticket on the capital's buses, trams and trolleys rose from 7 to 10 Slovak crowns (about 30 cents). Meanwhile, the fine for being caught riding without a properly stamped ticket rose as well, from 700 to 1,000 Sk (about $30), which is two days' wage if you're on an average Slovak salary.
But more has changed in 1999 than just fares and fines - municipal ticket checkers, or revizori, have been transformed into Knights Crusader, imbued with the spirit of the cabinet's economic austerity package.
At high noon on a freezing February day, four of these grizzled transit troopers entered a Bratislava bus like Clint Eastwood in the final scene of Unforgiven. As the doors wheezed shut, they whipped out their ID badges with menacing expressions.
"Ticket, ma'am," one of them growled at a blue-haired old lady clutching a cane. But after showing a valid pass, the bewildered woman was required to produce another document proving she was of retirement age and qualified for the reduced rate.
"Ticket, ma'am," snarled a second revizor to a heavily made-up woman who clearly was wishing she could disappear into thin air. "But I'm from Piešťany!" she wailed. "I didn't know you had to have a ticket." "Too bad lady," came the response. "You'll have to come with me." "But I'm from Piešťany!"
Only one passenger managed to throw the masterful revizori off stride that day. He was a middle aged man sprawled on the handicapped seats, and so drunk he could hardly utter a word.
"Ticket, sir." The man reached into his shirt pocket soundlessly, moving as slowly as a moon walker. The first ticket he showed was a crumpled 7Sk fare, already more than a month out of date. The second was a 3Sk student's token.
"No good, no good," snapped the checker, his fingers twitching with irritation. "Do you have a ticket or not?" The man shrank back in his seat. "But I haven't killed anyone!" he cried.
As the bus drew into the depot and the four revizori prepared to cart the old soak off to the police station, the man reached into his trousers pocket - and produced a valid 10 Sk fare.
In post-economic package Slovakia, it would seem that God is still looking out for drunks. But he has definitely abandoned the majority of Slovaks to the viscious vigilance of the revizori.
If only cabinet were so firm in its committment to austerity.
15. Feb 1999 at 0:00