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SLOVAK MATTERS

Ways to skin a Slovak: Lies, damn lies and (re)klamy

BOY (bože, or ty vole, a Czechism) I'm glad I'm not one of those dismal (ponurý) people lined up outside Slovakia's collapsing savings-and-loans funds. Ty vole, I'm also pow'ful glad I ain't a government politician blamed for not protecting people better from their own foolishness (hlúposť) and greed (pažravosť).
Slovak savings-and-loans funds (investičné fondy) have for years been promising people 30-50 per cent interest (úrok, perhaps because it's calculated yearly, or ročne) on deposits (vklady). They've been little better than pyramid schemes, in which collapse can be put off as long as advertising (reklamy, an unfortunate homophone with klamať, to lie) continues to hook (chytiť, zožrať aj s naviakom, meaning to eat even the reel on the fishing rod, one better than hook, line and sinker) new clients.

BOY (bože, or ty vole, a Czechism) I'm glad I'm not one of those dismal (ponurý) people lined up outside Slovakia's collapsing savings-and-loans funds. Ty vole, I'm also pow'ful glad I ain't a government politician blamed for not protecting people better from their own foolishness (hlúposť) and greed (pažravosť).

Slovak savings-and-loans funds (investičné fondy) have for years been promising people 30-50 per cent interest (úrok, perhaps because it's calculated yearly, or ročne) on deposits (vklady). They've been little better than pyramid schemes, in which collapse can be put off as long as advertising (reklamy, an unfortunate homophone with klamať, to lie) continues to hook (chytiť, zožrať aj s naviakom, meaning to eat even the reel on the fishing rod, one better than hook, line and sinker) new clients.

But events have come to a head (situácia sa zavŕšila). With the early February closure of BMG and Horizont, and this week's chaos at AGW and Drukos, the number of collapsed S & L houses exceeded 20, with billions in lost or 'unavailable' money.

Small wonder that people are asking about the connection between reklamy and outright klamstiev, and to whom they can reklamovať (to complain with the aim of recovering money spent for bad goods) about klamlivé reklamy (misleading advertising). Small wonder, too, that people feel disappointed (sklamaný), and that the government has deceived them (oklamať, or okabátiť, to remove someone's jacket).

The government is correct in asserting depositors have only themselves to blame if they believed S & L ads like "zisk z rozumu" (profit from prudence) and "rizikový stupeň 0" (zero risk). Zisk, in this case, came from mass popular nerozum (imprudence). But in a country which has so little experience of capitalism, and where a folk saying tells people risk je zisk (risk is profit, i.e. nothing risked nothing gained), it's a hard lesson.

Perhaps people should have paid more heed to bez práce nie sú koláče (no work, no cake) which teaches that all profits not arising from honest sweat are suspect. Or lepší vrabec v hrsti ako holub na streche (lit. better a sparrow in your hand than a dove on the roof), which may not bring those who lost money around to singing ľahko prišlo, ľahko odišlo (easy came, easy went) but may reinforce the truth of peniaze si do hrobu nezoberieš (you don't take money to the grave).

That attitude will take time to arrive, however. Right now people are outraged (pobúrený) and demanding the government pay them back; to keep its credit the cabinet can't do that, but to win elections in September it must.

This well-known human situation can be described in a number of ways, some of which we can write here. The government is medzi dvoma mlynskými kolesami (between two mill wheels), although that lacks the punch of up the creek without a paddle (proti prúdu bez vesla, although Slovaks don't use this). Come to think of it, Slovaks don't have many expressions for being in a quandary, up against it, in a tight spot and between a rock and a hard place. Even dilemma is a disappointing dilema, although byť v kaši (to be in a porridge) hits the mark.

The only ones who will emerge from this whole porridge unscathed are those who didn't turn their money over to the dlhoprstí podvodníci (long-fingered underwater men, or thieves). Many of these people are old folk who still keep their money in their socks (štopať peniaze do pančuchy). Spolky sú čertove volky (institutions are the Devil's oxen) they say as they sock away another few korunky.

Then there's the rest of us - škodoradostný as good Slovaks should be - who can't resist the satisfaction that comes from a disaster witnessed but not experienced. Škodoradosť je najvačšia radosť (pleasure from others' misfortune is the sincerest form of pleasure), the saying goes, and is no less true in this case.

I remember last summer, as S & L firm Horizont started advertising in The Slovak Spectator, looking at their ads and thinking, hmmm... 30 per cent interest, eh? The only reason I didn't land in the porridge is that I had no money to invest. So I'm not enjoying people's misfortune - just smiling as I imagine how different the tone of this column might have been had I given money on the Devil's oxen.

Slovak Matters is a bi-weekly column devoted to helping expats and foreigners understand the beautiful but difficult Slovak language.
The next Slovak Matters will appear on stands March 18, Vol. 8, No. 10.

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