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"Stupid mood" endangering reform

PESSIMISM dominated a recent seminar at which analysts debated the roots and consequences of the "stupid mood" they say is gripping Slovak society and leading people to believe they are worse off, despite economic and political evidence to the contrary.
The term "stupid mood", or "blbá nálada", was first coined by Czech President Václav Havel in 1997 to describe a similar crisis of faith in progress and democracy in the Czech Republic.
The blbá nálada, which is often attached to a nostalgia for the communist era, is threatening to slow down economic reforms, analysts at the seminar said. Populist politicians are feeding the mood - and blocking painful reforms - in the hope of winning a disappointed, dispirited electorate to their sides in parliamentary elections set for September 2002.


UNFULFILLED expectations of a woman who lost money in a recent S & L crash.
photo: Sme - Ľuboš Pilc

PESSIMISM dominated a recent seminar at which analysts debated the roots and consequences of the "stupid mood" they say is gripping Slovak society and leading people to believe they are worse off, despite economic and political evidence to the contrary.

The term "stupid mood", or "blbá nálada", was first coined by Czech President Václav Havel in 1997 to describe a similar crisis of faith in progress and democracy in the Czech Republic.

The blbá nálada, which is often attached to a nostalgia for the communist era, is threatening to slow down economic reforms, analysts at the seminar said. Populist politicians are feeding the mood - and blocking painful reforms - in the hope of winning a disappointed, dispirited electorate to their sides in parliamentary elections set for September 2002.

Despite Slovakia's steady progress towards membership in the European Union and Nato, a reduction of the state's role in the private sector, and generally improved respect for the rule of law, the share of Slovaks saying in polls that their country is "heading in the wrong direction" has increased from 34 per cent in January 1999 to 66 per cent in September 2001. In a January 2002 survey by the Focus agency, 63 per cent of respondents said they believed that their lives were easier during communism.

Eugen Jurzyca, head of the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms (Ineko) think tank, said the nostalgia was counterfeit. For one thing, he said, it was not reflected in political support for the Slovak Communist Party, which regularly scores below five per cent support in opinion polls. "And if the economic situation is as miserable as people say in polls, why do so many people have mobile phones?" he asked.

Gabriel Šípoš, an analyst with Ineko, suggested that the gulf between what the facts said and what people claimed in polls could mean only two things - either that the data was flawed, or that people were not reporting how they really felt.

"What if the public isn't telling the truth in polls about their economic situation, their private affairs?" he asked. "Slovaks became very accustomed under communism to saying different things in public and in private."

However, Oľga Gyarfášová from the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank argued that Slovaks weren't lying in opinion polls so much as voicing their disappointment that some of their expectations hadn't been met.

"It's well known that the electorate have a short memory. That's why we have to constantly remind them of what they expected, and which of those expectations have been fulfilled," said Gyarfášová.

Despite western integration successes and the keeping of promises such as direct presidential elections, the sociologist explained, voters were judging the cabinet entirely on its inability to contain 20 per cent unemployment or to double wages in four years, as Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda promised in 1998.

"These unfulfilled expectations steamroll the positive achievements and remain in people's minds," said Gyarfášová.

As analysts from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland made clear at the March 11 seminar, the blbá nálada phenomenon is common to all post-communist countries.

High expectations after the fall of communism were a poor mix with the long-term task of fixing the countries' deformed economies, the conference participants said. That's why so many nations fell into a pattern of reformist governments followed by more cautious administrations, as the appetite of the electorate for reform ebbed and flowed.

Krzysztof Zagórski, from the Warsaw-based opinion research agency CBOS, argued that in these countries "political responsibility lies in being brave enough to carry out reforms regardless of public opinion, because reforms are key to transforming countries."

Still, the analysts agreed that Slovaks had a particularly bad case of blbá nalada.

"Slovaks tend to see themselves as the worst off. They believe that the good times disappeared with communism. At the same time they think that 'other people are better off than we are', meaning anyone from their next door neighbour to people from neighbouring countries," said Gyarfášová.

IVO president Grigorij Mesežnikov said that the level of pessimism was more than just a cultural curiosity - it posed a real threat to the country's future. He warned Slovaks against indulging their moods too thoroughly,

"Indulging in pessimism plays into the hands of politicians who are against reforms, and who if elected will ultimately cause even more pessimism along with an economic situation that would really give people cause for depression," Mesežnikov said.

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