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EDITORIAL

Exchanging cudgels for olive branches

Poor Mr. Mečiar. Although Slovakia has posted better 1997 macroeconomic results than any of its former Višegrad partners (Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic), it is the other three who are smugly on their way to the Luxembourg EU summit on December 12, and not Slovakia's delegates. There is to be no gift this year from Santa Claus for Mr. Mečiar, despite his good economic deeds.
Nor does the injustice stop at mere exclusion from the EU; Slovakia-bashing these days seems to be in fashion. European diplomats regularly interrupt their chummy, clubby chats with prospective EU member states to wag a censorious finger in Slovakia's face. "We're not interested," the gesture seems to say, "in the economic stability and health that you have achieved. We'd rather dwell on your political failures. What about those Hungarians, eh? And those poor gypsies - shocking, I can tell you."

Poor Mr. Mečiar. Although Slovakia has posted better 1997 macroeconomic results than any of its former Višegrad partners (Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic), it is the other three who are smugly on their way to the Luxembourg EU summit on December 12, and not Slovakia's delegates. There is to be no gift this year from Santa Claus for Mr. Mečiar, despite his good economic deeds.

Nor does the injustice stop at mere exclusion from the EU; Slovakia-bashing these days seems to be in fashion. European diplomats regularly interrupt their chummy, clubby chats with prospective EU member states to wag a censorious finger in Slovakia's face. "We're not interested," the gesture seems to say, "in the economic stability and health that you have achieved. We'd rather dwell on your political failures. What about those Hungarians, eh? And those poor gypsies - shocking, I can tell you."

Well, give a dog a bad name and it sticks, as the saying goes, and Slovakia's international reputation as a political dystopia bent on oppressing its minorities has clung to the country like a limpet. Conversely, Slovakia's name as a stable market economy, where GDP growth (6.0 percent 1H97) inflation (5.9 percent p.a. as of 10.97) and unemployment (12.85 percent in 10.97) compare favorably with western European democracies, has utterly failed to register with foreign observers.

Isn't this rather curious, and not a little unjust?

It is a diplomatic truism that the olive branch is often is more effective than the cudgel when it comes to helping young democracies achieve political maturity. So, rather than continuing to belabor the Slovak government with criticism, the international community might be better advised to start noticing some of the good news that is coming out of the country.

No-one can pretend that Mečiar's government has not bungled the odd referendum or botched the occasional privatization deal. No-one can deny that pressures are growing to curtail political and academic freedoms, freedom of expression, freedom of information. But somehow, through all the political missteps and malfeasances, the macroeconomy has sailed serenely on, piling growth on growth and good prospects on strong results.

The time has come to give the measure of credit that is due these economic achievements. It is time, too, to understand that both EU diplomats and Slovakia's domestic political opposition have their own agendas of criticism to keep, and that much of their head shaking and finger wagging, like the 'sky is falling' hysterics of Chicken Little, derive from dark forecasts of an imagined future rather than clear-sighted analysis of the present.

And it's high time, finally, that Santa Claus took another look at Mr. Mečiar's 'naughty boy' rating - based on Slovakia's 1997 fine economic results, the country's leader deserves at least a modest treat, certainly not another spanking.

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