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EDITORIAL

Picking the right pace and ignoring the armchair critics

MARATHONS, more than any shorter running event, are all about pace. They're about knowing how fit you are, taking into account the weather and race conditions, and running within yourself until the worst is over and you can let caution off the leash.
It's fitting that My Marathon is the subtitle of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's new book, Where There's a Will, There's a Way. The 120-page memoir of almost four years in office is that of a politician who picked the right pace of change and stuck with it, despite criticism from spectators who felt he should have tackled the job at a sprint.
Despite Dzurinda's many failings as a politician, there is no question he has not received a fair shake from the press or the public. His book reminds us of the terribly difficult task he had in binding together a fractious ruling coalition, and how much was achieved despite the tendency of his political partners "to behave as if the survival of the coalition was entirely my problem".


DZURINDA ran his 18th career marathon in New York last November.

MARATHONS, more than any shorter running event, are all about pace. They're about knowing how fit you are, taking into account the weather and race conditions, and running within yourself until the worst is over and you can let caution off the leash.

It's fitting that My Marathon is the subtitle of Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's new book, Where There's a Will, There's a Way. The 120-page memoir of almost four years in office is that of a politician who picked the right pace of change and stuck with it, despite criticism from spectators who felt he should have tackled the job at a sprint.

Despite Dzurinda's many failings as a politician, there is no question he has not received a fair shake from the press or the public. His book reminds us of the terribly difficult task he had in binding together a fractious ruling coalition, and how much was achieved despite the tendency of his political partners "to behave as if the survival of the coalition was entirely my problem".

It's as if, to continue with his running metaphor, he started the marathon handcuffed to competitors who either stopped running after the first mile (the Civic Understanding Party, SOP) or were trying to trip him up the whole way (the Democratic Left Party, SD1).

As if, following Slovakia's exclusion from Nato and EU expansion under the former Meeiar government, he had to line up at the back of the back and fight his way through the stragglers before hitting his stride. As if, after the Meeiar government organised the stripping of state assets and left the cupboard bare, Dzurinda was unable to afford proper running attire or any of the accessories that improve race performance.

Despite, also, the book's many shortcomings (no mention of corruption, an area where the government is widely perceived to have failed), and despite the cabinet's poor PR record, My Marathon is about as complete an account of what was actually achieved since late 1998 as could be stuffed between the covers of a $2 history.

While Dzurinda's political foes on occasion get their ears boxed ("You're just smiling at everyone, you're not helping" the PM remembers telling future President Rudolf Schuster after the latter sewed up his nomination during discussions on forming the government), the book contains remarkably little spite. Meeiar is barely mentioned; former SD1 leader Jozef Migaš, who supported a vote of non-confidence in Dzurinda in 2001, is portrayed as sticking up for his political convictions. Only Ján Earnogurský, Justice Minister and former head of the ruling Christian Democrats, is treated with asperity for voting against his own government's programme in 1998 and throughout the PM's term in office acting like a churl to improve his party's public support.

Even the foolish promises Dzurinda's SDK party made in Campaign '98 - to double national wages and cut unemployment below 10 per cent - are conceded as "mistakes" after, granted, several paragraphs of hemming and hawing.

The press these days (see Domino fórum's issue this week) are full of comments from economic and political commentators claiming disappointment with the Dzurinda government's record, saying they have far more often felt let down than encouraged by the reforms that have been launched.

But as Dzurinda explains, the race is far from over. Having divided his book into 13 chapters, corresponding to half the length of a 26-mile standard marathon, the PM invites readers to understand the miracle that anything was achieved at all by a government ranging from semi-reformed communists to neo-conservatives.

It's not a message that the Slovak media, caught up in righteous rage at what sees as the Dzurinda government's political cowardice, is likely to heed. But it's one that western leaders, with far more experience of the slow pace of all deep change, have been preaching from the outset. Dzurinda's the best Slovakia has at the moment, but it may take a runner to see it.

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