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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Here, kitty kitty: Another election programme

I RETURNED last night from work (take note, Spectator owners: at 1:30 a.m.) to find a letter taped to my door. I opened a beer and sat down at the kitchen table to find it was a complaint from my neighbour, who has been harassed by our male cat. In a tremulous hand she described how she suffers from allergies and high blood pressure, neither of which have been soothed by our Spunky and his habit of scrabbling through her bedroom window.
I almost laughed aloud. I could just imagine it - she works nights, sleeps days, and wakes regularly to find this arrogant morsel either sitting on her face or washing his whiskers on her pillow. He doesn't even bother to purr.
But what am I to do? How do you teach a cat not to wander? If I kicked his arse he would only spend more time outside. If I kept the windows shut we would suffocate in the late summer warmth and the miasma from his litter box. Should I erect screens? Should she?

I RETURNED last night from work (take note, Spectator owners: at 1:30 a.m.) to find a letter taped to my door. I opened a beer and sat down at the kitchen table to find it was a complaint from my neighbour, who has been harassed by our male cat. In a tremulous hand she described how she suffers from allergies and high blood pressure, neither of which have been soothed by our Spunky and his habit of scrabbling through her bedroom window.

I almost laughed aloud. I could just imagine it - she works nights, sleeps days, and wakes regularly to find this arrogant morsel either sitting on her face or washing his whiskers on her pillow. He doesn't even bother to purr.

But what am I to do? How do you teach a cat not to wander? If I kicked his arse he would only spend more time outside. If I kept the windows shut we would suffocate in the late summer warmth and the miasma from his litter box. Should I erect screens? Should she?

Spunky reminds me of another arrogant cat whose wanderlust has disturbed the community. It's Ivan Lexa, the former head of Slovakia's secret service (SIS), who keeps finding his way out of his rightful home (jail) and troubling order-loving citizens who feel animals should be kept on a leash.

I know the analogy is a stretch, and that with two weeks to go to elections I should be writing about politics, about the choices voters face at the polls and the consequences for all of us.

But my stand-off with my neighbour - she writes ominously that she hopes we can eventually "return to our former good relations" - gets at the essence of what these elections are all about.

We all want life in Slovakia to improve. We all want more justice and less corruption, more investment and less unemployment, more civic spirit and an end to nest-feathering by people in power.

On the other hand, we can't seem to agree who is responsible for making these things happen. People complain they have been given little to choose from among the 26 (!) parties running for election. But are politicians either able or responsible for putting up screens to keep bad influences out?

Let's go back to Lexa for a second. Bratislava region prosecutor Michal Serbin has been directing the investigation of 10 charges against Lexa for four years, including the SIS' kidnapping of the former president's son, its placing a bomb at a political rally, its attempted framing of a Catholic bishop, its attempted removal from power of former president Michal Kováč, its attempt to prevent the Nato entry of neighbouring countries, its theft of weapons, money and surveillance equipment, and its possible involvement in the murder of former policeman Robert Remiaš.

Serbin, in these four years past, has had no success whatsoever. Courts have returned case files for further investigation, and have not acted in other cases. He has had important cases taken from him, allegedly because he was overloaded (he says he wasn't). He has had the Attorney General's Office refuse to proceed in cases affected by amnesties issued by former PM Vladimír Mečiar, even though he insists the Office's reasoning makes neither legal nor visceral sense. The reasons that the justice system has failed him, he has said, are three: judges are either afraid to rule, have been bribed, or are incompetent.

To a certain extent, some politicians may be held to blame for this abysmal record. Vladimír Mečiar's opposition HZDS, for whom Lexa serves as a member of parliament, says the indictments are construed and political fabrications. The newly-formed HZD under Ivan Gašparovič says it's up to the courts, but defends the amnesties Mečiar issued as his legal right, while Gašparovič also defends his decision in 1999 to vote against a parliamentary motion to withdraw Lexa's immunity from prosecution as an MP. Smer party leader Robert Fico also says Lexa should be judged by the courts, but adds the country has "a thousand more important problems" than the fate of the former spy boss.

These three parties, which to varying degrees seem uninterested in seeing Lexa prosecuted, command over 40 per cent electoral support, according to five recent polls. They, to return to the analogy, represent the view that my neighbour should put up screens to stop my cat from disturbing her tranquil slumber.

The rest of the political spectrum is admittedly frustrated at the situation, but seems to be hoping that the cat gets run over or hurled out the window. They simply don't have the tools to ensure that Spunky, like Lexa, stays where he belongs.

That leaves me, the lawgiver in this case, as the final arbiter of whether justice is done, or whether through my negligence and irresponsibility the cat roams free. Like Slovakia's judges, from the highest court in the land to Bratislava's miserable district III bench, I am guided only by my sense of civic duty.

To relieve the suspense, let me say that I have decided to put up screens. I'm doing the right thing.

At the same time, I know many who wouldn't. Many minor judges of social conduct who would send the case back for further investigation. Others who couldn't be bothered, still others who believe someone else should do something about it.

In the same way, I believe the Dzurinda government is doing its best to keep Lexa in jail, to see crimes investigated which once made Slovakia 'the black hole of Europe', in Madeleine Albright's words.

But without the support of all independent flat owners - judges large and small, justices of personal conduct - none of life's Lexa's will ever be imprisoned.

Unless people stop offering bribes, corruption will remain. Unless people accept that unemployment and hard times are part of flushing away past ills, the past will remain with us. Unless more of us stop expecting politicians to do what we don't in our own lives, political parties that set high goals will be blamed for not reaching them.

Michal Serbin, after four years of withering failures, says he's unbowed. "There are enough people who care about justice in this country. I know them," he says.

Let those same people not expect politicians to deliver justice to them. Let us all keep our cats inside, and not blame our neighbours for what we are unwilling to do ourselves.

Tom Nicholson
Editor in Chief
Bratislava

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