THE QUESTION is known, and so is the answer - probably.
Most Slovaks say yes to Europe in current opinion polls and will say yes to it in May's referendum. But this strong affirmative will most likely not be based on solid arguments, but rather driven by the promise of finally becoming part of the much-admired Western world and by hopes of a better future.
What is the European Union? How does it make its decisions? What are its main priorities? Few people would have the right to cast their votes in Slovakia if they needed to be able to answer these questions in order to take part in a referendum. And many journalists and politicians getting ready to convince Slovaks in a massive pro-EU campaign to vote for EU membership would probably fail the test as well.
What will EU policies be like in 10 years? Who will be responsible for implementing these policies and by what means? And above all, what will Slovakia's role in these processes be?
If the referendum was really about rational arguments, these are the questions it would be asking. But no one would pass this second round of questions, simply because answers to these questions do not yet exist.
Instead of policies and their impact, the referendum will be about one word. People will say yes to the 'European Union' - an elusive, largely undefined concept transformed into a symbol of hope by politicians, who are not living up to their own and others' expectations.
The ideal answer for Slovakia, and perhaps other candidate countries too, might be "give us more time". More time for the EU to take a definite shape, whether with Slovakia's participation or without it. More time for ordinary Slovaks to see and understand what it is they are saying yes to.
But the issue is being presented as now or never, and the question that comes to mind is "why?".
20. Jan 2003 at 0:00