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AN EU-FUNDED CAMPAIGN AIMS TO INCREASE PUBLIC AWARENESS OF BRIBERY

'Corruption sucks our blood'

SLOVAKS around the country will soon be exposed to billboards showing bloodthirsty vampire bureaucrats as part of an EU-funded campaign aimed at knocking down public tolerance to corrupt behaviour.
Corruption in Slovakia has become an infamous phenomenon, and EU bodies regularly identify the vice as one of the biggest problems Slovakia has to address on its path towards full EU membership, expected in spring 2004.
A consortium comprising the German firm BIRD, the Belgian firm GCI, and the Slovak Markant agency started working on the large-scale publicity drive in March 2002. Through its PHARE programme, the EU invested 450,000 euros in the campaign, which will be run until November this year in an attempt to educate Slovaks on the damage corruption causes to a society.


photo: Ján Svrček

SLOVAKS around the country will soon be exposed to billboards showing bloodthirsty vampire bureaucrats as part of an EU-funded campaign aimed at knocking down public tolerance to corrupt behaviour.

Corruption in Slovakia has become an infamous phenomenon, and EU bodies regularly identify the vice as one of the biggest problems Slovakia has to address on its path towards full EU membership, expected in spring 2004.

A consortium comprising the German firm BIRD, the Belgian firm GCI, and the Slovak Markant agency started working on the large-scale publicity drive in March 2002. Through its PHARE programme, the EU invested 450,000 euros in the campaign, which will be run until November this year in an attempt to educate Slovaks on the damage corruption causes to a society.

Along with the vampire billboard, and a billboard showing the neck of a victim being bitten by a vampire, smaller images will be presented in the local press.

"The campaign is built on images intended to evoke the treacherous nature of corruption. The essence of the campaign is to create parallels between vampirism and corruption. Both suck blood from the citizens," said project manager Ivan Gabal.

Although the vast majority of Slovaks denounce corruption, sociological surveys carried out by the consortium show that as much as 81 per cent of inhabitants are willing to offer bribes if they believe it will help them get their affairs organised faster or better.

"In Slovakia, corruption is considered a necessity. People who need to get something done make use of their influential contacts. If they don't have such contacts, they bribe with money or presents. That is not normal [elsewhere]," Gabal said.

According to surveys carried out as part of the campaign, Slovaks are sceptical about their chances of success if they take the regular, formal approach to organising their affairs, to such an extent that they often bribe without any prompting from the recipient.

A study by the consortium shows that Slovaks identify three types of people who accept bribes: the pragmatic type who accepts money because the system allows it and because people often pay bribes without being asked to do so; the avaricious type who is a professional bribe-taker, has no scruples, and does not work unless he is bribed; and the poor type who takes bribes because his wages are low.

At the end of last year, Slovakia was invited to become a member of the EU and NATO, with both memberships expected in spring 2004. The elimination of bribery was cited among the top jobs Slovakia needed to carry out in the run up to full membership of both organisations, and in response, the cabinet has placed the fight against corruption among its list of priorities.

In December 2002 Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic was appointed to lead the cabinet's new anticorruption unit, and he immediately asked all cabinet ministers to submit to him by March this year a list of measures they want to see implemented in their spheres of responsibility in order to decrease corruption.

Onno Simons, counsellor with the Delegation of the European Commission in Bratislava, told The Slovak Spectator that the EC was happy to see Lipšic appointed to the job, and was looking forward to seeing the results of his work.

Simons said that while all ministers needed to make an effort to fight bribery, educating the public was equally necessary, and that was the reason why the EU decided to release funds for the new campaign.

"Less bureaucracy, better salaries in state administration, transparent laws, and a functioning judiciary would naturally help to eliminate corruption, but getting people to be aware that corruption must not be tolerated is equally important," he said.

Numerous surveys on corruption have shown that Slovaks consider state authorities, health care, and the judiciary among the most corrupt institutions. Many Slovaks, however, believe that bribery is an effective tool to get desirable results in their dealings with those institutions.

"If somebody is under time pressure and needs some results, he pays. That attitude needs to be changed," Simons said.

Corruption is a problem shared by many post-communist states, and the EC has regularly pointed out the need to root out bribery in its regular progress reports on individual candidate states.

In a 2002 survey indicating levels of corruption in 102 countries of the world, the anticorruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Slovakia 52nd, alongside Columbia and Sri Lanka and fellow EU candidates the Czech Republic and Latvia. Two other EU invitees, Poland and Hungary, scored better, ranking 45th and 33rd respectively.

Observers note that Slovakia's placing in the list shows that the country has a long way to go before it can be declared corruption-free.

"Looking at the Transparency International chart, there is a lot of work still do be done," said Simons.

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