The results of numerous surveys all indicate that the less politicians or institutions cross the path of the citizenry, the more public confidence they enjoy. The reason is simple - those who do influence people's lives do not usually do their job very well.
A survey done by the MVK polling agency shows that the army continues to be the most trusted institution among Slovaks, having the support of 66.5 percent of the population.
The Slovak army has rarely been engaged in active warfare, with the exception of World War II, when it helped the Germans invade Poland and later defend the territory of the Slovak state.
During the decades of communist oppression, it served as a tool in the hands of the regime, although not one that was to be used too extensively.
Now, the army is doing a good job in peacekeeping missions in different places around the world, which is certainly a thing to be proud of.
However, most Slovaks openly admit that by itself the army could hardly defend its own country. This causes little concern, as experts agree that in the foreseeable future, Slovakia is extremely unlikely to face any security threats.
So the only way in which most Slovaks come into contact with the army is mandatory military service, which has recently been shortened to nine months. Despite the positive public opinion poll figures, serving in the army is a matter a significant portion of the male population desperately seeks to avoid.
Once the army is fully professional, which is expected to happen in 2006, even this contact will be lost and citizens will have direct contact with soldiers perhaps only in the event of natural disasters.
The conclusion that the army is popular because it remains out of the public's sight, which many analysts make, therefore seems plausible.
The National Bank of Slovakia (NBS), trusted by 54 percent, ranked second in MVK's list of credible institutions.
It would be very interesting to see how many of those people would be able to say what the NBS does. If it ever makes the news, it is usually in connection with its interventions in the currency market.
Although some could credit the NBS for the Slovak crown's not-too-poor performance, it is far more likely that people like it simply because it is not surrounded by scandal and at the same time has too abstract of a function to be blamed by the masses for their problems.
In third place comes the Catholic Church. Although an overwhelming majority of Slovaks claim to be Catholic, even church representatives admit that for most, going to church is more a matter of custom and social conformity than of faith.
The MVK study also shows what the least trusted institutions are - the government, the secret service, and the police. The government and the police, certainly, have a significant and decisive impact on the life of the population.
As for the most popular public figures, the situation is very similar. Opposition leaders Robert Fico, who has never been in power, and Vladimír Mečiar, who can always count on a group of devoted followers, are in the lead. In their political position, the two can do nothing but talk.
In third place is Bela Bugár, leader of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK). He does share some of the responsibility for the coalition's action, but as the deputy speaker of parliament he has little actual power.
All three most popular institutions and the three most supported politicians share a certain remoteness from the everyday lives of the people. In a situation where people have long ago gotten used to supporting the lesser of numerous evils, not doing anything and thus not doing anything wrong is one of the best recipes for popularity.
This reflects the disillusion and despair of the Slovak population. The seriousness of the situation is evidenced by the results of yet another study done by the Media Research Section of Slovak Radio, released in early October, which showed that as many as 86.9 percent of Slovaks are dissatisfied with overall developments in society since the last elections.
The study also showed that nearly 70 percent of Slovaks worry about the future. That sense of disillusion will not go away before people in public offices start doing their job well enough to be liked for what they do. The question on everyone's mind is - where to find such people.
3. Nov 2003 at 0:00