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EDITORIAL

Reforms reveal weaknesses

ALTHOUGH Slovakia has been greatly praised for its progressive reforms in nearly all walks of life, the easy manner in which they are being passed is a symptom of the state of Slovak society.
Slovakia has never been considered a regional leader. Instead, it had always been the black sheep of the Visegrad Four [including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland] and struggled for the very survival of democracy at a time when its neighbours were already in NATO and on their way into the EU.

ALTHOUGH Slovakia has been greatly praised for its progressive reforms in nearly all walks of life, the easy manner in which they are being passed is a symptom of the state of Slovak society.

Slovakia has never been considered a regional leader. Instead, it had always been the black sheep of the Visegrad Four [including the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland] and struggled for the very survival of democracy at a time when its neighbours were already in NATO and on their way into the EU.

Now the question on the minds of many is: How can it be that the black sheep has suddenly turned into a tiger?

How is it that a society which not too long ago seriously considered that a neutral role between the West and Russia would perhaps best suit its interests is now pushing through reforms at times too daring for even the most pro-reform of societies?

Czech President Václav Klaus, who appreciates the content of the Slovak measures, said it very clearly and very accurately in a recent interview with representatives of numerous international media published in the daily SME.

"As a liberal economist I have to say that I like the Slovak reforms more than the quasi-reforms we have in the Czech Republic," he said. "On the other hand, the fact that they were approved so quickly and so smoothly shows that the political situation in Slovakia is very superficial. I cannot imagine that such dramatic reforms could take place in Germany, France, Italy, or the Czech Republic so quickly and without huge discussions in society.

"In a plural society, things don't go that fast. The fact that it went so smoothly in Slovakia tells me that it was a leap ahead without society's support," he concluded.

Klaus is absolutely right in his assessment of the situation. A couple of numbers - the results of a survey done by the Statistics Office released on February 16 - show that the opposition party Smer, which wants to reverse all reforms, is strengthening its position and now has the support of 28.9 percent of voters.

It could be argued that no further debate is needed in Slovakia because here, as in any parliamentary democracy, the government received a mandate from the voters in parliamentary elections to put its agenda into life.

However, that is not the case. The elections in September 2002 were all about EU and NATO entry.

The pre-election billboards of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, the largest party of the coalition, depicted a dog and cat hugging each other, and let voters know that "Blue [the colour of the party's logo] is good."

That was about as far as debates about specific agenda went at that time. And that concerns all parties.

Certainly, few noticed any heated political debate about paid education, paid healthcare, flat taxes, pension reform, changes in state administration, changes in the judiciary, and a change in the election system, all on top of European integration, which in itself forces ministries to produce hundreds of pages of legislation whose impact no one has time to assess.

Like it or not, the mandate is not there. In the 1998 elections, people weren't deciding about reforms. They were deciding about EU and NATO and their personal preferences for a colour of the spectrum.

The reforms could be good in the end for Slovakia, or they could be bad.

They may last or the next populist that comes to power may swipe them off the table.

But one point is clear: They are not a reflection of progress in Slovak society as a whole.

They just happened to be on the agenda of those brought to power by circumstances that had little to do with the real values prevailing in today's Slovakia.

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