"Solidarity is in fact not a matter of sentiment but a fact, cold and impassive as the granite foundations of a skyscraper. If the basic elements, identity of interest, clarity of vision, honesty of intent, and oneness of purpose, or any of these is lacking, all sentimental pleas for solidarity, and all other efforts to achieve it will be barren of results." - Eugene V. Debs
We like to think of Slovakia as hospitable and compassionate, and our small nation is often described as such. But if we were to ask someone to paint a picture of Slovakia based on the way its people reacted to the tsunami earthquake in Asia, the image would not be flattering.
Compared to its neighbours, Slovakia has performed poorly in terms of collecting aid for the tsunami-hit countries. People in the Czech Republic gathered more than Czk115 million (€3.8 million) while the Czech government released an immediate aid package worth Czk15 million (€496,000). Hungarians have collected Huf250 million (€1 million) to donate to rescue efforts - a figure ten times higher than People in Peril, one of Slovakia's best-known aid organizations.
In addition to People in Peril's €100,000, the Slovak Red Cross collected Sk281,673 (€7,300), UNICEF Sk195,760 (€5,100), ADRA International Sk150,000 (€3,800) and rescue organization Gabčíkovo Sk1.4 million (€36,000) - a grand total of €152,200, which is a quarter of what the Czech public gave.
Of course, turning giving into a competition misses the point.
Each country should give according to its ability. But surely Slovakia and its people have a greater potential to give than what has been demonstrated - and this lack is not only expressed in financial terms.
Slovakia not only donated less cash than its equal but also showed a certain shallowness in terms of attitude and sympathy to those 150,000 who lost their lives and the hundreds of thousands more who lost their loved ones, their livelihoods and their homes.
On January 5, most of Europe kept a quiet vigil for three minutes, letting the silence speak for sorrow that is inexpressible.
The events were organized, collective and heartfelt. In Slovakia, it was life as usual: nothing stopped.
Part of the reason for Slovakia's lack of solidarity during those three minutes is because people simply did not know.
Our country's top officials failed to mobilize the nation to demonstrate their collective compassion. In fact, they failed to mobilize themselves. The Slovak cabinet has not yet convened to discuss the tsunami tragedy as a government body [as of The Slovak Spectator print date].
Some cynics point out that those politicians who responded individually by giving aid to Asia are guilty of "political vulturism".
The fact is that Slovak politicians rarely resist the temptation to use whatever they can to promote their party. Perhaps if politicians had stood up as a body to show support for the crisis in Asia, the Slovak people would have as well.
Others argue that joining a symbolic tribute, such as collectively observing three minutes of silence, does nothing to help those in need. Perhaps if Slovakia had demonstrated compassion in other ways this line of thinking would be relevant.
The Czech people responded immediately and selflessly to the windstorm that levelled the Tatras by starting a collection for the recovery of forests. The public television service Czech Television widely broadcast a Tatras benefit concert while its Slovak counterpart, STV, chose to broadcast the programme on its less popular channel, STV 2. The result is that more Czechs watched the Tatras benefit concert than Slovaks.
The director of People in Peril, Andrej Ban, wrote in his essay for the daily SME that the most effective way to evaluate the development of a person's values is to observe how quickly that person moves to help people in peril. Slovaks, Ban suggested, demonstrated considerable immaturity.
Perhaps it is hypocritical of the Slovak media to suggest that Slovaks are miserly in their compassion when TV stations, newspapers and news wires did not promptly disseminate information on how to help or where to send money, focusing instead on the Slovak travellers who returned from the region. Several readers of The Slovak Spectator pointed out this fact.
It is likely that many Slovaks have intentions to help but are waiting for someone to tell them what to do or where to send donations. [If this is the case, see the tsunami story on page 2.]
It is also likely that many do not realize the magnitude of what's happened in Asia and how it affects our lives. Some of us are glad, perhaps, that Slovakia is landlocked.
But the tsunami's waves do reach our shores; we are a global village and can no longer ignore what happens beyond our borders.
We still have a chance to prove that Slovakia is a compassionate, hospitable nation worthy of its reputation. Maybe by the time the paper goes to print, more of us will join the massive campaign to help what the United Nations started.
By Beata Balogová
10. Jan 2005 at 0:00