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Reader feedback: Demure dissent

Re: Flash News: Protest group to exercise rights, February 16, 2005

The nature of any political protest against Bush and Putin's policies is more likely to take the form of quiet satire or disinterest rather than active dissent. The Slovak character is a unique product of political conditioning. This has disillusioned the majority, creating a low self-esteem that can easily be misjudged by visitors from abroad.

The go-getting middle classes have a quiet self-confidence in the future because they experience the fruits of economic growth first hand. Outside Bratislava, those left behind are envious yet resigned. Young people are more interested in communications technology than politics, whilst the economically less fortunate vent their frustrations in poor standards of customer service and disinterest in the affairs of others. Leading tabloid Nový čas promotes the culture of celebrity and treats its political coverage in the same way. Students and the educated middle-classes are overstretched by the demands of their workloads yet happy to give themselves to long hours and little free time in the hope of future financial security. Advertisements are rarely perceived as manipulative or offensive, as they present colourful fantasies in contrast to lives built around tower blocks, inaccessible mortgages and the demands of a society in steady acceleration.

Politically, voter disillusionment set in at an alarming speed once it was understood that good governance is undeliverable. No sooner had Slovakia achieved independence in 1993 than corrupt politicians and state officials exploited its romanticism for democracy. They were blatant and unchecked. Even now, politicians are immune from prosecution for financial crimes. After Vladimír Mečiar, Slovakia's bellicose and authoritarian Prime Minister, left power in 1998, Slovaks were left with a political system made up of opportunists and pressure groups. Slovak politics is a soap opera that easily exhausts interest, as scandal after scandal dulls the brain. Democracy equals more shopping opportunities and chances for the "gifted" to make money. In Slovakia today, it seems to promise few alternative rewards.

The demonstrations I have witnessed in Bratislava during the past year and a half are nothing like Western-style protests; they have meant thirty or forty people chatting politely under placards. Yet this is a country where business negotiations are aggressive and the winner takes all!

Slovaks are a fine people: well educated, cultured and charismatic. But their attitude to politics should not be judged on an international level but rather on their own unique terms.

Mike Fowlds,
United Kingdom

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