Prime Minister Robert Fico's baffling response to being caught on an amateur video doing an illegal U-turn last week was further evidence - if any is still needed - that the Slovak identity is crippled by insecurity.
Instead of admitting the infraction he belittled it and turned on his 'attackers' in the media with a vulgar charge: "they jerk off on me every day". No, an illegal U-turn is not, as Fico ironically noted, "a dangerous crime threatening the entire city of Bratislava". On the other hand, the prime minister's inability to deal with facts that are unflattering to him has destroyed rational discourse with the government he leads. And that definitely is a threat to the welfare of the entire country.
Foreigners who deviate from senile approval of everything Slovak - from hockey to halušky - risk causing deep offence. Slovaks who notice the dung beneath the rosebush are only marginally more tolerated. But this abiding national insecurity is so harmful, and at the same time so deeply unwarranted, that it needs to be confronted.
Why do people with a legal right to decent medical treatment continue to offer bribes to doctors, or to arrange 'protection' at hospitals? Because they lack confidence in both the health-care system and their own claim on the state as individuals. Why do talented Slovak sports teams continue to under-perform, especially against the Czechs? Because they still see success on the world stage as a pleasant surprise rather than as something that they should expect of themselves.
And why do Slovak leaders react like belligerent teenagers when criticised by the media? Because they don't believe they can win on a level playing field. Because they need the advantage that a restrictive press law or a vulgar accusation provides.
Elsewhere, political leaders handle traffic offences differently. In 1910, Lady Laurier, the wife of the Canadian prime minister, became the first person ever to be issued a speeding ticket when she was 'caught' driving at over 16 kilometres per hour in the heart of the capital city. There is no record of Sir Wilfrid Laurier mocking the offence as "endangering the whole of Ottawa". In 2007, before he launched his run for the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, Barack Obama quietly paid off 17 outstanding parking tickets from his time at Harvard Law School.
The press caught him in the act, but Obama did not accuse them of achieving sexual pleasure at his expense. Members of a police motorcade taking New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark to an official appearance were actually convicted in 2006 of using excessive speed (172 km/h) in the absence of a true emergency; Ms Clark did not take their side, whatever her feelings about the media that wrote of a "scandal". And Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi recently paid off 11 outstanding fines for speeding, traffic obstruction and parking offences, even though he wasn't driving his vehicles at the time.
Come on, Mr Prime Minister. There is no reason in the world that Slovakia should take a back seat in political culture to the US, New Zealand or Malaysia. If Mr Abdullah Ahmad Badawi can pay up without a fuss, so can you. You have nothing to fear but fear itself.
12. May 2008 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson