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EDITORIAL

The pantheon of misplaced trust

WHAT to do about those pesky opinion polls that frustrate half of the nation about the choices of the other half? There is a specific type of poll that’s especially guilty of causing a large portion of the population to roll their eyes and hang their heads: the kind that measures which politicians the public trust most.

WHAT to do about those pesky opinion polls that frustrate half of the nation about the choices of the other half? There is a specific type of poll that’s especially guilty of causing a large portion of the population to roll their eyes and hang their heads: the kind that measures which politicians the public trust most.

If the polls are right, then the country’s most trusted politician is the prime minister, since 32.4 percent of those polled named him in mid September when the Slovak Statistics Office asked random respondents to list the three politicians they trust the most. President Ivan Gašparovič came in second with 15.6 percent. The third most trusted is Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, with 10.8 percent.

Bringing up the rear are Slovak National Party boss Ján Slota, with 9.8 percent, and Movement for a Democratic Slovakia boss Vladimír Mečiar, with 7.7 percent.

Fico, Slota, and Mečiar. These three have been topping different opinion polls long enough to understand by now that their popularity is not just a summer fling with almost half the nation, but an expression of the public’s happiness to be ruled by them and everything they stand for.

“People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get,” English novelist Aldous Huxley wrote in his novel Brave New World.

Over 30 percent of the nation is happy with a prime minister who tolerates a justice minister suspected of ties to Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug gang. This is the same prime minister who not so long ago heralded a new era for all those hoping to cash in their party affiliation by declaring that it is not unacceptable to award public funds to supporters or sympathisers of the governing coalition parties if their projects conform to the law and the rules.

Perhaps there should be a poll measuring how many find it disturbing that almost 10 percent of the nation ranks Slota among the five most trusted politicians. This is the same Slota who is personally responsible for fueling the tensions between Slovakia and Hungary and whose suggestion - made to supporters during a drunken rant - to get into tanks and level Budapest has become a running joke.

Are polls supposed to reveal some deeper truth about the nation’s choices? Or are they just superficial informative items meant to entertain both politicians and the public? Or is their value somewhere in between?

No matter the answer, having Slota – who recently referred to Hungary’s King Stephen as a "Hungarian clown on a horse from Budapest" and to Kinga Göncz, Hungary's foreign affairs minister, as “this lady with disheveled hair” – among the five most trusted politicians is highly disturbing. And it is unlikely to change that soon.

If we talk about the trust that people put in politicians, perhaps it is worth mentioning that earlier this year, the Sme daily broke a story about Slota’s signature on parliament’s attendance sheets, which mysteriously appeared even when Slota was not around to sign his name. Slota earned several “badges of honour” for missing the highest number of parliamentary sessions, but he is still paid from our taxes for being there.

Obviously, some of the same taxpayers don’t mind paying Slota for all that he has done and reward him with their trust. Now parliament is working on making the checks on attendance in parliament stricter, so that signatures can be no longer forged.

But Slota’s presence in the pantheon of most trusted politicians is no less disturbing than having Mečiar there. For those who are frustrated by the results of these polls, there should be some comfort in the fact that Mečiar would without a doubt also place high in a poll of least trusted politicians.

A sceptic would say that 7.7 percent of respondents expressing trust in Mečiar is not such a high number and that people who still trust the man who pushed Slovakia to the edge of international isolation back in the mid nineties are gradually disappearing. The sceptic would also ask why such a fuss is justified about an opinion poll conducted on a sample of just 1,274 respondents.

Perhaps it’s justified because it is highly probable that if parliamentary elections were held tomorrow, Slovaks would see these same faces marching into government, despite all the controversial statements, all the tenders they’ve had to scrap, and all of the failed ministers they’ve had to fire.

It is puzzling and frustrating. The part of the nation that is frustrated by the polls that list Slota and Mečiar among the five most trusted politicians craves an alternative.

Yet politicians worthy of the public’s trust do not work their way up the ladder or burst onto the political scene overnight. Perhaps parties who are now bleeding in the opposition neglected to cultivate a new generation of politicians and allowed their petty infighting to drive away too many of their supporters.


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