THE OCCASIONS on which nations elect their leaders are the greatest tests of their dignity: the dignity of rivals, the dignity of the victor and the dignity of the defeated.
Changes of power are rarely dignified because too often either the victor or the vanquished fails to understand that an outcome which divides the nation deeply and turns people against each other can cause irreparable harm, and is rarely worth any individual’s moment of political ecstasy.
Sometimes politicians crawl into power, make shady deals and forge unlikely coalitions to get their long-coveted posts.
Their rise to power is sometimes noisy; sometimes it carries a price that their country ends up paying for decades. Sometimes their victory is wrapped in the silence of the nation’s disappointed half. These victories are never dignified.
But sometimes there are rare moments in history when both the winner and the defeated grasp that uniting the nation for the sake of something greater than either of them is the main goal, and are able to overcome the headiness of victory or the introspection of defeat.
The way Democratic candidate Senator Barack Obama handled his victory and the way Republican candidate John McCain faced up to his defeat in the US presidential elections on November 4 was one of those moments.
Regardless of one’s political preferences, sympathies or ambitions, everyone can agree that they both were dignified.
The incumbent president, George W Bush, described Obama’s victory as impressive and assured him that he could count on the complete cooperation of the Bush administration.
He also said that now that the campaign is over, Americans should move forward as one nation. He did so despite Obama not sparing the Bush administration from criticism during his campaign.
It is hard to predict how Obama will perform as the next US president, how he will fulfil or fall short on the promises he has made or the hopes he has raised. But he has made a very promising start: a dignified victory in a world where political dignity is a very scarce resource.
One would have to reach very deep into one’s memory to find many dignified victories or defeats in Slovak politics.
One of the most memorable defeats was that of Vladimír Mečiar in 1998, when in an absurd address on STV he sang a folk song to the nation with the words: “I have been giving you everything. What should I say now? Let’s sing a song. God be with you, I am leaving you. I have not harmed any of you.”
Some political dignity is also required by politicians when they acknowledge political victories in other countries. Prime Minister Robert Fico’s remark in response to the victory of Obama, the first African-American ever to be elected president of the United States, requires – and deserves - no further comment:
“Maybe this will come across as a bit simplistic, but bread will not be cheaper in Slovakia because of this,” Fico told the television station TA3.
The only consolation from this piece of gracelessness is that Obama is virtually certain never to hear it.
Of course he was never intended to - it will be some time before Fico’s name even needs to register in the president-elect’s consciousness, if it ever does at all. Instead it was aimed at Fico’s voters.
But it is sad nonetheless – not to mention somewhat depressing - that the prime minister thinks that this sort of churlishness is what they would want to hear, and was happy to deliver it.
Drawing international political and historical parallels is a dangerous business: comparisons between different countries and levels of development are often unfair or invalid. But once in a while they cannot be avoided.
One wonders what the current chances are, for example, that a member of any minority living in Slovakia will rise to lead this country?
Not very good is the inevitable answer.
Simply listen to the statements made by more than a handful of Slovak politicians addressed to the minorities who live on Slovakia’s territory. Anyone would think inclusion was a dirty word. Or count, for example, the number of Roma who sit in parliament. It will not take you long.
The greatness of a nation is not measured by the price of its bread, but it is, in large part, reflected in the way it treats its minorities.
Forty years ago, few in America would have believed that a black man could one day be elected to the country’s highest office.
Let us hope Slovakia does not have to wait that long.
10. Nov 2008 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová