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ENGLISH may be a much richer language than Slovak, but the only word it has to describe the endless joy obtained from the suffering of others is the German “Schadenfreude”.

ENGLISH may be a much richer language than Slovak, but the only word it has to describe the endless joy obtained from the suffering of others is the German “Schadenfreude”.

Slovaks, by contrast, have their own, unique škodoradosť. It is no wonder that it is central Europe which makes these important contributions to global vocabulary. At various points during the past century Slovaks have been ruled by Hungarians, who were ruled by Austrians, who were ruled by Germans, who were ruled by Russians, etc. If you add Poles, Romanians, Ukrainians, not to mention Serbs or Croats, to the equation, you get an almost endless number of combinations of nationalities that believe they have good reason to derive pleasure if not from the troubles then at least from the embarrassment of others.

And there has rarely been a better time for Slovaks to laugh at the worries of their neighbours – the Hungarian economy is collapsing and their president was nearly refused entry into Romania, the Polish and Czech currencies are losing value, Ukraine seems to be receiving all the blame for its recent gas dispute with Russia. But the global spotlight is currently on Austria.

Thanks to the Josef Fritzl case, the country of Mozart and sunny Alpine slopes has suddenly been transformed by the world media into a land of sick perverts and dark basement dungeons. And much of the local media is going along with the frenzy. Even a serious newspaper such as Pravda has commented that “it would be nonsense to call Austria a society of cold, indifferent people, but there definitely is a certain habit of keeping others at a distance” and that the “inconspicuous torturer” was just “an actor on the stage of naiveté and estrangement”. There could hardly be a better illustration of the prejudices that exist in this region, which make it very easy to laugh at the problems of neighbours and say: let them have it, they deserve it. And to forget that Slovaks are no better, and that soon our škodoradosť may turn into their Schadenfreude.

Lukáš Fila is the deputy editor-in-chief of the Sme daily.

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