SLOWAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Nástenka

TO-DO LISTS, grandma’s recipes, or faded Roxette posters are items you would normally expect to find on a bulletin board; but not a call to submit offers for a state procurement project worth a hundred million euros. However, the outgoing construction minister Marian Janušek managed to change this deep-rooted perception. Thanks to him, “nástenka” has become a synonym for cronyism, shady deals, and political arrogance.

TO-DO LISTS, grandma’s recipes, or faded Roxette posters are items you would normally expect to find on a bulletin board; but not a call to submit offers for a state procurement project worth a hundred million euros. However, the outgoing construction minister Marian Janušek managed to change this deep-rooted perception. Thanks to him, “nástenka” has become a synonym for cronyism, shady deals, and political arrogance.

The bulletin board always had its appeal for young, ambitious Slovaks. The nástenkár, or bulletin keeper, is along with the chairman and the cashier one of the political elites of most classrooms from elementary to high school.

The power to decide on the colour of the Easter eggs, the size of the “We love our moms” sign, or the placement of a female anatomy poster allows you to shape the mood of your fellow students. Just as Janušek’s bulletin board managed to depress most of his fellow citizens.

When Prime Minister Robert Fico finally decided to get rid of the man shortly before Easter, many felt a sense of relief. But the enthusiasm lasted only until the coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) announced his replacement.

New construction minister Igor Štefanov, until now head of the EU funds section at the ministry, masterminded and executed the nástenka deal. And the public only got to know him thanks to a press conference in December 2008, where he tried to help Janušek explain the unexplainable – that it was in fact okay to give away three billion Slovak crowns to the only company canny enough to regularly check a bulletin board in a locked ministry hallway, which just happened to be good friends with SNS boss Ján Slota.

Štefanov famously whispered to Janušek that he shouldn’t be talking about a “bulletin board”. His preferred euphemism? “Public announcement board”. There’s proof for those who see no difference between the old and the new minister – the newcomer can say the same nonsense in a more refined way.

One almost feels sorry for Fico and all the embarrassments he has to go through thanks to his coalition pals from the SNS. But Fico is no political freshman and he knew well what he was getting himself into when he took them into government. If he has all this mess on his to-do list, it is only because he chose to become chairman of a class which cares only for bulletin boards. Sorry, public announcement boards.

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