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She should have stayed

FOR ALL those cheering Iveta Radičová’s decision to quit parliament, or claiming it was the only choice she had, here’s a question – what country do you live in?

FOR ALL those cheering Iveta Radičová’s decision to quit parliament, or claiming it was the only choice she had, here’s a question – what country do you live in?

Because in the Slovakia I live in, what separates ‘civilised' from ‘uncivilised’ politicians is not whether they follow the letter of the law in all situations. No – it’s whether or not they have ever ordered or helped to cover up political murders and kidnappings. It’s whether they have ever accepted money to allow a ‘domestic capital group’ or a ‘foreign investor’ to loot the country’s assets. It is whether their ‘working methods’ include not only voting for absent colleagues with their consent, but also lies, theft, blackmail, extortion, fraud, and drunken incitement to ethnic intolerance.

In the Slovakia I live in, politicians have become utterly beholden to ‘financial groups’, or in the language of our parents, thieves. It was these groups who, post-Mečiar, created a system of bribes in return for privatisation or procurement contracts. This web now ensnares all levels of the state, from members of the government to the lowest officials. Destroying it will require not only a new generation of politicians, judges and prosecutors, but also a citizenry who are more inclined to be disgusted than envious at displays of graft.

With the country in such a state, what good does it do for the more civilised of the nation’s leaders to quit over a trivial infraction? Yes, it offers momentary comfort to those aghast at what they see in politics – allowing them to say, all is not lost. It also offers a moment of self-righteousness to the media, still so desperate to prove that it is objective and that it can be tough on opposition politicians as well. It even offers the moral high ground to Iveta Radičová, turning her into a minority of one on the civilised side of things, with elections coming up.

But what it doesn’t do is change the face of Slovak politics, as represented by the ugly, grinning cynicism of Radičová’s accusers. Iveta Radičová may herself be more civilised today, but is parliament? She may have set the bar higher than it has ever been, but has she not also set it too high to have any relevance for this country’s venal political culture?

There is an undeniable attraction in being morally inflexible, especially when the alternative involves compromising one’s ideals in unheroic ways. But since 1989, Slovakia’s democratic ideals have often been in the hands of inflexible people who are unwilling to do what it takes to see these ideals put into practice. From the People Against Violence to the Civic Conservative Party, and maybe now to Radičová, the idealists have consistently refused to get their hands dirty, with the result that while their hands remain clean, the dirt covers every other surface.

Slovakia is full of civilised people who don’t really understand the country they live in, and who don’t know what it will take to turn it into the country they dream of. If Iveta Radičová really cared about decency in politics – not just the appearance of it – she would have stayed and fought for it.

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