ANYONE who drives at over 100 kilometres per hour in a 50-zone is making a statement, as clear as if he were driving along with his middle finger extended out the window: I don’t care about your safety or that of your family or pets; I don’t care about your neighbourhood or your right to enjoy your garden without cars roaring by; I don’t care about the laws of this country or the people who enforce them.
Anyone who denounces a female police officer in the filthiest language possible is saying pretty much the same thing: I don’t care about women, either in themselves or as other people’s daughters, mothers or wives; I don’t care about the police or the difficult job they do; I don’t care about courtesy, dignity or civility; and I sure as hell don’t care about the welfare of my society or country.
It’s bad enough if such statements are made by private citizens, although most of us have learned to deal with primitive, vulgar lowlifes without letting them spoil our day. But when they are coming from elected officials like Pál Csáky and Ján Slota, then it is difficult to keep one’s dinner down.
I wasn’t born and didn’t grow up in Slovakia, so I may be lacking some important insight into why ordinary people tolerate such behaviour by their MPs. But having lived here for almost 15 years, I can say that with the exception of the 1990s Mečiar era, the public sphere has never been more polluted by expressions of low character. Never have so many stolen so much with so little shame. Never have such amoral men been allowed to pour so much poison, dishonesty and malice into the public ear. Never has following politics produced in decent people such a desire to vomit, or to leave the country.
So leave, many might say. Go elsewhere if you don’t like it here. And of course we foreigners can do just that. But what about the thousands of decent Slovaks who are dismayed by what they see in politics, and yet are unable or unwilling to desert their homeland? Can Slovakia really afford to lose them? And does anyone, even those who voted for this government, really pine for a Slovakia in which Slota sets the guidelines for public courtesy, Mečiar for financial rectitude, and Robert Fico for inspiring political leadership?
Few countries set a higher standard of manners and consideration for others than Great Britain. The ‘upper class’, if one really still exists, prides itself on its tact and its observance of behavioural nuances that set its members apart from ‘the rest’. Things like whether you raise your pinky finger when sipping your tea (you don’t), or whether you mangle the pronunciation of names like ‘Cholmondeley’ (‘Chumley’, don’t ask why).
Of course, no normal person would want to belong to such a group of bores and prigs. But the concern of the British elite with its code of conduct has had a positive influence on the standard of public behaviour in England as a whole. The country’s police still famously go about without guns, tea is still the national drink, and unlike in this unhappy country, public drunks do not get parliamentary parking spots.
Here, on the other hand, every drive into work during the morning rush hour is noisy with the ‘statements’ of other drivers. Following too close, driving down the ambulance lane at the side of the freeway, passing on the right, not signalling, not yielding, and going way too fast (as if anyone at their destination could possibly want them to arrive any quicker). As if they were listening to their leaders: We don’t care, we don’t care, we don’t care.
True, some people do care – like Alojz Hlina, a private citizen who on May 26 organised a demonstration in Bratislava against vulgarity in politics.
But only two dozen people showed up, and Hlina got himself arrested before giving his speech after pulling a childish prank.
Another Yeats moment in Slovakia, where the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
1. Jun 2009 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson