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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

PKO

Naughty by Nature, The Prodigy, Jethro Tull, Bobby McFerrin and Chick Korea are just some of the hundreds of artists that have, over the last couple of decades, performed at Park Kultúry a Oddychu, known simply as PKO.

Naughty by Nature, The Prodigy, Jethro Tull, Bobby McFerrin and Chick Korea are just some of the hundreds of artists that have, over the last couple of decades, performed at Park Kultúry a Oddychu, known simply as PKO.

The Culture and Leisure Park is neither a park, nor a good place to relax, but despite its sub-optimal acoustics, communist design, and complete lack of car parking, the building’s two concert halls represent a musical shrine. If Slovakia has a Carnegie Hall, this is it. PKO’s story perfectly illustrates much of what is wrong with local government in Slovakia.
The building stands on the Danube river bank, right in the middle of Bratislava. In 2005, the city council decided to sell it along with surrounding property to a private developer, allowing the developer to tear the building down as soon as a replacement was found. There was no call for bids, the real estate was sold well beneath the market price to an unknown firm, widely believed to be owned by financial sharks from the J&T investment company, and objections from residents and concert-goers were ignored. It seemed that PKO’s fate was sealed.

But then came the economic crisis and lavish new developments no longer seemed such a good idea. Suddenly, Mayor Andrej Ďurkovský started talking about the need to buy back what had been sold. At a much higher price, of course. Dubious deals, disregard for citizens, and close ties between public officials and investors, all of that is typical for all levels of government in Slovakia.

But PKO’s tale also shows what is the one hope for improvement in the quality of public life – EU membership. A new legal analysis suggests that there is a chance to annul the sales agreement under EU law. Given the low purchase price, the deal was most likely a case of forbidden state aid. As such, local courts can declare it void, or it can be scrapped by the European Commission.

In recent months, the EU has had to step in to investigate a number of issues in Slovakia – the government’s sacking of the boss of the supposedly independent telecoms regulator, or the contract to build a highway toll system which the government awarded to the most expensive consortium after disqualifying all the cheaper ones for made-up reasons.

Not to mention the tender for training, legal, and PR services worth tens of millions of euros that was announced via a bulletin board in a locked hallway at the construction ministry, which the EU has simply said it will not pay for. The coalition is keen to squeeze every drop out of ‘eurofunds’, so it is often ready to reverse decisions or even make systemic changes to ensure the cash keeps flowing. And that’s good for the country.

Objections from Austrian or Hungarian developers would probably have stopped the PKO sale at the very start. So this is a plea to all you ambassadors out there: if there is ever a suspicious-looking public deal in Slovakia, please beg your compatriots to get involved and make a lot of fuss at home once they fail. Outside supervision is by far the most effective means of containing our politicians’ naughty nature.

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