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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Pilier

PILLARS are usually built to hold, underpin or sustain, but rarely are they meant to be closed and opened. Doors have been invented for this purpose.

PILLARS are usually built to hold, underpin or sustain, but rarely are they meant to be closed and opened. Doors have been invented for this purpose.

“Druhý pilier” is obviously an exception. The government keeps re-opening the privately-managed “second pillar” of the Slovak pension system, hoping in vain that enough people will return to the state-run pay-as-you-go system, thus patching the huge hole in the budget of the state’s social insurer.

The Fico government’s passion for using state money to lure people away from the private funds, as well as its readiness to constantly change the rules of pension saving are all worth mentioning.

But what is even more interesting is that people don’t seem to mind constant attacks on one of the “pillars” of society – there are no public protests, no significant shifts in Fico’s approval ratings.

The reason is simple: much of the debate about the pension system focuses on things that will happen in perhaps 50 years.

If you look half a century back, Slovaks have seen the invasion of Russian forces, the collapse of a totalitarian regime, the division of a country, the end of two different currencies, and entry into a mega-union of 27 states.

What about the fifty years before that? The Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the Czechoslovak republic, the fascist Slovak state, and the communist version of Czechoslovakia – this list of different state formations in which Slovaks lived during that period further illustrates that Slovakia is not a nation easily impressed by radical social change.

And history has taught the country that dramatic turns of events come if not overnight, then with a few months’ notice at the most.

Contemplating a system designed to deal with the demographic and fiscal problems of 2060 seems rather absurd.

This approach to life, history, and society, affects not only the pensions debate, but the entire local culture.

Bribery, cronyism, low regard for public institutions, and an overall tendency to put personal gain above long-term general interest are all consequences of the fact that, unlike wealth stacked in one’s own coffers and personal ties, nothing here seems to last very long.

Not to mention that the official “public good” is very often very bad.

But there are also advantages to living in constant change. Whatever the financial crisis brings, whatever shape the EU takes, whatever world order comes next, Slovaks will be ready to adapt.
The recent introduction of the euro proved the point – there were no big debates before it came, and absolutely no problems once it arrived.

The country is ready to experiment, as it did with the flat tax, or the pension system. No fixed set of values and a great amount of flexibility.

Those are the characteristics of a country which is neither supported, nor restrained, by any pillars.

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