THE PRESIDENT’S address to the nation on New Year’s Day has a long tradition in Slovakia, dating back to the first Czechoslovak Republic. Despite that heritage, observers agree that there was little point in President Ivan Gašparovič delivering a speech of the kind he gave to the nation at the start of this year; viewing figures suggested that, in fact, few Slovaks seemed keen to hear what he had to say anyway.
The president started his address with an account of the good news that he said the past year had brought to the country.
“We have successfully managed the currency switchover from the Slovak crown to the common European currency, the euro,” he said. “We managed to adopt the Lisbon Treaty. We have also moved ahead with construction of new roads, energy self-sufficiency, and getting local self-government closer to the citizens. However, we have not managed to get off the ground and give a proper emphasis and tempo to lifelong education, development of research and culture – the spiritual world of our society.”
He briefly mentioned the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that Slovaks commemorated in November and thus concluded his attempt to balance 2009.
He then went on to say that there is much work ahead of Slovakia in 2010, and referred to the Slovak bishops who in their letter to believers encouraged people to strive for greater solidarity.
“We have to help each other,” Gašparovič said. “The state to the citizens, and the citizens to the state. Everybody wins with solidarity. Those who give help, and those who receive it. Outreach is particularly important now, in this period of economic crisis.”
Politics was nearly absent from the president’s address. He made only brief remarks related to the political life of the country, saying that the political system in Slovakia is more favourable to political parties than to citizens. Ahead of a year that will be marked by national elections, he noted how important elections are for a democracy.
“Elections are an opportunity to freely express an opinion about society, its politics, and about the needs of the people. We should not underestimate them,” said Gašparovič.
Apart from this, he focused mainly on moral failure in society, with damaged relationships and many lonely people. In his view, money and greed in society are the reasons for this situation.
“At present money mainly humiliates us,” he said in the speech. “It makes us servants of the interests of others. There is no better proof of this than the current global crisis.” The world therefore needs to resolve its moral failures first, he opined.
He appealed for a return to what he called the basic universal moral values of humanity. He called for awareness that “the most precious thing that life gives us is life itself” – family, friends, loved ones – and urged people to dedicate more time to them, especially to children. Finally, he wished Slovaks a better, more secure and more dignified year.
The traditional New Year’s address was broadcast by the public-service broadcasters Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio, as well as by the private TV news channel TA3. According to figures published by the Sme daily, the address was watched on STV by about 343,000 viewers, while a parody broadcast by the private TV channel JOJ at the same time was viewed by 616,000 people. An additional 56,000 viewers saw the president’s speech on TA3.
“It was the speech of a village priest,” was the judgement of political analyst Miroslav Kusý, in comments to The Slovak Spectator. “The speech could have been given by any village priest to his flock as some kind of moral message for the new year. There was nothing that went beyond a moral lament.”
According to political analyst Juraj Marušiak, the speech was shallow and empty.
“The president, or his team, was not even able to handle effectively the topic that was supposed to form the core of the speech – that is, orientation towards spiritual rather than material values,” he told The Slovak Spectator.
Marušiak also said that the speech mirrored the position of the president, who is not even using the possibilities that he is granted by the Slovak Constitution to influence public life.
“If the ruling coalition expected him to support their agenda, they were mistaken,” he added.
According to Kusý, the point in the president addressing the nation at the beginning of the New Year is to balance the past year and to bring some vision for the near future.
“This is how the tradition was founded in the time of [the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue] Masaryk and this is the tradition that both Czech and Slovak presidents continued,” Kusý said. Without this he believes the address to be useless.
The tradition started with the first New Year’s address given by Masaryk in 1919, after the first Czechoslovak Republic was founded in October 1918. The address was originally broadcast over the radio, and in later years on television.
11. Jan 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani