RARELY has Slovakia experienced so much embarrassment as in the first few days of this New Year. Two “trapasy” have gained the country immediate international notoriety. First, the package of explosives planted by police in the luggage of an unsuspecting traveller headed for Dublin, where local authorities launched what appear to have been small-scale military manoeuvres to secure the substance and its innocent courier. And second, the new electronic road-toll system, which collapsed right at its launch, causing havoc at the country’s borders.
Not that 2009 had been exceptionally good for Slovakia’s image. The state’s sale of emissions quotas for half the market price to an unknown US firm apparently set up by people close to the ruling coalition baffled the carbon-trading community. The cabinet’s decision to declare Hungary’s President Sólyom persona non grata also raised a couple of eyebrows. And it was not just human rights organisations that were appalled by the abuse of Roma boys at a Košice police station.
But the early feats of 2010 raise the concern that there may actually be something to a recent disaster film suggesting that 2012 will see the end of the world. Just consider the unbelievable number of blunders the Slovak authorities made in the Dublin affair: 1) explosives are being used to test sniffer dogs, although no law allows it; 2) the dog actually found the explosive, but the police handler forgot to retrieve it; 3) no one stopped the plane, although the officers knew explosives were on board; 4) the police decided to warn the Irish by fax; 5) the fax was not sent to the police or to airport authorities, but to the baggage-handling company; 6) in the fax, the company was asked to find the explosive – and send it back on another flight; 7) it took three days for the policeman’s superior to find out that the explosive was missing; 8) only then were the Irish police finally notified that the explosive was on their territory; 9) Slovak policemen asked their colleagues not to make the affair public; 10) despite points 1) through 9) Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák claimed that this was only an instance of individual failure, and two days after the incident was still saying he did not plan to fire anyone; 11) Kaliňák then refused to hold a press conference or answer questions until January 7, at which point the Border Police chief resigned. If this were a script for a crazy Hollywood comedy about clumsy policemen from eastern Europe it’d most likely be turned down for being too absurd. Can the planet survive all this insanity?
The toll system for trucks is less sexy, but perhaps even more explosive. The project is being handled by a firm which offered the most expensive proposal by far. Luckily for them, the Transport Ministry excluded all the lower-cost bids from the tender, a fact the European Commission is still looking into. And miles-long queues at borders show that all the extra money still may not have been enough. The queues will disappear eventually. What will last is a feeling that the state completely mismanaged the project – and that it was somewhat strange that Transport Minister Vážny left for a vacation just as the toll system was being launched.
The beginning of 2010 was tough. But given the amount of talent in the Slovak government, these will certainly not be the last trapasy of the year.
11. Jan 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila