THE GOVERNMENT of Robert Fico has produced some laws that if they had been passed decades or even centuries ago might have been celebrated as the fruits of the wisdom of the state’s founding fathers, or the culmination of their nation-building efforts. But adopted today, these laws give the impression of legislative relics: frail, dusty and full of holes. The government diligently produces volumes of guidelines to instruct people how to handle these relics but no matter how hard the politicians try, someone’s hand will get dusty, someone will get senselessly penalised for breaking a law which was not suited for the current, modern European context.
But some of these relics do much more than just impose senseless penalties on people, make them grumble, and expose Slovakia to ridicule in the international arena: they bring back the spirit of times when it was quite natural to have such legislation. The list of legislative relics was certainly topped by the so-called Patriotism Act, the pet project of the Slovak National Party (SNS), which if not vetoed by President Ivan Gašparovič would have commanded the country’s schools to play the national anthem every Monday through loudspeakers in order, or so its drafters believe, to implant more patriotic feelings in the hearts of the younger generation.
However, the veto won’t contribute to Gašparovič’s paltry list of positive contributions to the nation, since he had no principled objection to the law itself. Instead, one of the reasons he gave for returning the law to parliament was that April Fool’s Day wasn’t “dignified enough” for a law such as the Patriotism Act to come into effect. Unintentionally (for sure) he invited the sarcastic response: on the contrary, it is the perfect day for such a law.
But not all the relics have been sent back to museums and archives. The Press Code, for example, is still valid despite massive criticism from credible organisations and the press. So is the State Language Act, which in an ironic twist is now being used to punish a Slovak-language channel for inadvertently broadcasting a few seconds of untranslated English during a live television talk show.
The talk show, hosted by Štefan Hríb, the editor-in-chief of the Týždeň weekly, and broadcast on the private TV channel JOJ Plus had a native English guest, Andy Hillard, who lives in Bratislava and was able to converse in Slovak – except for a single question that he did not understand, and which Hríb therefore repeated in English. Hillard responded automatically in English. It is worth reiterating that Hillard spoke not in Klingon, but in English – which, let us not forget, is a language taught at perhaps every school in Slovakia. Because Hillard’s three sentences in English were not translated and subtitled, the broadcasting authority has launched an investigation.
It is likely that JOJ Plus will not end up having to pay a fine and that the council will simply brush the whole violation thing aside. But the fact that such a situation has emerged shows that something is deeply wrong with the law, and hardly presents a very welcoming image of Slovakia to the international community. Will this legislative spectacle contribute to the strength of the Slovak language, or nurture people’s positive feelings towards the law? Not in the slightest.
Yet with the general election nearing it seems that many of the seeds that the current ruling coalition has planted over the past four years are bursting into flower. Will all this have any impact on the election results?
Will the voters assess, for example, the SNS and its boss Ján Slota based on the performance of the Environment Ministry under its nominees, who have blessed the nation with several mega-scandals including the Interblue quota-trading soap opera – a surprisingly accurate reflection of how the ruling coalition in general does business.
The talkative former project manager of Interblue Group, Rastislav Bilas, who threw a surprise press conference in late March, demonstrated in little more than an hour all the “qualities” of the kind of businessman who can flourish in the world that Slotas, Mečiars and Ficos have created.
He boasted that the government was completely unprepared for the sale of Slovakia’s emissions quotas, which the ministry finally sold for about half what some other countries got for theirs, and explained that he and Norbert Havalec – who also worked as an adviser to the then environment minister Jaroslav Izák (without it apparently occurring to anyone that this might have been a been a conflict of interest) – then sold them on for almost double the price.
How can a nation entrust issues as sensitive as language and media regulation to a government which cut a deal as bad the one with Interblue? Or have faith that the same government has “experts” able to manufacture anything better than legislative relics to decorate the stage, while the real business happens out of sight?
5. Apr 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová