NOT SINCE the collapse of the communist regime and the disappearance of formerly omnipresent Marxism from public life has the name of any world economist and political philosopher enjoyed as much attention in Slovakia as Friedrich Hayek is getting now. True, ex-prime minister Robert Fico tried to bring Hayek into the spotlight a few years back, when he blamed the country’s economic troubles on liberal policies. But it took Hayek’s epigones, not his enemies, to give the name real influence over local politics.
Hayek Consulting, a firm formerly co-owned by state secretaries Martin Chren, of the SaS party, and Most-Híd’s Ivan Švejna, which won non-transparent tenders at the Finance Ministry under Fico, and signed further contracts with the Economy Ministry while Chren was already working there, has found itself at the centre of debate. And within a week “the Hayeks” (Hayekovci) have become a standard part of Slovak vocabulary.
The affair illustrates three traits of Slovak public life which can be difficult for foreigners to grasp:
1. The almost complete absence of ideological barriers. There are tales of the wartime fascist interior minister Alexander Mach regularly drinking wine and playing cards with future communist president Gustáv Husák during WWII. Communist apparatchiks had no problem transforming themselves into capitalist sharks after the fall of the regime. Renegades from Vladimír Mečiar’s HZDS party helped the second Dzurinda government stay in power. So it should be no surprise that the followers of Friedrich Hayek had no problem with receiving state funding from a socialist government, whose criticism brought them into power. When it comes to money, power, or wine, ideology plays little role.
2. The understanding among the ruling class that it is normal to siphon off public funds. The only dispute seems to be about the acceptable amount. Before he came to power, Fico campaigned with the slogan “They steal under Dzurinda, as they stole under Mečiar”. Well, they certainly stole no less under him. Even supporters of the Hayeks tend to argue that the amounts they received were small, so what’s the fuss all about?
3. The ignorance of the people. In the last hundred years Slovaks have seen their governments send people to death camps, ruin their careers and strip them of basic freedoms. Decades of oppression were followed by mass looting of state property by government politicians, close ties between police officials and the mafia. So little handouts from the common coffer really don’t seem that big of a deal.
Hayek said that “we shall not grow wiser before we learn that much that we have done was very foolish”. The question now is: will the coalition and the society see the foolishness of the Hayeks?
27. Sep 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila