THERE are times when just being different from a previous political manifestation is simply not enough. A considerable part of society hungers for a genuine revival in ethical principles and if this new government does not want to suffocate people’s hope and people’s ability to overcome souring cynicism about everything political in this country, it's time for this ruling coalition to 'walk the talk'.
Before the parliamentary election part of the population opened up their hearts to political greenhorns because their lack of political experience was presented as a virtue, as some kind of vague guarantee that more purity would come to Slovak politics. Citizens, rightly, can vote for inexperienced candidates who seem to be unspoiled by the often poisonous power of politics. But the media, also rightly, can demand that those who campaigned as advocates of political purity and clean hands should abstain from personal vanities and other actions that violate political good taste. This has a very simple basis: political good taste closely borders political ethics because both require making good judgment that goes beyond just following the letter of the law – a constraint that is often like a dull blade.
Generations of Slovak politicians don’t seem to understand that the impression, resemblance or merely the suspicion of corruption, cronyism or conflict of interest might be – in the larger picture of developing a credible system of political governance – just as bad as a specific violation of laws or rules.
Some of our politicians, of course, have lugged the baggage of suspicion throughout their entire career like snails carrying their shells. Unfortunately, Slovakia’s political milieu over several decades has nurtured an atmosphere where politicians can climb to ever higher posts while carrying quite heavy shells. Some people might let this pass but the media, at least most journalists, will not. To turn this metaphor around, this is exactly why it is so important for journalists to understand that they are also responsible for co-creating this baggage, by telling citizens what is in that baggage and to be crystal clear if it really is there. That is the power that journalists have and they also need to continuously examine their own ability to handle that power ethically and honestly.
Politicians should not be surprised or upset that the watchdog known as the independent media is here to bark – and that it will bark every time there are suspicious movements in the shadows shielded from the light of transparency. It would be very bad for our society if watchdogs only started barking after the police patrol had arrived – police who might conclude that yes, there was a thief moving in the shadows but he is now long gone; or that the person behind the blinds was the warehouse manager who was authorised to be there; or that it was just some employee who got lost and was searching for the light switch.
Sometimes metaphors are limp; sometimes they are not.
The Hayek Consulting case, involving a state secretary nominated by the Freedom and Solidarity party and another state secretary nominated by Most-Híd, as well as other questionable conduct that has surfaced since July, shows there is a crying need for moral revival among our political elite, regardless of their political affiliation. Unless this new government applies the strictest political ethics to itself, it can hardly expect citizens to lose their propensity for giving bribes to public officials, or parents to stop trying to buy academic titles for their kids, or our universities to stop dishing out diplomas like election leaflets. Our society hungers for clear and unambiguous ethical signals and it would be best if they started coming from the top.
Our society also needs to cast off its vestiges of racism and discrimination in a deep and thorough way. The most recent example of our failure to do so involves two Roma sisters, Viera and Andrea Samková, who have been “unemployable” as teachers for about four years – even with their university diplomas and an educational system that lacks qualified teachers. The Sme daily reported that some schools where the sisters applied for jobs decided to hire less qualified applicants so their payroll would be less while other schools said the sisters’ diplomas were not quite good enough. The government’s response: it is hard to prove discrimination and anyway, the education ministry has limited ways to intervene into schools’ hiring decisions.
These Roma sisters negate the worst stereotypes held by society: they pursued and achieved university education and have diligently sought jobs as teachers. Yet none of those schools – where the future generation is supposed to be learning and where educators should be leading by example – have seemingly been able to break out of their own vicious circle of discrimination. This is truly the saddest story from the textbook on how to perpetuate racism.
4. Oct 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová