THE DEGREE of liberty is still too low, and the privileges of the state still too high. That’s the main lesson Slovakia had the chance to learn about itself this week. Perhaps the most debated event of the past few days was police chief Jaroslav Spišiak’s ban on the use of hidden police radars, and on stopping even those drivers who are not suspected of committing any specific offence, and his order that transport police announce in advance where they are planning to measure drivers’ speeds.
Does it seem that in many Western countries such measures are common? Exactly. But when former police boss Ján Packa says that “it is certain” that they will have to be re-evaluated, because “our drivers are not as mature as German or Austrian ones”, and many citizens agree, it reflects a widespread belief that Slovaks are not ready for freedoms enjoyed elsewhere and that more state oppression is needed to hold society together.
Besides the radar revolution, there was the visit by Britain’s Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, who reminded us that “nobody in Britain would dream of people being given immunity [from prosecution]”.
Here, we hold endless parliamentary debates, referenda, and still MPs and judges cannot be investigated, tried, or sanctioned without the consent of their peers.
How come citizens don’t really mind that they all have to have a citizen’s ID, the state has extensive powers, and the ruling elite enjoys unjustified advantages?
The first reason is a long tradition of oppression. The Austro-Hungarian empire, the fascist wartime state, and decades of communism taught people that IDs or radars are far from the greatest evil the state can produce.
And secondly, over the last two decades Slovakia has enjoyed a rapid expansion of freedoms which few countries can match. First came freedom of speech, association, commerce, and free elections. Then the fall of state borders. In every imaginable aspect, this generation is freer than any previous one.
Let’s hope it will not lapse into complacency and that the future will bring even more liberty, and fewer hidden radars.
4. Oct 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila