SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Starosta

“WHEN I’m with you, I wish to be honest and witty, as the mayor of our city. Our heads would be clear, and our souls feel so near,” (Túžim ti vravieť z mosta do prosta, tak ako v našom meste starosta, hlavy by sme mali čisté, a duše cítili to isté) sings Slovak pop band No Name in its song “Starosta”, perhaps the world’s only hit single touching on the issue of municipal politics.

“WHEN I’m with you, I wish to be honest and witty, as the mayor of our city. Our heads would be clear, and our souls feel so near,” (Túžim ti vravieť z mosta do prosta, tak ako v našom meste starosta, hlavy by sme mali čisté, a duše cítili to isté) sings Slovak pop band No Name in its song “Starosta”, perhaps the world’s only hit single touching on the issue of municipal politics.



Besides being witty and honest, a starosta (mayor) has two main duties: starať sa (to take care) of his city and to make sure its citizens have no starosti (troubles). Defining the role of mayors is not that difficult; electing them is in many ways a much tougher task. There are several problems with local elections, which are to take place a month from now:

– Low voter turnout. In 2002, 49 percent of voters cast their ballots; four years later the figure was 2 points lower. Latest opinion polls suggest that this year attendance is again going to be around 50 percent. That is a great figure when compared with regional elections, which last year drew around a fifth of eligible voters. Even parliamentary elections attract just a little more. But it is still curious that you need less than 70,000 votes to be elected mayor of the country’s capital.

– Local media used for propaganda. Most local newspapers and TV stations are run by the municipalities. So it is not rare to see them campaigning for their current masters. Monitoring abuse on a nationwide scale is nearly impossible, so most cases go unnoticed.

– Strange coalitions. Local party bosses are usually free to team up with anyone they like. In Trenčín, there is a coalition of the HZDS and the KDH, formerly perhaps the biggest enemies at the national level. In Košice, the mostly Hungarian Most-Híd party supports Richard Raši, a former minister in the Robert Fico government, which was not known for its love of minority rights. The list could go on and on.

– Too many posts to fill. There are villages in Slovakia where no one is running for mayor, or the local council. The exact figure will be known only after the voting is over, when new elections have to be called, but there are likely to be tens of such places. The fact shows that having nearly 3,000 mayors and over 20,000 people in councils in such a small country is perhaps not the best of ideas. And one can only wonder whether Bratislava really needs to have 80 people in the city council and hundreds more in the councils of its 17 districts (Petržalka alone has 40). Those places do get filled. In the end, all spots do get filled. But mostly by a bunch of no-names.


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