SINCE 1989, foggy November days in Slovakia often invite philosophical musings about freedom, truth and history. This mid-November discourse, or something resembling it, is not induced by a sudden surge of autumn melancholy or the glimpse of half-naked trees but by the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that brought down the communist regime.
The further the country travels from 1989, the more bitterness is felt over the phenomena that for the first decade observers characterised as growing pains; but in the second decade came to be seen as a chronic ailment, like backache which will not disappear without improved posture or a more expensive bed.
Optimists say the path that society has taken since 1989 is momentous and no matter how strong the disillusionment of certain groups, the Velvet Revolution is one of those small miracles that history bestows on mankind to keep alive the hope that dark regimes that contradict humans’ desire for freedom will always end.
The sceptics say that people who authentically lived the revolution and stood up for their ideals have either metamorphosed into something that no longer reminds people of who they were in 1989, became politicians and corroded under the wheels of power and greed, or simply lost their nerve and withdrew. And it seems that society keeps losing them; those who prepared the country for change and then nourished the fragile body of democracy as it took its first steps.
Former Christian Democrat and Velvet Revolutionary František Mikloško said, responding to the tragic death of Ernest Valko, one of the country’s most prominent lawyers, who was shot dead on November 8, that he was part of the big generation of Velvet people who are gradually departing.
The killing of Valko, who over the past two decades shaped some of the crucial laws that helped the country to shake off its communist past, will most probably overshadow this year’s celebrations of November 17.
Valko’s death marks not only the country’s loss of someone who actually remembered the principles laid down during those frosty November days, but also the lingering mindset of the kind of people for whom such principles represent nothing but an irritating impediment.
Now, the massive challenge of solving the crime and bringing justice falls on a government which claims to be closer to the November ideals than its predecessor. It is the challenge of – at least partially – restoring people’s hope and proving that the perpetrators’ violent arrogance does not mean the country is swerving into some dark dead-end.
Just as on every November 17, some politicians will promptly identify themselves as the “big generation” of the revolution; some will recall exactly where they stood during the rallies on those cold squares; while some will simply ignore it, or pay their tribute to what they view as the positives of the communist regime and evoke, in part of society, vague – and illusory – recollections of a lifelong security provided by the dictatorship.
Last year, when the country celebrated the revolution’s 20th anniversary, Robert Fico, a former member of the Party of the Democratic Left, the reformed successor of the Slovak Communist Party, used his perch as prime minister to pour bitter verbal irony into the cups of former dissidents who symbolically toasted the memory of those grand days.
This year’s celebrations will be different: the country has its first woman prime minister, someone who does not evoke instant disappointment simply by opening her lips at international forums, as many politicians have done over the past two decades.
And the country now has a government without the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) led by Vladimír Mečiar, whose rule marked exactly those days of painful childhood aches which, had they lasted longer, could have excluded Slovakia from the body of civilised Europe.
Though Ján Slota, with all his concealed wealth and well-documented lack of political culture, and his Slovak National Party are still in parliament, at least his buddies have been swept from the ministries where they produced some of the most awful corruption scandals of the country’s modern history. Perhaps one day he, like Mečiar, will be gone too – and there will be no Slotas or Mečiars to take their places.
But more likely there will, since twisted politicians of their ilk exist in every country. And so, as before, the level of Slovakia’s maturity will be judged by how society responds to them.
15. Nov 2010 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová