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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Zámena

WHY DO police officers always come in pairs? So that there is one who can read and one who can write. The old Slovak joke now needs revision – there should also be a third one, who can check your identity. The recent zámena (switch) which the justice system fell victim to is unique even by local standards. Sure, the country remembers attempts by criminals to pay someone to go and serve their sentence. But a criminal pretending to be his own brother and going to jail under the false name? That seems almost as surprising as the fact that in the age of fingerprints, DNA testing, and, not to forget, photography, a former convict can spend eight months in prison before anyone notices that he is not who he says he is.

WHY DO police officers always come in pairs? So that there is one who can read and one who can write. The old Slovak joke now needs revision – there should also be a third one, who can check your identity. The recent zámena (switch) which the justice system fell victim to is unique even by local standards. Sure, the country remembers attempts by criminals to pay someone to go and serve their sentence. But a criminal pretending to be his own brother and going to jail under the false name? That seems almost as surprising as the fact that in the age of fingerprints, DNA testing, and, not to forget, photography, a former convict can spend eight months in prison before anyone notices that he is not who he says he is.

Slovak police have in recent years had their share of comic moments. Putting explosives on a flight to Dublin, letting a suspected thief escape through a hospital toilet window, or allowing an unsuspecting truck driver to unknowingly drive a substance crucial for the production of heroin across half of Europe and spend Christmas in a Turkish prison as a result: these are all admirable feats. But yes, the force does seem determined to push the limits ever higher.

On the positive side, the News of the World scandal in Britain makes one realise that things are not necessarily much better abroad. The West is often used as a role model for Slovakia. And, on the whole, rightly so. But there are rare moments when it seems that one wouldn’t gain much by switching.


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