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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Trinásť

WE WERE eleven, we remain only ten,Everybody’s saying, we are going to hang,But our number ten, silently disappeared,Letting the nine of us, face the death he feared.But even the ninth one, could not be begged to stay,So there are eight of us left, the rest have gone away.The eighth one has promised, not to be a traitor,We remained just seven, only moments later.

WE WERE eleven, we remain only ten,
Everybody’s saying, we are going to hang,
But our number ten, silently disappeared,
Letting the nine of us, face the death he feared.
But even the ninth one, could not be begged to stay,
So there are eight of us left, the rest have gone away.
The eighth one has promised, not to be a traitor,
We remained just seven, only moments later.

When the hit song ‘We were eleven’ was released in 1981, no one could have anticipated how well it would describe the reality of 2013. There are only two differences between the situation described in the lyrics and what’s currently going on at the Constitutional Court – there are thirteen (trinásť) judges, not eleven. And public anger has not yet reached the point at which executions would be an option. But the court is testing people’s patience.

The case of Jozef Čentéš is not the first time strange things have occurred at the court. It took several years before the judges managed to check the formal aspects of a complaint against the law which enabled the state to build highways on private land. All that time the diggers were at work. It declared the Special Court created to combat high-level corruption and organised crime unconstitutional on dubious grounds. The list could go on.

But with Čentéš it’s different. In the past, decisions came late or were bad. Now, there is talk that there could actually be no decision at all. Both Čentéš and President Ivan Gašparovič, who has refused to appoint Čentéš as general prosecutor despite his election by parliament, have objected to various judges – to the point that now there is only one uncontested judge. At this point, it’s not even clear who should decide on all the objections, not to mention on the merits of the case, since a three-member senate is required. After some hesitation, Chief Justice Ivetta Macejková did at least admit that Čentéš has the right to have his case heard.

But there is no hint as to how that will be done or how long it will take. All this in a situation when the top prosecution spot has been vacant for over two years, and its current leadership is suspected of ethical misconduct, abuse of power and even outright criminal activity. And Prime Minister Robert Fico says that Slovakia is not a country with the rule of law and we can’t speak of one “until our living standards reach those of western Europe”.

How is all this possible? How come people from within the judiciary don’t speak out? Why are there so few people ready to battle corruption, cronyism, and all the other negative aspects of local public life? Anyone who strives to understand this aspect of the national psyche should heed the final lines of ‘We were eleven’:

The time of hanging’s here, useless are all my pleas,
So I decided to leave my buddy and flee,
We were eleven, we remain only ten,
We’ll go to take a look, as he will be hanged.

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