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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

VÚC

THERE is not much to like about the Higher Regional Units (VÚC). The name sounds just as bureaucratic and artificial in Slovak as it does in English. Their borders reflect no traditional regions, but given the political situation of the early 2000s and an ever-present fear of Hungarian separatism – which is why the Trnava VÚC looks like a giant lizard getting ready to attack and swallow Bratislava – the point was to stretch it as far to the north as possible. The powers of the regions are clear to few, and the alliances that run them have no political logic.

THERE is not much to like about the Higher Regional Units (VÚC). The name sounds just as bureaucratic and artificial in Slovak as it does in English. Their borders reflect no traditional regions, but given the political situation of the early 2000s and an ever-present fear of Hungarian separatism – which is why the Trnava VÚC looks like a giant lizard getting ready to attack and swallow Bratislava – the point was to stretch it as far to the north as possible. The powers of the regions are clear to few, and the alliances that run them have no political logic.

So it is little surprise that only about a fifth of voters bother to turn out for elections. And it does make sense to talk about the future of the self-governing regions.

However, it makes very little sense when it’s Robert Fico doing the talking.

“One strong VÚC in eastern Slovakia, one strong VÚC in central Slovakia, and one strong VÚC in western Slovakia,” said the prime minister this week, of his plans to replace the eight existing regions.

Why does this return to the communist-era division of the country seem absurd? One of the biggest initiatives this cabinet has announced is ESO, a plan to create an effective, reliable, and open public administration. From the beginning, it has seemed more like a marketing move than a real reform. But still, the first step has already been made: local specialised offices dealing with education, construction and the environment have been put under the roof of one universal administrative office. And much of the agenda is concentrated in the eight regional capitals.

Several questions therefore come up: Why didn’t the debate about the number of regions start months ago, when ESO was still on the drawing board? What will happen with the new ESO structure if the VÚC borders are redrawn – will the state administration be divided in one way and the regional governments in another, creating utter chaos? Or will the only visible result of the administrative makeover be radically changed after just a few months?

Add on top of these difficulties the number of Smer members who would have to give up their seats in regional parliaments and governments and the prospects of any real reduction in the number of regions look slim. Fico’s tirade only proves that affection for the VÚC is so small that you can propose to get rid of them and no one will rush to their rescue. And it is one further example that Fico is more a man of pleasing gestures than big ideas or true reforms.

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