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EDITORIAL

'Insensitive generalisation' or just a cartoon?

“HOW many lawyer jokes are there? Only three: The rest are true stories,” reads one of the countless lawyer one-liners circulating in cyberspace. Some are witty, some aren’t, but indeed most of the jokes subject the members of the legal profession to generalisation while magnifying the least flattering lawyer stereotypes. Indeed this is what jokes about different professions, nations, ethnic groups or any other group of people do.

“HOW many lawyer jokes are there? Only three: The rest are true stories,” reads one of the countless lawyer one-liners circulating in cyberspace. Some are witty, some aren’t, but indeed most of the jokes subject the members of the legal profession to generalisation while magnifying the least flattering lawyer stereotypes. Indeed this is what jokes about different professions, nations, ethnic groups or any other group of people do.

“Insensitive generalisation” – this is how the Slovak Bar Association responded to Martin “Shooty” Šútovec’s cartoon in which “a swine dressed in an academic gown is handing over a diploma to a man with a pig-like nose in the midst of morphing into a pig, telling him ‘you have become a doctor of law. There is no better qualification for plundering this country’”. The cartoon was published by the Sme daily.

The association, which encompasses 7,300 people with university and legal education, said that while it supports the author’s right to freedom of speech, it stands against what it called expressions resembling the propaganda of totalitarian regimes.

The lawyers also demanded an apology from the daily and the head of the association suggested that the cartoonist, Šútovec, should practice self-censorship.

Šútovec has in the past been sued by Prime Minister Robert Fico over a cartoon in 2009. Fico argued that Shooty was making fun of his serious medical condition. Indeed, the cartoon featuring a nervous man in a giant red tie being told by his physician that since the x-ray shows he has no spine, his cervical spine problems are only “phantom pains”. It gained even wider fame and attention after Fico’s lawsuit.

In the latest incident, the perceived state of Slovakia’s judiciary along with the rather low public trust in he courts perhaps explains why Šútovec is picking on this particular profession.

Nevertheless, Šútovec himself explained his inspiration to Sme on July 31, saying that “this country has been, in the long term, run by people who wear the JUDr title in front of their names”.

Perhaps it would have been a better option for the bar association to refrain from issuing an official stand on what amounts to a piggy cartoon. Calling it a “dangerous expression, by which a group of people is being slandered only due to their education”, may be a little over the top.

Perhaps those who felt frustrated by the tediously long process of filling the country’s long vacant general prosecutor position did have a bitter-sweet laugh over the cartoon, and did not view it as slandering a particular profession.

It is likely that those who find it hard to comprehend how Slovakia, with all its corruption problems, finds it so difficult to send senior officials suspected of corruption behind bars also found the cartoon on point.

The cartoon might have given some satisfaction to those who were outraged by the tendency of the courts letting alleged gang members go free once the term of their pretrial custody elapses without the courts producing any verdict. But these are old stories about Slovakia’s judiciary.

In responding to the bar’s request for an apology, Matúš Kostolný, the editor-in-chief of Sme, said the cartoon could not slander the lawyers since they are doing it “more intensively on their own”. Without many lawyers damaging the reputation of their profession, this cartoon would not be humorous, Kostolný said in Sme.

Doubtlessly, Slovakia has many excellent lawyers including those fighting for human rights or people who stand behind clients who have been sued for expressing their opinion and in some cases drawing cartoons that hit the raw nerve of politicians.

Ironically, they were likely the ones least concerned about the piggy cartoon and most concerned with the bar association’s response.

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