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EDITORIAL

Is this what the public really wants?

A RACIST joke told by a public official does more harm than thousands of politically incorrect jokes disseminated anonymously on social sites by people who do not hold any office paid for by taxpayers’ money. Yet it seems that public officials in Slovakia are still very far from understanding that things they say, even if it is ‘only’ a seemingly private comment on their social site profile, will always be - and should be - measured by stricter standards than that of people who did not opt to take on such posts and the related responsibilities. In Slovakia, public officials seem unaware that they sometimes contribute to legitimising behaviour or discourse which belongs either in dirty pubs or in societies that do not even claim to support minority rights.

A RACIST joke told by a public official does more harm than thousands of politically incorrect jokes disseminated anonymously on social sites by people who do not hold any office paid for by taxpayers’ money. Yet it seems that public officials in Slovakia are still very far from understanding that things they say, even if it is ‘only’ a seemingly private comment on their social site profile, will always be - and should be - measured by stricter standards than that of people who did not opt to take on such posts and the related responsibilities. In Slovakia, public officials seem unaware that they sometimes contribute to legitimising behaviour or discourse which belongs either in dirty pubs or in societies that do not even claim to support minority rights.

Recently, Radoslav Vazan, the mayor of Krupina and a nominee of the ruling Smer party, made comments to František Kriegel, a Czechoslovak politician of Jewish origin, who refused to sign the Moscow Protocol that followed the 1968 invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies to suppress the Prague Spring.

Vazan asked on his social site profile whether it is allowed to praise on Facebook those other than Jews, while referring to the Jewish people as his “circumcised buddies”, according to the Sme daily. While some local deputies said that Vazan should step down over the statements, and his own party plans to send a condemnatory letter over his language, Vazan claims that he was not being anti-Semitic.

Another mayor, Pavel Hagyari of Prešov, published on his Facebook profile historical images of stages of the construction of Eiffel Tower, but in a reversed order, with the comment “Gypsies in Paris”. A few hours after posting it, Hagyari withdrew the ‘joke’ and later commented, according to Sme, that he had no idea that an innocent joke would evoke such negative responses.

Hagyari too does not see anything wrong with the posting and denied that he was being racist by arguing that there are jokes about Jews, Scottish people and blondes. “If I posted there a joke about blondes would it mean that I am underestimating women,” Hagyari asked, as quoted by Sme, while also suggesting that it was his assistant who posted the joke. In a parallel to the Vazan case, Sme recalled an earlier post on Hagyari’s profile when he commented on the demolition of what he called a “black, really black” settlement, while telling the government proxy for the Roma community to come collect his sheep. At that time, he again said that his assistant made the post, according to Sme.

Each such comment contributes to the decline of public discourse and serves to legitimise stereotypes that people routinely attach to different minorities.

Those making such comments frequently argue they were only making a ‘joke’ or that they only said aloud what others were thinking.

Several mayors, parliamentary deputies, ministers or other top officials have somehow failed to understand that by entering a public office, they must measure themselves by a much stricter standard – and refrain from uttering comments likely to be heard in a barroom. Some, instead of massive condemnation, seemingly expect sympathy from those who think similarly. It would be a rather sad development for a country if the number of such sympathisers were to grow rather than fall.

Recently, an independent deputy who made it to parliament on the slate of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities, Alojz Hlina, grabbed Smer colleague Anton Martvoň and shouted at him to look into his eyes. Martvoň then fell off his chair in the middle of a parliamentary debate, during which Martvoň had suggested that Hlina made his life’s fortune serving alcohol to youths under the age of 18. Hlina argued that he did not attack Martvoň because if he actually had, the Smer deputy would have ended up in the hospital, as reported by Sme. While some might find it entertaining and get a good laugh over Hlina’s retort, the incident is yet another blow to the level of ‘political’ discourse in parliament. One might also ask, is this what the Slovak public deserves, given that they elected these people into office?

Perhaps the next election will give us new answers, but the cynic might suggest that things could still get worse.

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