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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Shutdown

THE AMERICAN shutdown looked like something that you would expect to happen in Slovakia. But although we left the presidential palace vacant for 15 months, had no attorney general for two and a half years, and aren’t really trying to find a new boss for the Supreme Audit Office, even after more than 600 days passed since the previous one finished his term, we have never managed to bring the entire government to a halt.

THE AMERICAN shutdown looked like something that you would expect to happen in Slovakia. But although we left the presidential palace vacant for 15 months, had no attorney general for two and a half years, and aren’t really trying to find a new boss for the Supreme Audit Office, even after more than 600 days passed since the previous one finished his term, we have never managed to bring the entire government to a halt.

The closest the country has come to a shutdown was at the end of Iveta Radičová’s government in 2012, when the opposition said it would only allow the cabinet to take care of “heating and lighting”. But they were exaggerating – they also let the administration clean the streets and leave the museums open.

For the time being it seems impossible to replicate the American paralysis in local conditions – Smer has a firm majority in parliament and also controls all other relevant centres of power. And the legislative framework just doesn’t allow for a similar situation. Nevertheless, the American stand-off sends a very bad message.

Slovakia is a perfect example of a country in transition. It has all the institutions and laws of a standard democracy, but lacks the traditions. That’s why corruption, nepotism and abuse of power are so widespread. The system of checks and balances works only on paper, and the sense of responsibility and honour that should come with any high office is mostly absent altogether.

The one thing that can help society move ahead, besides time, is a role model. And America is one of the few countries that has in the past served as a positive example. Authoritarian tendencies in this region have always been strong, and their fans are always looking for new arguments against Western-style liberal democracy. So even a temporary shutdown in Washington can contribute to a more permanent one in Bratislava.

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