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FOREIGNER IN SLOVAKIA

Blog: It's your turn

The election left many people disappointed in some way or other and despairing for the future. It's time to stop waiting on other people and ask what you've done to make Slovakia a better place.

(Source: TASR)

As the election results showed, people of Slovakia are fed up with corruption, cronyism, and backdoor deals. While hoping for change in a new coalition, the last days of proceedings seem to keep dredging up more dirt, as Procházka lies about meeting Fico and Kollár claims that 2 million euro per head were offered to join a Smer coalition.  

It's easy to be disheartened in politics and conclude, therefore, that the future of Slovakia is a lost cause. Indeed, no matter what good intentions a person enters politics with, it takes a particular strength of character and integrity to resist the personal benefits that can come from positions of power. The easiest person to lie to is oneself, politician or not. 

A more uncomfortable question, however, is asking what I, an ordinary person, have done to create a country of solidarity and integrity, from which will come strength. It's easy to blame other people. It's harder to take responsibility to do something. 

When I first came to Slovakia, I was shocked at a particularly ugly kind of littering. Often on quiet roads that wander into forests or through fields are large piles of trash - not just a random snack wrapper but a heap of garbage bags bursting at the seams, a rusty washing machine or slashed up couch. Who even does this?? I ranted. Besides garbage trucks, there are travelling vehicles picking up electronics and appliances through smaller towns, blaring their loudspeaker. Towns often have large containers brought a few times a year that people can fill with bigger pieces of trash. 

The people who dump their garbage in the forests and fields, they don't care about the ugliness, the disorder, the potential danger, the environmental damage, or that somebody else will have to clean it up. All they care about is that it's no longer in their house, it's no longer in their little area of narrow vision.

To a large extent this attitude was created by communism, not just about garbage but taking care of things in general. "I take care of my little personal space and that of my friends, and the rest is somebody else's responsibility." It's time to get over that.

There are, of course, signs that social responsibility is waking up, like the story of Miroslav Pagáč, who started a transparent fund to pay striking teachers their lost wages. And people in Slovakia trusted him enough to support it with 60,563.71€ of their own money.

But we don't have to wait for grand opportunities or have special know-how. You can start to build integrity, create solidarity, and grow social responsibility no matter what small town you live in or how limited your income is.

Make sure your children aren't cheating at school - cheating is rampant in Slovakia, and without integrity there how can we have integrity in the future political sphere?

Join or organize volunteer efforts in spring cleaning the streets of garbage. When I was in elementary school, every spring we took a day to don bags and tongs, and spread out over our small town to pick up litter, at the same time learning that garbage doesn't magically take care of itself.

Know a family that is struggling financially, maybe unemployed? Ask for help cleaning up the house or yard, or starting that project you haven't gotten around to and pay them. In some countries it is the responsibility of those who have money to hire help - not because they are rich and therefore lazy and luxurious, but because it's a way to share their good fortune.

Gather stories of the generations who experienced life under totalitarian regimes, and find a way to share it with our youth. History in a textbook is boring, at least when I was a teen; history needs to be made alive. Historical fiction novels or real people visiting schools, anything, because if the youth lose the experience of those who have come before, we are doomed to repeat history.

If nothing else, bring a meal to a mom with a newborn. 

Maybe these ideas seem paltry. Like they won't change anything. It's true that a grassroots movement can't make laws. We need politicians and hope for honest ones.

But if you're only waiting for someone else to make Slovakia a better country, you'll be sadly disappointed. It's your turn to step up to the plate.

Naomi blogs about the culture, food, and life in Slovakia at Almost Bananas.

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