I am in Sarajevo and keep running into a phrase I hear a lot. People repeatedly refer to desire to live in a “normal country”. Slovaks say things like this a lot too, so do Czechs – and this leads to the question of what is a normal country?
Most Bosnians almost certainly view Slovakia as a so-called normal country. Slovaks gained their independence peacefully, they now are members of the EU and NATO, and the political system rather straightforward as compared to this Bosnian mess that still divides government power between ethnic groups and remains overseen by the EU High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko (a position once held by Miroslav Lajčák, now the Slovak foreign minister).
So if Bosnians view Slovakia as a normal country, what do Slovaks consider normal? Is the United States, a world superpower, normal? I am American, and happy about that, but from the gun culture and lack of public health care to Donald Trump’s hair and our obsession with making movies about superheroes there is not much of it I would consider normal.
Does Germany’s 20th century history allow for normalcy? Is the United Kingdom, which is basically four countries in one? Have you ever heard someone speak Welsh? That is certainly not normal. What about Russia? Or further afield. Do you consider India, Iran, Mexico or Brazil normal? Do Indians?
You might say Canada, Sweden or Norway are normal. But are they? In fact the very reason they appear so desirable to outsiders is because they are abnormal. They are wealthy, peaceful with strong social systems, have largely reasonable politics a whole lot of snow. Ask a Canadian if they think they live in a normal country. I am sitting next to a Swede right now, he doesn’t think his country is normal. Next to him is somebody from Ireland, who also does not find his country normal – and also finds my question absurd.
Slovaks almost certainly would like to have state institutions that function like Sweden’s, but there is no sign that they have the same ingrained sense of humanitarian solidarity that sees the Swedes take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. Slovak would like to be as wealthy as Norwegians, but short of finding oil underneath the Tatras this seems unlikely, and not sure all that money is worth it if you have to eat lutefisk regularly.
The truth is, it is difficult to find anybody who thinks their own country is normal. Normally what people mean when they say they want to live in “a normal country” is that their country is not perfect and that there are a few things they would like to change about it. The person next to them would like to change a few things too, but they are often different things.
Sometimes those changes are big and sometimes small, but even if you manage to make them the country (wherever it is) always seems end up a step or two short of normal (whatever that means).
16. May 2016 at 6:05 | Benjamin Cunningham