Blog: I Am Because We Are

Today, Slovaks have a lot more power than they had at any other point in history. Perhaps the time has come to look at corruption differently and stop seeing it as something we are passive victims of?

New law should motivate people to report corruption.New law should motivate people to report corruption. (Source: Sme)

Yet another corruption scandal is rocking Slovak society. It brings up some difficult questions every time it happens. Is it true? How does this keep happening? Why doesn’t someone do something? To answer them, we first need to take a look at the very nature of corruption. It seems that the word is thrown around so much that it has almost lost its meaning. What is corruption?

Some say it is theft. Others say it is the abuse of power. Why are we, as a society, so outraged by it? Could it be because it touches upon the very core of what we feel is just and moral? Morality is something that changes over time. It was not so long ago that slavery was kosher. The ownership of another human being was a normal practice. People were sold and bought on a daily basis. An entire economic system relied on this free and enslaved labor. At some point, society decided that the arrangement of trading huma&ns was immoral, just like corruption.

Corruption is often presented as an economic issue. Indeed, many view it as a strain on the public money. Most of corruption that surfaces involves money. Stealing of funds, the misappropriation of public resources or outright bribery are some examples. We talk about it so much in Slovakia that it gave birth to the legend that most government tenders are predetermined. Winners are selected according to a favor system. Those ‘in’ with the power group are rewarded. Those ‘out’ of the power group better not waste their time.

It appears that this is the way things are and have always been. This is the system that we live in. So, why is it that we can’t accept it? It is because corruption is an emotional issue. It is a profound breach of trust. In Slovakia, we have very little trust in those who govern us. We have a deep seated suspicion of people in power. These beliefs go back to our Austro-Hungarian legacy. A thousand years of foreign rule are hard to shake off.

Each corruption scandal is not just a disappointment. It is a continuation of past injustices when innocent people were agonized by the powerful few. Today, corruption is a reincarnation of that same abuse. The faces may change, but the problem remains the same. Those in power win, those without power lose.

Yet, those in positions of authority are elected by the people. They therefore hold a special responsibility. We intuitively expect them to protect us. Hell, we elect them to serve us! That is the deal. When this fragile bond is broken, insecurity gives rise to helplessness as people feel betrayed.

Corruption hurts us more than it disappoints us. Our reaction is emotional rather than logical. Each and every scandal brings up the pain of betrayal. Just like when a parent betrays their child, or a wife betrays her husband. These are very real and strong emotions. Once trust has been broken, it is very hard to rebuild. Even worse, some say it is lost forever.

But why are we still so shocked by it? Could it be that this time the betrayal is too close to home? For the first time in a long history, it is not Hungarians, or Russians or even Czechs causing the suffering. It is us - Slovaks are hurting Slovaks. After so many years of struggle to own our country, to speak our own language and to govern ourselves, we cannot understand why our own people would hurt us. It feels like a stab in the back, or even worse – in the heart.

Where does this need to take from others come from? Could it be based on fear and the belief that there is not enough money, resources, opportunities to go around? This belief encourages some of us to look for other means of survival. Instead of creating our livelihood through honest work, creative thought and good service, we look for other ways, sometimes even corrupt ones to make a living.

Those that get away with it, justify their actions with the time tested statement: “If you were in the same position, you would do the same”. This understanding of survival goes back to our millennium of feudalism. Back then, we were oppressed. The opportunity structure was constrained. The only way to have more was to take it from someone else. There was little other choice. There were few other opportunities.

Things are different today. Slovaks have a lot more power than they had at any other point in history. We can vote. We can voice our opinion. We can engage in public debate. Perhaps the time has come to look at corruption differently and stop seeing it as something we are passive victims of?

If we want to stop corruption, we must come to a new understanding of it. It is not battle of ‘us’ vs ‘them’. This is outdated thinking. Today, we have our own country and therefore it is no longer ‘them’ harming ‘us’. The reality is far more painful, it is ‘us’ doing it to ‘ourselves’. The mindset of every man for himself does not work in our community, it destroys our country. We depend on one another, whether we admit it or not. We are the society. We are the government. We are Slovakia.

I am because we are.

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