Onwards and upwards

Slovakia is changing, and (whisper it) some things are getting better.

Andrej DankoAndrej Danko (Source: Diana Černáková, SITA)

‘Tradition’ is often used by conservatives in Slovakia and elsewhere as a rallying cry. Their problem, in a democracy, is that most people quite like new stuff. So politicians normally avoid coming out publicly against all things new.
But Andrej Danko – speaker of Slovakia’s parliament, bearer of exalted military rank, erector-in-chief of magnificent flagpoles, and author of a famously rigorous thesis – is no normal politician.

During a recent visit by Russia’s foreign minister to Bratislava, the TASR news agency reported, Danko described Sergey Lavrov as a “close person” with whom he often discusses how to combat a deadly scourge: “new trends”.

Leaving aside his questionable identification of fascism as one such “new trend” – and Danko’s (or indeed Lavrov’s) even more doubtful qualifications for tackling it – his war on novelty is, well, new.

It is also misguided. Because Slovakia is changing, whether he likes it or not.
A new generation of female leaders, epitomised by President Zuzana Čaputová, is emerging in politics, business and the media. Violence against girls and women is – still too slowly – being exposed, and victims are being heard: the revelations earlier this year of long-running abuse at the Chachaland children’s camp are a case in point.

No matter how much traditionalists rail against ‘Istanbul’ – a European convention to combat violence against women that Danko and others have bizarrely chosen to fight – the tide is against them.

On a more prosaic note, Slovakia’s cities are becoming more liveable. If you drive in Bratislava, you may not believe me. But get out of your car and try the really quite excellent Slovnaft BAjk bike-sharing scheme and you will discover that the city is a lot smaller and more accessible than you think. It is a model that other Slovak cities are following.

While the capital is growing, much of the growth is upward. For me, the most startling sight of this year was the view back towards town from the hills above Rača: suddenly, Bratislava has a skyline.

Now, one can argue about the merits of the luxury high-rises sprouting around Mlynské Nivy, but for the first time Bratislava is actually starting to look like a city. And with an architect for mayor, we can at least hope that the haphazard development of previous years might give way to something more coherent.
On one point, though, I will confess an urge to join Mr Danko in his defensive crouch.

The Main Square in Bratislava’s Old Town may be free of skyscrapers for now, but it will soon get a new addition: a Starbucks.

Stop the world – I want to get off.

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