People are beginning to lose their fear

Some 40,000 people took to the streets of the Belarusian capital Minsk on 19 December to protest against the rigged election, in which President Aleksandr Lukashenka claimed victory with nearly 80 percent of the vote. The brutally suppressed demonstration was followed by a wave of repression against the opposition. On 27 December the KGB burst into the offices of the independent weekly Nasha niva. One of the paper’’s editors, Andrei Dynko, a writer and Belarusian P.E.N. chairman, answered the Czech weekly Respekt’’s questions by e-mail. What was the KGB looking for in your editorial offices? Did they have a search […]

The Echo of a Gunshot

The single shot was fired on Monday night [of 8 November 2010] in the small village of Limbach in the Lesser Carpathians foothills, a stone’’s throw from Bratislava. On Tuesday morning its echo reverberated through the country since the bullet went through the heart of  Ernest Valko, a lawyer whose reputation and firm were modelled on famous American attorneys. He was assassinated in his own house in a posh suburb whose residents include the ice hockey player Miroslav Šatan and Slovakia’’s President Ivan Gašparovič.   Apart from the grief over the loss of a man who was prominent in the […]

A Lesson in Accounting

It feels a bit like a crash course in economics, one that all of Slovakia seems to be attending. The curriculum consists of only one subject: how can the government reduce an unhealthy level of indebtedness? How much should it cut itself and how much should it squeeze out of its citizens? For the past four years Robert Fico’s left-wing government did not bother the Slovaks with news about the state’’s indebtedness and now they have suddenly woken up to the news that the country is in a big financial mess. However, the problem is that, unlike in the neighbouring […]

The Populist Muddle

The European Union’’s ability to solve problems by muddling through various compromises will help the EU to survive, according to The Economist.  That might be true – provided individual states do not get into a worse muddle, unable or unwilling to find the compromises necessary to get out of it.  This particular muddle is called national populism and the most recent example of wallowing in it has come – perhaps rather unexpectedly – from Slovakia. At first sight it seems a banal issue that no EU member takes seriously. Slovakia under its new Prime Minister Iveta Radičová is the only […]

Orbán Forever

A typical Hungarian joke goes like this: How are you? – Thanks, fine.  –  Can you elaborate?  Well, actually, things are not that good.  Over the past few years the Hungarians have discovered things are not good at all and they have voiced their frustration in the recent election, giving Viktor Orbán and his party Fidesz more power than any other politician in Europe (Belarus’s Lukashenka aside) currently enjoys – a constitutional majority in parliament. The state of the Hungarian economy is well known: last year the International Monetary Fund had to rescue the country from bankruptcy, to which it […]

The Fico Threat

He has been dubbed the Slovak Putin and the European Chávez. He has shown a marked tendency to authoritarianism and formed a cabinet with extreme nationalists and the former Prime Minister Mečiar who had brought the country to the brink of dictatorship. While local elites regard Fico as a threat to democracy, ordinary citizens adore him and his Czech counterpart Paroubek looks up to him as a role model. Will the real Robert Fico please stand up? Summing up Slovakia’’s current Prime Minister ought not be too difficult a task. Fico is a spectre from the Mečiar era. He’’s a politician who […]

Dwarves and Giants

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’’s all.” I was reminded of this passage in Lewis Carroll’‘s Through the Looking Glass? last autumn, when Czech and international media were inundated with reactions to the article in the Czech weekly Respekt that mentioned a document from the early 1950s according to which writer Milan Kundera had […]

Will this embarrassment be a lesson for the Pope?

In covering the story of the Holocaust-denying bishop most of the media reports have focused – as usual – on a single controversial detail, missing the heart of the matter. They speculated whether Bishop Richard Williamson really was a holocaust denier, whether the Pope knew that Williamson was holocaust denier, and so on and so forth.  Hardly anyone has asked what the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, which Williamson and other bishops belong to and which has now been restored to the Roman Catholic Church, actually stands for, what had led to its excommunication in the first place, and why […]

Forgetting the crown

The notorious stamp affair, a lawsuit against a group of people accused of forging some hundred million crowns, continues to drag on sixteen years after Slovakia introduced its own currency, the Slovak crown (locally known as the koruna). The case is shrouded in mystery, with one theory claiming that the fraud was perpetrated by the secret services on direct orders of the then Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar; one of those involved, probably a secret service stooge, was assassinated in 1996. In this case, the sluggish work of the Slovak courts has reached truly epic dimensions, and the victim of the alleged fraud – […]

My Father’s Generation

In the storm unleashed by the article Denounced by Milan Kundera published by Respekt, one voice that sounded loudest and clearest. It was the voice of Czech writers and intellectuals born around 1930, my father’s generation. They share a common history and have exerted an influence over Czech society that is completely unprecedented in Central Europe. They have also exerted a decisive influence over my own thinking – and through my father, also over my life. Today, to my great surprise, I find myself embroiled in a row with this generation, which is something I have never thought possible. Among […]