Central Europe’’s laboratory of freedom

For the past few months a neighbour has been leaving the tabloid Nový Čas by my front door. I guess this is his way of paying me back for the eight years I used to put through his letter box the next day’’s issue of Slovakia’’s largest-circulation serious daily SME of which I was editor at the time. Today I learned from the tabloid that our left-wing Prime Minister Robert Fico, who had won the hearts of the poorest voters, wears a 20,000 Euro watch and that his coalition partner, the nationalist populist Ján Slota has several luxury cars in […]

Don Quixote and a time bomb

What does Slovakia mean to Slovaks? It means a country, a land, a homeland, a nation, a society they identify with – some intensely, others less so – based on ties, particularly some newer ones that bind them to their formative period or, as the case may be, the period that preceded their birth and is thus part of the world they can perceive as their current awareness and that is not beyond their powers of navigation. It means a period of 75 years or a century at most, a historical arc aligned with their identity which has been, to put it simply, shaped by the memory […]

Nepriateľ tlače / Stĺpček

Možno je to stareckým pesimizmom alebo jasnozrivosťou, ktorú si človek vypestuje časom, isté je, že keď si odo mňa časopis L’Espresso objednal článok na obranu slobody tlače v Taliansku, zareagoval som zdráhavo a skepticky. Ak sloboda tlače potrebuje advokáta, tak to o spoločnosti a jej tlači nehovorí nič dobré. V zdravej demokracii netreba slobodu tlače brániť, lebo nikomu ani vo sne nenapadne ju obmedzovať. To je prvý z mnohých dôvodov mojej skepsy. V Taliansku nie je problémom len premiér Silvio Berlusconi. Už od rímskeho politika Catilina musel tento národ zniesť celý rad charizmatických hochštaplerov, ktorí mali oveľa viac na srdci […]

Prečo voliť / Esej

Nie nevoliči sú nebezpečenstvom pre demokraciu, ale predvolebný boj. Už niekoľko rokov rastie percento nevoličov. Politici o tom často a so znepokojením hovoria. Že či je to až tak veľa: aby voliči hlasovali o tom, čo majú na výber. Demokracia si žiada účasť ľudí. Alebo, ako nedávno povedal Peer Steinbrück: “Staraj sa o mňa, inak Ťa opustím. Tvoja demokracia.” Je pochopiteľné, že politikom na vysokej volebnej účasti záleží, pretože tá morálne legitimizuje výsledok. Tieto výzvy, čo majú útočiť na svedomie nevoličov, rečených hrobárov demokracie, platia len obmedzene. Pretože to, že nízka volebná účasť signalizuje otrávenosť z politiky, je už tiež […]

The Central European Forum

The Central European Forum An international conference (open to the public) Bratislava, 17-18 November 2009. In the autumn of 1989 Eastern and Central Europe became a real part of Europe again. Let’’s Open Up to the World –  this was one of the key slogans of Czechoslovakia’’s Velvet Revolution and we believe that the best way of not allowing the anniversary decline into cheap nostalgia and turn into a sentimental walk down memory lane is to embrace the international context, especially the one the countries of this region have shared since 1989. The civic association Project Forum has invited a few […]

That Summer Morning My Childhood Suddenly Ended

The first summer on which I can provide a detailed report started 12 years ago. Until then, two months of holidays almost always looked the same. On the 1st of July we would leave for our summer house in the Low Tatra mountains and return on August 31st. From the mountains we would sporadically take off on trips to internationally attractive locations, such as Kokava nad Rimavicou or Zemplínska šírava, the latter being known out of pure desperation as the Slovak sea. The westernmost city I had ever seen was called, appropriately, East Berlin. The idyllic wilderness in the hills […]

The End of the Economic Miracle

Within five years our economy will reach the level of Austria!, shouted the man with the tannoy. I was beside myself with joy, and so were the crowds around me. It was on a freezing November day, I was thirteen years old and the man was Milan Kňažko, actor, people’s tribune and one of the leaders of Slovakia’’s democratic opposition. For many inhabitants of Bratislava, a city just 60 kilometres from Vienna, the non-aligned neighbour Austria was a model, a dream country, an idyllic world of make-believe, a way out of the isolated prison of their really existing socialism. The […]

Inhumanity Is Part of Human Nature / Part II.

Jean-Paul Sartre once shocked the reading public by making the paradoxical claim that the French had never been as free as during the German occupation. It was, he claimed, only a seeming paradox since one gets trapped by free choice that disguises necessity – and for the French were deprived of the temptation of this trap by the German occupiers who left them no choice. And if the French were left with no choice, the same applies to the Poles a hundred times more so! After all, some of the German satraps tried to woo the French, promising them a […]

The Gift of Freedom

  I don’’t remember much in detail from those days. I forget how much I had to pay for a tram ticket or how much bread used to cost. However, what I remember perfectly well is that, as staff member of Gdańsk University, I was earning more or less the equivalent of 17 US dollars. My wife, our young son and I shared one tiny room. Only after they went to bed did I turn on the TV to watch the Round Table negotiations – or rather, a summary of them. I remember committees, sub-committees, discussions. I remember faces – […]

A Peaceless Democracy

Hungarian democracy is in crisis. It is in crisis is because it lives in fear said political thinker István Bibó (1911 – 1979) in the summer of 1945. His aphoristic diagnosis alluded to two dangers: that of a restoration of the authoritarian pre-war regime and of the imposition of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The second threat proved to be more real, not surprisingly, given the presence of the Soviet army in the country and the free world’’s acceptance of the post-Yalta world order. A few years later the Moscow-controlled communist party did away with the short-lived parliamentary democracy and […]