Running Political Campaigns in Slovakia

The campaign against Vladimir Meciar in 1998 launched many young Slovaks into politics. Young people were instrumental in the 1998 elections – as election observers, media monitors, and civil society activists – that broke Meciar’s authoritarian hold over the Slovak political system. Many of those young people remained in politics, either joining political parties or maintaining the NGOs that continued to fight for transparency, press freedoms, and the like.

Eva Ohrablova was part of this new generation of activists. “In 1998, I was involved in the youth movement against Meciar,” she told me in an interview in Bratislava last May. “Then I also got myself, I don’t even know how, into a political campaign. Suddenly I was doing political campaigns — in 1998 and 1999. I was still in school, so I had opportunity to try something that I was studying. Political science doesn’t have much to do with actual campaigning. So, it was a great opportunity to try something real in political life.”

She has worked on several high-profile campaigns, including those of Eduard Kukan, Iveta Radicova, and Mikulas Dzurinda. She has worked for the Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKU), for candidates connected to other parties, on  retired NHL hockey star Peter Stastny’s election to the European parliament, on several mayoral campaigns, and as a free agent.

Before Radicova became Slovakia’s first prime minister in 2010, she ran for the presidency in 20009 and got to the second round. It was a frustrating experience for Ohrablova, because it revealed the gulf that often exists between the worlds of party politics and movement politics.

Radicova “detached herself from the party at that time,” Ohrablova remembers. “She thought when she was doing a presidential campaign that she wasn’t supposed to be so close to a political party. So she created her own team, and I think that was a bad decision. I was the only one on her team to cover the contact with the party. It wasn’t enough. A lot of people working for her campaign were from NGOs and had no experience. The party tried to help her, tried to organize the big meetings. As a candidate, she got too involved in the campaign stuff and not in the real job. That’s one of the reasons we lost.”

Ohrablova confesses that working on political campaigns carries it with the risk of burnout. But she maintains her faith in politics. “I don’t want to be a politician myself,” she told me. “But I like to help those people who are open-minded, who really want to do something. I still believe that such people exist. Not many of my friends share this idea. They are much more skeptical. We might be living in Slovakia, in the EU, but the decisions that we take here affect people elsewhere. It’s all affecting this small ball we call Earth. I’d like to believe that it’s important who we pick in elections. That’s why I get very angry when my friends don’t vote. I encourage them to vote and get to know the politicians. They say they don’t know the candidates. I say, ‘Do your homework and get to know them! They are important. They make things happen, or they don’t make things happen.’”

 

The Interview

 

Do you remember where you were when you heard about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

 

Not the Berlin Wall. But I remember where I was on November 17, 1989. I was here in Bratislava. I was in the seventh grade in primary school. I remember it very vividly, because I was really scared about what was going to happen.

 

Why were you scared?

 

I was afraid that something bad would happen to people on the streets.

 

You remember the gathering of people on the streets here?

 

Yes, of course, I went to every one of the rallies.

 

How did you understand those things when you were in seventh grade?

 

I understood it totally because at that time when we were growing up, I went to a school that was next to the headquarters of the Communist Party. As a child, I asked my parents a lot of questions. For instance, I asked my father about the difference between capitalism and Communism just as we were walking next to those headquarters — it was not a good question to ask right then.

It was something that we were waiting for. My parents had not been in the Communist Party. We couldn’t travel. We had a hard time to get permission to visit Yugoslavia and see the seaside — and we saw it only once. My eldest brother couldn’t travel with us. My father would always watch anything on television connected to travel. We couldn’t travel, and we missed that. When we saw a sign that this might change, we were really looking forward to it.

 

Do you remember having conversations with your friends at schools before November 17?

 

Before November 17, we were just kids. We were more annoyed by the teachers than by the ideology. We would talk about how we couldn’t dress like the people we saw in Bravo, a magazine we occasionally saw that was for young people. To buy those clothes, you had to go to a Tuzex, a special store where you had to use hard currency or vouchers. Not everybody could afford it, only people who had someone abroad who could send them dollars or Deutsche Marks.

 

How open were your parents in talking about their political beliefs before November 17?

 

I think they talked about it at home, mainly in the circle of their friends and family. But they were afraid that I would say something that I was not supposed to say in an environment where I was not supposed to say it. It was obvious that we had problems with the ideology and with those people who represented it.

 

Did they ever warn you not to say something in class?

 

No, they never said that. I was having problems with my teachers because I had a big mouth. But I didn’t have political problems. When my parents were talking about those things, they talked quietly, and I listened quietly. So I somehow knew without them having to tell me not to say this or that.

 

Were the changes after the Velvet Revolution obvious at school?

 

Yes, of course. Me with the big mouth was suddenly the one who could speak for the whole class. Before that, I was the one who was the problem. Suddenly I was the solution. Suddenly I spoke for the whole class.

 

Your position reversed. You were kind of the Vaclav Havel of the 7th grade.

 

No, not like Vaclav Havel, that’s too much!

 

What other changes were there in school?

 

We had English lessons only after school, and it was a problem to have these English lessons. We were only taught Russian. That changed. Suddenly English became a language more open for the public. I considered it a bad thing that we stopped learning Russian. It didn’t stop immediately, but it slowly faded out. And the teachers were more open to discussions about anything, really.

 

Three years later, you were in high school when the Czech Republic and Slovakia separated. How did you react to that?

 

I was angry. Nobody asked me. We wanted a referendum. I was angry that this decision came from two politicians who only wanted to establish their own space for playing. Not that I don’t consider it now as a good thing that happened. At that time, though, I didn’t like how it happened.

 

Did your parents feel the same way?

 

Maybe yes. But we never really talked about it in this way. I shared my views with my friends rather than my parents. My parents were watching the news a lot and following everything that was going on, but I was more radical.

 

How did your friends react? Did you have the same reaction?

 

No, not really. We had some interesting discussions. All my friends were three or four years older than me. Some of them were more nationalistic and were saying that it was a good idea to separate because our position was not so good in relation to the Czech Republic: all the money was going to Prague and Prague wasn’t distributing it back to Slovakia fairly. At the time, I couldn’t say anything about that, but I didn’t like the way the separation happened.

 

Did that have any effect on the situation in school?

 

The situation changed a lot for me in high school. The school was new, and so were the teachers, so it was a different situation.  But we never really had political discussions on that level. Most of the time I shared my point of view only with my friends.

 

Tell me how you got involved in politics.

 

Since the seventh grade, I was reading the newspapers, following the political parties, following the names in the Slovak or Czechoslovak political scene at that time. I was always learning more and more, and I wanted to know more and more. After high school, I wanted to study English and law. But I couldn’t get into that school. Then English and history, but for some reason I wasn’t successful at that either. Then there was an opportunity to study at a new school for international relations in Banska Bystrica. Me as a kid from the capital going to Banska Bystrica? It’s in the middle of Slovakia, and I didn’t really want to go there. But I prepared for the exams, and I was successful! Suddenly, with no stress involved, I passed the exam.

I went there and started to study. The school had quite a bad reputation, being new and having no good teachers. It was also perceived as the school of Vladimir Meciar, because he had set up the school. But most of the kids were not from that side of the political spectrum, so I thought, “Okay, I might as well try it.” But the quality was really not so good. Discussions with the teachers had no meaning for me, there was nothing behind it. So, I asked for a transfer and came back here to Bratislava to a political science school.

I started to study. In 1998, I was involved in the youth movement against Meciar. Then I also got myself, I don’t even know how, into a political campaign. Suddenly I was doing political campaigns — in 1998 and 1999. I was still in school, so I had opportunity to try something that I was studying. Political science doesn’t have much to do with actual campaigning. So, it was a great opportunity to try something real in political life.

 

Did you have mentors in those first campaigns you did? Or was it just a wide open space and everything brand new?

 

No. For the campaign against Meciar called “I Vote Therefore I Am” — a campaign done by people like Juraj Johanides and Vlado Talian — I just happened to be there by chance. I never had a mentor. I was just watching what they were doing. In the other campaigns, I actually watched at the beginning and later on they let me do all the work in the field. I traveled around Slovakia, preparing meetings and campaign sets. They just showed me at the beginning how to do it, and then I did it. It was interesting and brand new.

 

When you look back from today at those first campaigns, what strikes you as examples of mistakes you made or really interesting things you did that you’re proud of?

 

I’m not sure if I can say that I’m proud of anything in particular. It was a great opportunity for me to learn. And I still consider it a process: I am still learning as I go. It was a great chance to meet people on the street and see how the voters looked at the politicians and the campaigns – and also to meet the politicians and try to understand what they want and what their goals are. I’m an idealist. I always thought that the politicians who get involved in public affairs really want to do something — for the people! Slowly I started to realize that it doesn’t always work like that. Some people just want a nice warm seat. Some just want the money. Some just want the prestige or want to see their face on TV. I am still idealistic in the sense of believing that there are people doing it for a good cause. It’s interesting for me to learn how to spot those who are doing it for a good cause just through eye-to-eye contact. I don’t have an aim to be a politician. But I would like to work for the right people who stand for the ideas that I stand for, to help the right person get to the right place at the right time.

 

How many candidates have you worked for?

 

Many. I’ve worked with three mayors on local campaigns recently. I worked for the Slovak Christian and Democratic Union (SDKU). I worked for candidates connected to different parties. Now I’m a free agent. I’ll work for a few candidates in the regional campaign coming up in November.

 

People I’ve talked to here — and elsewhere — don’t have very nice things to say about politics.

 

I can tell you a story from just last night. I had a weird taxi driver. We were driving along, and there were big gaps and bumps in the road after the winter. I asked him, “Bad, huh, still not fixed?” He replied in a really negative way about politicians. He said, “They should be hung like dogs.” That’s a response to the politicians — they’re not doing their job right. People hate them. This hatred is not healthy. It’s too much. Some politicians are using that as a weapon to make people even angrier.

 

It’s interesting you said the “roads.” He’s a taxi driver, so of course he cares about the roads. But even the people I interviewed yesterday focused on the condition of the roads.

 

You came here right after the winter. Whoever is responsible for the roads — whether the city or the local villages or the state because each road belongs to someone else — they didn’t have the time or the ability to fix the roads on time. This is what the people complain about. I ride a bicycle and it’s even worse than for the taxi driver. It’s very dangerous. You either go into the hole or, when you try to avoid it, you can be hit by a car.

 

Any politician who can figure out to fix the roads would be very successful. In Bulgaria, for instance, everyone I talked to — wherever they were on the political spectrum — said that Bojko Borisov fixes the roads. And they were happy about that.

 

I don’t know about roads in Bulgaria. Here it is more complicated. The roads with the trams belong to the city. The roads without the trams belong to this quarter. Once you start repairing the roads, you have to ask a company belonging to the city — or maybe somebody else — if they can do it or not. And sometimes it seems as if they are fixing it only so that they can fix it again one year later and earn more money. Even a good politician who tries to fix the roads is dependent on those companies.

 

Do you think the public opinion of politicians has gotten worse?

 

Of course. There were high expectations at the beginning in the 1990s. The high expectations couldn’t be fulfilled because we had mismanagement here by Meciar. Then we had high hopes again with the center right with the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK) coming into the picture. And again, the people needed to tighten their belts. They had to do a lot to help the politicians to fix the situation, and they were still waiting for the time when they could enjoy the good life. They didn’t realize that they already had it and had forgotten to live it. It will take another 10-15 years, maybe 20 or more, for people to realize that they are actually living that life.

There is another problem. There is strong state paternalism inside the people. They are still waiting for the government to deliver. Even those people who don’t pay taxes want the state to deliver. We had a beautiful era in the years from 1998 to 2006. The country got much much better. But people are so angry that they forgot to look around and see it. We were very lucky with the politicians who were here in that period.

 

The quality of politicians has declined?

 

No, I don’t think the quality has declined. It’s the same in the United States too. The life of a politician is very short. It rises and falls very quickly. Here we were very lucky to experience about eight years of good politicians who remained in place. Maybe the political cycle is getting shorter. We are missing a leader right now on the center-right side of the spectrum, someone who not only has a vision but also the ability to lead others — and I don’t mean just the people but the politicians as well. We have many politicians who think they have this vision, but everywhere you look it is just falling apart. Many people think they are leaders. It’s not about the quality. The people are educated, well prepared. There are many people in the political parties on the right hand side of the spectrum who are smart, trustworthy, and with good intentions. But it’s not good enough. It’s also the timing. Maybe something bad has to happen for people to unite behind a real leader.

On the other side, on the left hand side, there is a lot of populism. They are not really doing things for people. There are a lot of young politicians on that side who think that they know everything. They are not acting with pokora, with modesty, with humility and respect toward others. I see it everyday in parliament, the way they talk to the opposition. If they act this way in parliament, what kind of model is this for people to act toward one another on the street — even if they have a different political opinions?

 

Do you think it was different between 1998 and 2006?

 

People were more open-minded, more respectful. Now, even on the right side of the spectrum, people are not able to listen to each other. That’s why I think it’s falling apart. There’s no discussion on where we should go. And there’s not much involvement of regular people. They think: we vote for a politician and that’s enough. Now, you do your job. If they’re not doing their job, then they talk in the pub about how the politicians aren’t doing anything. But the people don’t do anything themselves. We cannot expect the politicians to do anything if we don’t care.

I have friends working with the city councils in different areas of Bratislava. Citizens who have an idea of what they want to change – for instance, cleaner parks — they work together and do it themselves. This is interesting. But you need involved people and communities to do that. Open-minded politicians could work with those people. Maybe this is a time for a change of the whole system and how it works.

 

With citizens becoming more involved and politicians more open to what their constituents are saying?

 

And going more to the local level. Because that’s where you can do real things. The citizens don’t think that big politics can do anything for them. They can’t touch it. But here at the city level you can see if the roads are paved or the parks are nice. We had a huge problem with car parking in the old city center. Then the citizens got involved and got things changed.

 

How would you distinguish between Left and Right here in Slovakia?

 

The Left is united. The Right is broken. The Left is much more populist. But even the right side of the spectrum has its populists, especially among the new politicians, who are playing games for the media. This is the most visible difference: united vs. broken.

 

You didn’t mention any issues.

 

No. The problem is that nobody has a vision nowadays. People are not ready to listen. You can say anything you want, and it’s not important. With the leftists ruling now, the people on the right side think, “We can’t do anything because they are in charge.” Even though the politicians on the right side of the spectrum say something, nobody listens. They have no power, so people think that, “Why are you talking if you can’t change anything?” So, the issues don’t matter now.

 

Some people say that there isn’t much difference between Left and Right because many of the key decisions about the economy, for instance, are not made nationally.

 

So, you’re talking about the European Union now. Maybe that’s true. But a lot of the decisions are taken here, and still people don’t care. They’re tired.

 

Even the young generation?

 

Especially the young generation.

 

There’s nothing comparable to what existed here in the late 1990s with all the different groups organized against Meciar and in favor of greater democracy?

 

There was a problem: Meciar. The problem was solved. Then there were a lot of other different issues, for instance related to the economy, that needed to be solved. There was a vision and some steps to solve them. And now? We’re dealing with the EU and the economic crisis (which I think is really a moral crisis). If you ask politicians today, it doesn’t matter on the right or left side of the spectrum, where do you want to see Slovakia in 20 years, I don’t know what they would answer.

 

You mentioned that only a major problem would unify people here and force them to have a vision of the future. That happened with Meciar. Now that Slovakia is a member of the EU, do you think that such a major problem could emerge when you’re in a stable environment right now?

 

It just looks as if we’re in a stable environment. Look at Germany now. It’s starting to become very radical and against the EU. If these voices get louder, this will unite people to go against the Union. This is dangerous.

 

You hear those voices here in Slovakia?

 

Everywhere. They’re not so loud here yet. Of course people don’t say out loud that they are against the EU. But the financial and economical issues may mobilize the people.

 

But in what direction?

 

We don’t know. I’m not a financial person. But I don’t feel that we are in a safe environment. Still, Prime Minister Robert Fico is changing a lot of things in the tax system, which is destroying the small- and medium-sized enterprises. People who can work and want to work, who want to earn money, are considered bad people, which is so stupid. Normally, you would help those people because they employ other people. For some reason, this government is not doing that. It is destroying this real working class — the entrepreneurs and the middle class. Something even worse will happen until we start thinking about the future again and reunite for some good reason.

 

Have you had a chance to participate in political campaigns outside of Slovakia?

 

No, unfortunately not. The only thing I did, together with the International Republican Institute, were some trainings in which I shared my experience in other countries. I was in Great Britain in 2005 when they had elections and in Germany for the 2009 elections. It wasn’t real campaign involvement, but I was there.

 

How would you compare election campaigning here with what you’ve seen in other countries?

 

Every other country I’ve been to is much bigger than Slovakia. In Slovakia it’s much more important to travel and meet the people directly. The media here was not in favor of our political party, so that’s why we had to travel much more. We had to find other events, what we call parasitic events, something organized by someone else and we’d just visit those events if we were allowed to.

On Europe Day, when I was working for SDKU, we would organize an activity in the city square. The politicians would be out and meeting and talking with people very naturally. We would give out information about the EU, the parliament, the commission.

 

Has your approach to political campaigns changed over the last decade?

 

It depends on who you work with. It’s very individual. It was different what we did for presidential candidate Eduard Kukan and then for Prime Minister Iveta Radicova. Individuals have their own style. I won’t even mention the campaign of Mikulas Dzurinda. He said, “You don’t have to work very much, just as much as I do.”

 

In those campaigns, what was the most exciting or gratifying incident?

 

Working for Dzurinda, it was always very interesting because he attracted a lot of people and stirred a lot of emotions, both very bad and very good. One day, we went to Partizanske, a very tiny city where people go to sleep very early and get up very early and life stops at 3 in the afternoon. We went there to have a public discussion. He stepped out into the crowd, and there was a group of older men in the square shouting something really mean at him. He went directly toward them. And suddenly they were quiet. He shook their hands and talked to them. They even came inside the hall and were angry, but he was very good at dealing with that. He was very good at talking to people.

With Ivan Miklos, during the campaigns, it was fun to take him out to the dance clubs or university clubs. The girls loved him. He ran his campaign while dancing.

 

Let’s talk about prominent female politicians here in Slovakia.

 

Iveta Radicova was my professor at university. She was behind my working at SDKU, I think. She never told me but I think she sent a note to someone there that I’m the person to work with. When she was asked by Dzurinda to join the government in 2005, he asked me whether it was a good idea. I wasn’t sure. I said that she was not a politician. He asked her to join the government, and she worked until the next elections. And then she was asked to run for president. That was a very interesting decision. It united a lot of people. But I’m not sure whether she really wanted it.

She detached herself from the party at that time. She thought when she was doing a presidential campaign that she wasn’t supposed to be so close to a political party. So she created her own team, and I think that was a bad decision. I was the only one on her team to cover the contact with the party. It wasn’t enough. A lot of people working for her campaign were from NGOs and had no experience. The party tried to help her, tried to organize the big meetings. As a candidate, she got too involved in the campaign stuff and not in the real job. That’s one of the reasons we lost.

It was a difficult campaign for me. I felt very alone there. We lost even though we had almost a million votes — but it wasn’t enough. To think that after this kind of campaign you can win elections as a political party with the same candidate — it’s a bad idea. It’s a totally different election. People think of you in a different way. She won the primaries. She was running as the leader of the campaign in 2010, and she won, became prime minister. But it was a hollow victory. She could only form the government. I’m very disappointed that we gave up power so easily. And most of our voters can never forget or forgive.

 

One of the people I talked to yesterday said that Slovakia needs more women leaders.

 

I don’t agree.

 

Why don’t you agree?

 

Iveta is a very good friend of mine, and I really like her. But she’s not a politician. Maybe we need more women politicians, much stronger women, though not in the sense that they have to be stronger than men. It has to be the kind of woman who can allow a man to open a door for her or pull out a chair at the table. We need to find a woman politician with fewer emotions. No, not fewer emotions. But Iveta would suddenly change her decisions or react strongly to news. I think it’s probably too early for me to talk about this.

But I don’t agree that we need more women politicians. You cannot force that. Also, women are great as the neck of the head. Women can make politics softer, but I’m not sure if they can be very solid after they make a decision or when they manage men. It’s very easy for men to discourage women from making certain decisions. Maybe there should be more women in politics or around politics, but I’m not sure if they have to be in leading positions. In any way, there should not be any quotas.

 

When you do a political campaign in this country where you have a significant minority population, how does that affect campaign?

 

With the Hungarian minority in the south, we always try to do posters in Hungarian and Slovak languages. One year when we were in power, and so we had more money, we also did Roma posters. But most of the Roma don’t read, so it was more visual than written. In 2012, in the eastern part of Slovakia, the Slovak Hungarian minority party also had posters in Cyrillic for the Ruthenians. In the 2012 campaign, in the southern part of Slovakia, we had a group playing for us at public meetings, and the biggest applause we got was when they started singing a Hungarian song.

 

If your candidate is going to a Hungarian area, do you use a translator?

 

No, you cannot win the Hungarian votes. Their parties have their own 10 percent, and they will always have it. I don’t think there’s a point in trying to get those people. But in the results of the polls, we always get their second vote. They like us, but they always vote nationally – either for Most-Hid (Bridge) or for the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), but now mostly with Most. SMK has better ties with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Most doesn’t like that.

 

Do the politicians go into the Roma community to campaign?

 

We always did. I don’t know about now. If you go anywhere in the East, you meet Roma. It’s not like you go to a special town or city. They are everywhere.

 

Did you have a particular strategy when meeting Roma?

 

No. There are political parties and candidates in the east who try to buy their votes. I don’t like that strategy. In the eastern part of Slovakia, there are villages where the local mayors try to get the votes of the Roma by inviting them to the villages. In the long term, that has not helpful for the villages. The villagers are afraid to say anything about that except in the pub.

 

When you went to Tunisia, what were people there most interested in hearing from you?

 

They wanted to know if they had a chance after the revolution to lead a normal life and to lead their own countries by themselves. They were asking where they should start, what should be the first steps.

 

What did you tell them?

 

I was there last year in March. They were getting ready for elections and getting the election law ready. I told them to prepare the rules well so that they are not misused. Power corrupts: it corrupts a lot! All of these countries with new governments have a tendency to have nice new leaders who get into power and start to fall in love with themselves, and that’s very dangerous. The only thing you can do to avoid that is to have good rules. We were on the same track with Meciar. But thanks to aware people, who helped other people realize what was going on, we were able to get together and do something about it.

 

How did they respond to your suggestions?

 

They liked it. We did a lot of exercises that involved talking to people, training them how to present an opinion to other people and how to respond from their own point of view. They know their country, their minorities, how people react to certain topics and policies. I learned a lot from them too.

 

When you came back from Tunisia, was there anything that you learned from that experience that you would apply to your experience here?

 

No, I learned about how they respond to their minorities, their culture. I stayed there for only a short time. I was in Jordan much longer. But still, it’s the same everywhere. It depends on the candidates you have. Of course there is the influence of culture and religion. Religion here is not as important. It caused them much more troubles than here.

 

When you think back to what your worldview was in the 1990s, your political philosophy, have you changed your perspective in any way?

 

The world has gotten much smaller. Before, for me, the world was too big and separated in two parts — the part I was living in and the faraway part. Since 1989, I’ve travelled the world. I was a tour leader in Southeast Asia and India. I just loved my life traveling and learning about culture and people and how they respond to everything. The world got much smaller and united. People are the same everywhere. Most of my friends got married abroad. I have friends living in Canada, in Great Britain, in Turkey, in Asia, in America. For me, the world is suddenly much more united.

 

Has that changed your political philosophy?

 

We just need to work more together and care more about what’s going on around us. That’s my personal philosophy. That’s why I’m involved in politics. I don’t want to be a politician myself. But I like to help those people who are open-minded, who really want to do something. I still believe that such people exist. Not many of my friends share this idea. They are much more skeptical. We might be living in Slovakia, in the EU, but the decisions that we take here affect people elsewhere. It’s all affecting this small ball we call Earth. I’d like to believe that it’s important who we pick in elections. That’s why I get very angry when my friends don’t vote. I encourage them to vote and get to know the politicians. They say they don’t know the candidates. I say, “Do your homework and get to know them! They are important. They make things happen, or they don’t make things happen.”

 

Do you see yourself doing this kind of work for the rest of your life?

 

I realize that I was burned out in 2010 and 2012. It was very tiring to do campaigns so quickly one after another. I was not ready for that. It was too much. I needed a holiday, a longer one.

To do political work, it’s just being interested in public affairs. You can do almost anything else and still do this campaign work. So I think I will do this whether I want to or not. Let’s say that I move to India — I’ll do it there too, because that’s what I do. I want to make people care about what’s going on around them.

Actually it happened to me in India last year. I was helping with this school in the foothills of the Himalayas. I’ve been helping talented kids go to an art school that is an Indian-Russian project. By chance, that school was run for the last 10 years by a Slovak woman working for the Russian trust. She was a headmaster, taking care of the whole thing. And suddenly they wanted to get rid of her. I was there only for a week, but I started to collect signatures for a petition. I had the Russian embassy talking to me. But they got rid of her. I came back and was telling my friends about this. And they said, “You go on a holiday to India and again with the politics?”

 

The last three questions are quantitative. When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed or not changed here in Slovakia, how would you evaluate that on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 most dissatisfied and 10 most satisfied?

 

I would say 8.

 

Same period of time, same scale: your own personal life.

 

I’m tempted to say more. I’m having a blast. Let’s say 9.

 

When you look into the near future, the next couple years in Slovakia, how would you evaluate the prospects on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 most pessimistic and 10 most optimistic?

 

I’m not sure what’s going to happen. It’s 50/50, so: 5. Or maybe 6. I’m worried that something bad will happen before we move forward. I’m afraid we go back three steps to go ahead two steps. Or it’s like a sine wave. I talk with a lot of young children. I’m afraid that they’re not paying enough attention to history. And if we don’t pay attention to history, we’ll make the same mistakes.

If we choose the bad kind of politicians to lead our country, that’s our own responsibility. This young generation doesn’t remember that, doesn’t care about that, doesn’t see it coming because they have no interest in learning that. For them, it’s something very far away. They don’t remember not having real oranges, just the Cuban ones without any juice and we were happy to have them just to get vitamin C. They don’t remember standing in line to get bananas or a decent piece of meat.

 

There’s a lot of nostalgia from older people as well for the old system.

 

Of course, they complain about the prices just because of the euro. You could buy a bottle of milk back then for much less and a piece of bread for much less. They complain about these things. You have to listen to them. You can’t just sit in your office, especially as a politician. You have to listen to them in order to understand what the people feel and think.

I don’t want to be a prophet of doom. But I don’t want to end up living at the end of my life locked inside a country again.

 

Bratislava, May 1, 2013

 


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