The Slovak Republic is a tiny, unfortunate nation from the Eastern Bloc. One which suffered greatly under the oppressive communist regime of the former Czechoslovakia. The country made it through the transformation quite successfully. Did its citizens too?
One of the longest lasting consequences of the socialist style of governance was severe economic damage. During the post-war years, when Western European nations accepted the Marshall Plan from Uncle Sam embracing their opportunity to rebuild after the carnage of the Second World War, the Eastern European states under the Warsaw Pact depended on less than gracious Soviet support.
During the period of political liberalization, which began at the start of 1968 known as Prague Spring led by Alexander Dubcek, whose dream was the democratization of socialism, weakening the Moscow’s influence and granting additional rights to citizens, the Soviets reacted with the invasion to stop these efforts. As a result, the Warsaw Pact killed off the country’s potential to grow and prosper freely. Nostalgic individuals who were well off during normalization and poorly educated individuals would say there is no reason to criticize; we achieved socialist heaven, where all people are truly equal and happy. The missed opportunities for Slovaks have not been made known to them since.
Under the constant pressure and communism’s core incapability of being sustainable, a relatively peaceful revolution led to the regime’s collapse in 1989. Two years later, the whole evil empire collapsed, and another two years after that, Czechoslovakia split into two separate and independent countries.
Communism had been formally wiped out, but the “red swamp”,former members of Communist Party and their relatives, were in charge of our nation even after fall of the Iron Curtain. Sadly, they still are. In 1992, the Slovak electorate seized their first opportunity to vote in the first democratic elections in 72 years after the interwar period, when Czechoslovakia remained the only democratic country in East-Central Europe. They elected Vladimir Meciar , who has become a national symbol of corruption and abuse of power. A man who wrought mafia-like persecution on his political opponents, suspended all major integration processes of the country into Western structures such as the EU and NATO, and privatized State-owned enterprises through cronyist means.
In 1998, eight years after of stagnation, the right-wing liberal party SDKU replaced Meciar’s cabinet. Much needed pro-market economic reforms passed under the well-known Finance minister Ivan Miklos. Also, thanks to SDKU’s efforts, we could finally enter the European Union and NATO. We were about to turn the page and join a more civilized Europe. The transition to market-economy with elected reformists required only political will, but the damage which communism as ideology left in ordinary people’s minds remained the real obstacle.
How could be communism’s influence felt in 2017? Stiff resistance to civil liberties, lack of belief in individual responsibility, a xenophobic hostility to anyone foreign, and an unwillingness for political engagement by the public are widespread. These traits directly affect the country’s entrepreneurial spirit, working relations, and essential interpersonal ties in a very negative manner. Decades of socialist indoctrination resulted in deep ideological ties with the former regime.
Instead of focusing on the inevitable, we ought to converge on the current generation. Demanding a significant overhaul of our public education system in order to create an adequate climate for private-education incentives, and raising awareness of important policy issues by organizing appealing events, interactive workshops or panel discussions. Equally important is the participation of students in political organizations, through which every determined individual can grow both professionally and as a person, embrace an opportunity to make a difference, create a vast international network and make a world freer place. When public system lags behind, the whole burden is on those already involved – to engage their community and create a positive impact.
The ultimate challenge for Slovaks should be ensuring that our and next generation won’t fall into the same mental trap as our ancestors did.
David Borovsky is a student of Economics and Management.