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January 20 2014

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: MediaInitiative.eu. For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative - a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

November 24 2013

Right-Wing Extremist Enters Second Round of Elections for Governor in Slovakia

Extremist leader of the People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), Marian Kotleba, won enough votes on November 10, 2013, to push through to the second round of the race for governor in the Banská Bystrica region in central Slovakia. The result has come as a surprise to many in the country and beyond. Social-Europe.eu, a site that calls itself “the leading eJournal addressing issues of critical interest to progressives across Europe”, explains why voters seem to be turning more toward extreme right options in the country:

Of course, Slovakia had its share of nationalist politics back in the 1990s and early 2000s. The Slovak National Party (SNS) was a member of several governing coalitions – the last one formed by the presumably social-democratic Smer-SD in 2006-2010. The SNS professed a typical breed of traditionalist, highly conservative nationalism – chauvinistic, xenophobic, and much too often openly racist [...]

But this time it’s something different. In a few years Marian Kotleba rose from political obscurity to one of the two leading candidates for the governor of the regional self-government. He had no professional election campaign, no media and PR advisors, no sponsors paying for billboards, newspaper ads, public opinion polls, and god-knows-what-else is winning elections these days. Through staging rallies in Roma villages, giving public hate speeches, celebrating the WW2 Slovak fascist regime, and uncoordinated but intensive hate campaign on social media and websites, he is riding successfully on the wave of increasing intolerance and rising public anger.

One UK Suburb's Un-Neighborly Reaction to Slovakian Roma Immigrants

After a wave of discriminatory statements against Roma communities in France made by French Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, Slovakian and Romanian Roma in England are now getting the same message from authorities and neighbors.

According to an article in the Guardian, Sheffield locals in an area with a high level of Roma settlements created patrols in an attempt to calm the tensions between the Roma community and other local citizens, an effort that seems to be making things worse. As the article explains:

“In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield the former home secretary [now Sheffield MP David Blunkett] also accused the government of “burying their head in the sand” over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK and said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture: “We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that.”[...]

Nobody knows for sure how many Roma people have come to Sheffield since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004. The council's best guess is that 1,500 eastern European Roma children now live in the city as a whole, with around 500 in the small Page Hall area. Miroslav Sandor, a Roma community worker in Page Hall, gives a much higher estimate. He thinks there may be 600-900 large families in the city, mostly concentrated in Page Hall.

November 10 2013

Hungary Criticized for Lenient Naturalization Policy

With unemployment and economic concern growing in the European Union, Hungary is among some of the EU member states being criticized by its Union neighbors for more lenient laws passed in 2011 for attaining Hungarian citizenship. Charles Richardson explains why on Crikey's blogs:

Hungary has been giving some grief to its neighbors with a new law that allows people to claim Hungarian citizenship if they have (a) a direct ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen and (b) a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language. Apparently the latter requirement is being leniently interpreted.[...]

Two things make this more controversial than it might sound. One is that substantial chunks of Hungary’s neighbors were, at times in the last century, Hungarian territory. That means that a lot of Serbs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ukrainians are potential claimants, and it may make some of those neighbors worry about whether Hungary’s leaders have really given up the dream of recreating the “Great Hungary” that existed prior to 1920.[...]

The BBC reports that more than half a million people have taken advantage of the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of 2011, with about 100,000 from Serbia alone.

October 22 2013

Slovakia's Roma Communities Significantly Bypassed by Development

A Roma village in Eastern Slovakia; photo by Slawojar, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

A Roma village in Eastern Slovakia; photo by Slawojar, used under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

About 500,000 Roma, or roughly a little less than ten percent of the country's population, live in Slovakia today. Statistics show that they have been drastically bypassed by the socioeconomic transformation the country has undergone over the last two decades, including since its accession to the European Union in 2004. The Nation reports on the lack of development and integration of Roma communities in this and other EU countries:

A survey conducted by the United Nations in 2011 showed a sustained, alarming difference in socioeconomic indicators between Roma and non-Roma citizens in Slovakia.

The statistics are in stark contrast to what would be expected from an EU member state: Only 19 percent of Roma adults have completed secondary education, compared to 78 percent non-Roma. More than 90 percent of Roma live below the national poverty line, and their unemployment rates are as high as 70 percent – more than twice that of non-Roma.

October 03 2013

Slovakia, Where Receipts Double as Lottery Tickets

[All links lead to Slovak-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

Bloggers are already ridiculing the new government-organized lottery and insinuating there is corruption involved; image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

“First toss of the [national] receipt lottery. ‘And the tax audit wins'”: Bloggers are already ridiculing the new government-organized lottery and insinuating there is corruption involved. Image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

Slovakia, which boasts the European Union's second worst tax collection rate after Greece, is betting on a national lottery to pull in more revenue.

It has been some 20 years since the country introduced the value-added tax, or VAT, but the so-called grey economy remains a way for retail and services to get around it. Many businesses and stores will offer to sell goods or provide services for a lower price “off the books”. When purchases are made in this way, the seller excludes VAT, often lowering the price of the actual good or service as well, to tempt customers to pay in cash so neither side will have to report any part of the transaction to authorities or pay any tax.

The government's fix is simple: every customer receives a receipt upon payment of any legal purchase. Once a customer has paid and received their receipt, they can register with state-owned company Tipos to enter the lottery using that receipt. Registration for the lottery is free and also available online, while prizes range from cars to cash.

The tax department also plans on using this lottery and all the receipts entered to check shops and businesses [sk]. All winning receipts and perhaps other receipts will be cross-referenced with the sales records of the shop or business that issued them, to make sure the receipt was not forged or the sale “faked” in any way, within 48 hours of picking each winning receipt.

Authorities have also warned participants of the lottery that entering with a forged or “fake” receipt will automatically disqualify them from the lottery. Authorities have not been clear, however, on the process to be used or how extensively they will be checking entered receipts and the businesses that issued them.

Slovakia's officials expect that this will make citizens more eager to get their receipts, which would raise the number of legal purchases, and that fewer business owners will risk issuing fake receipts, solving two major issues the government has had regarding VAT in one blow.

Those who are optimistic about the idea cite the success of Taiwan's similar tax lottery, which raised tax collection significantly. Those who are more wary of the concept point out that this kind of national lottery was an extreme failure in Georgia, where the government shut down the lottery just months after it was introduced.

Others are weighing their thoughts about it online. A reader on IT news site dsl.sk commented on an article that explained some of the issues the lottery site was having the first day of registration, referring to the fact that citizens tend to pay less for goods and services when they do not ask for a receipt:

zľava: Zaregistruj svoj blocek a mozno vyhras. Dohodni sa bez blocka a vyhras urcite.

zľava: Register your receipt and maybe you will win. Make a deal without a receipt and you will win surely.

Many are showing their discontent [sk] with making more money available to Slovakia's corrupt government [en] officials:

janosp: Tankuj v zahranici, bojujes s korupciou na Slovensku. Blocek? Od zivnostnika? Ja nechcem! … naco zivit stat? Naco posielat do statneho rozpoctu dalsie dane, aby ich SMER-ACI rozkradli???

janosp: Buy fuel abroad, you fight corruption in Slovakia. Receipt? From small entrepreneurs? I do not want to … for what, to feed the state? For what, to send more money to the state budget, to let it be stolen by people from the ruling party???

User refuge_ on this discussion forum replied to user janosp, saying that there is always the risk that money will end up in the pockets of the country's corrupt politicians:

A viete o tom, že ak tankujete v Rakúsku alebo Nemecku, tak daň, ktorú tam zaplatíte, sa k nám možno dostane v podobe Eurofondov?

And do you know that when you are buying fuel in Austria or Germany that tax you will pay there could come back to us through EU funds?

Another user, Zappa, and others like him have decided to simply disregard the whole idea, many believing it won't solve anything:

Zappa: ignorujem celú stupídnu lotériu už len s princípu

Zappa: I'm ignoring the whole stupid lottery already out of principle

Some netizens are saying [sk] this lottery already has winners. The first “winners” are companies paid by Tipos to render several services related to the lottery. Approximately 178,000 euros (about 240,000 US dollars) has been spent so far for the implementation of the systems used for the new lottery. There are also estimates that somewhere between 150 and 200,000 euros (about 200,000 to 270,000 US dollars) has been spent on creating an advertisement campaign and another 300 to 350,000 euros (about 400,000 to 475,000 US dollars) on advertisement space to popularize the lottery. A popular singer of the older generations, Eva Máziková, has been hired to be the face of the campaign.

A parody of the advertising campaign for the national VAT receipt lottery, featuring singer ; image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

“Always keep your lobotomy receipt!” A parody of the advertising campaign for the national VAT receipt lottery, featuring singer Eva Máziková. Image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

When asked by media [sk] and the public, neither Máziková's manager nor Tipos’ director wanted to say how much the singer had been paid for appearing in the lottery ads. Some have sarcastically commented that “maybe she will be paid without a receipt.”

Off to a rocky start

Despite big money spent on the infrastructure for the lottery, the system collapsed on the first day of registration, with an average of 300 registrations per minute. Tipos quickly made a statement claiming the system was down because of a DDoS attack. Readers of an article about the alleged DDoS attack on IT news site dsl.sk, however, were not buying into the story:

m8642: Jasne, DDoS. Rovnaka vyhovorka ako pouzil Statisticky urad pocas volieb. Ved kto uz mohol cakat taky velky zaujem?

m8642: Of course, DDoS. The same excuse was used by Statistics Office during elections. Who could have been expecting such big interest?

Another reader also commented cynically, attaching a link to Tipos site access history for evidence:

Houston: Utok? Tak mozno podla Tiposu … Takze kuk na linku Telekomu: http://www.six.sk/mrtg/telekom.html Ja tam teda ziadny utok nevidim, ci?

Houston: Attack? Maybe according to Tipos… So look at [Tipos’s] Telekom link: http://www.six.sk/mrtg/telekom.html I do not see any attack there, or [am I missing something]?

Other IT knowledgeable users on discussion boards took a quick analytic look at Tipos’ claim, debunking it several times over.

Tipos’ lottery registration system had several issues aside from the site's down time. Another IT news site reported [sk]:

Some people had problems with registering a Tipos account because Google mail recognized emails from Tipos as spam. Some other email services recognized it as an attack and blocked access from Tipos servers.

Echoing the cynical opinion of most, one netizen dubbed this the “Double Lottery” in an image posted on Cynicka Obluda:

Image parody of Slovakia's Minister of Finance explaining the lottery; image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

Minister of Finance: “We poured a lot of money into that thing with the receipts, but no one yet knows how it will end. And that's why we call it a lottery.” Image parody of Slovakia's Minister of Finance explaining the lottery. Image courtesy of Cynicka Obluda, used with permission.

June 21 2013

New Law in Slovakia Would Require Citizens to Report Long Stays Abroad

Slovakia's president has vetoed a controversial new law that would require citizens who plan on leaving the country for more than 90 days to inform the nearest Ministry of Interior office of their intended whereabouts during that time.

The law, which would have taken effect July 1, 2013, intends to remedy a problem highlighted most recently when authorities were unable to deliver a court summons to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, part of a lawsuit he is facing over disparaging comments he made about his predecessor, because his current place of residence is not on record.

Minister of Interior Róbert Kaliňák justified the legislation by explaining [sk] that the state needs to know where to deliver official letters and summons to citizens not currently at their permanent address.

But the law was met with public outcry. On the initiative of opposition parties, a petition was started and some 2,000 people signed it, asking the president to veto this new law [sk]. On June 16, 2013, President Ivan Gašparovič did veto the new requirement, but for other reasons, citing that some of the formulations within the law required modifications [sk] before it could be passed.

The bill is expected to be reviewed by Parliament again.

More than on the petition, however, anger was highly visible on blogs and social networks, with satirical images and sarcastic reports of whereabouts from citizens submitted through the Ministry's form for reporting this on its website. Many of them could be found on a Facebook fan page titled Conscientious Citizens Reporting Their Location to Minister Kalinak [sk]. Users are also taking screenshots of satirical “reports” to the Ministry and posting the screenshots on the popular local online forum Gulas.sme.sk. One “conscientious” citizen said:

Screenshot of website form from the Ministry of Interior.

… ide ťažký víkend a keď sa to zvrtne neviem kde skončím… ale v nedeľu som späť, Kali!

A hard weekend up ahead and I do not know where I will end up… but Sunday I'm back, Kali!

Another user simply ridiculed the topic:

hlásim že poidem do lesa

I'm reporting that I will be going to the woods

And some users went into fine detail of their planned whereabouts:

Dobrý deň, teraz sedim v kancelarii, o minutku planujem ist srat, ale o stvrt hodinky by som mal byt spat v pracovni.

Good day, for now I'm sitting in the office, in a minute I'm planning on going to the toilet, but in 15 minutes I'll be back.

For blogger Tibor Pospíšil, this law brings back memories of the communist era, when the country was closed off by barbed wire and the last Czechoslovakian President Gustáv Husák said that “Borders are not a promenade”.

In a similar tone, Peter Mikletič nominated Minister of Interior Kalinak for the Lenin Prize.

Blogger Maroš Marko wrote about fear that this is just the first step in something larger and more sinister:

Totalita poväčšinou prichádza veľmi nenápadne

Totalitarianism often comes very quietly

Tomáš Homola also viewed this new legislature as a dangerous sign:

SMEROM k totalitnému štátu

in the DIRECTION of a totalitarian state” [SMER, meaning "direction", is the current political party in power]

Maroš Ivanič is another blogger who expressed this opinion that:

Ak si založíme Kaliňákov obojok tak si nič lepšie nezaslúžime

If we accept Kalinak's collar than we deserve nothing better

The new law is in fact just an amendment to existing laws in which reporting whereabouts was not “mandatory”, as it is in this new version. Citizens now risk paying a fine, although after criticism Kaliňák later stated [sk] that the fine would not be enforced.

In regards to this state law, blogger Bosák posed a question [sk]:

Pán Kaliňák, kedy bude hlásiť svoj pobyt predseda vlády?

Mr. Kalinak, when will the Prime Minister report his whereabouts?

Ján Škrobák, a lawyer and university professor, was the first to publicly explain the legal faults of this new law by asking why “staying abroad – which did not matter for years, now suddenly bothers [the state]?”. He also explains [sk] that this law, in its new seemingly stricter formulation, still implies that simply not announcing one's “departure in an of itself is not and will be not an offense”, but could possibly be subject to a fine.

Ľubomír Drinka published a price list of verification of electronic signatures on his blog to show possible alternative reasoning behind this new law. Verification of electronic signatures is a requirement for all official email communication in Slovakia and citizens would need to verify their signature every time they would like to report an extended stay from abroad or through the Ministry's website, instead of coming back into the country to report this. This sheds a different perspective on the law, in particular because the fine for not verifying an electronic signature is several times more than the 33-euro fine (about 44 US dollars) if citizens do not report their whereabouts for stays of 90 days or more outside Slovakia's borders.

Dušan Kosec wrote on his blog that the measure may be preventative:

Nahlásenie pobytu – možná prevencia proti exodu slovenských občanov

Reporting of whereabouts – possible prevention against the exodus of Slovak citizens

Cynická Obluda had a similar opinion in the image below and a blog post titled “Waiting For the Last One” that evokes a long-standing joke in some Central and Eastern European countries that, due to large tendencies toward emigration over the decades, the last one to leave the country should not forget to turn out the lights.

cjdjdjdjdjdjd

Satirical image of Minister Róbert Kaliňák by Cynická obluda. Used with permission.

Čakanie na posledného
Každý, kto odtiaľto na dlhšie odíde, nám to musí nahlásiť…
Inak stratíme prehľad a nebudeme vedieť, kto mal zhasnúť.

Waiting for the last one [to leave].
Everyone who leaves here for a longer period of time must report it.
Otherwise we will lose overview and will not know who should turn the lights off.

Some humorously speculated in an edited image that the conception of this law might have been influenced by Slovakia's national hockey team participating in the recent Ice Hockey World Championships:

Image by user Nikola on www.gulas.sme.sk; used with permission.

Image by user Nikola on www.gulas.sme.sk. Used with permission.

Príčina vypadnutia s Fínmi
Chlapci si po vyrovnaní uvedomili,
že by mohli dostať pokutu
za predĺžený pobyt v zahraničí,
preto nechceli nič riskovať.

Why did Slovakian hockey players lose to Finland
[Coach]: The boys, after evening the score, suddenly realized that they might be fined for staying abroad longer than intended, so they did not want to risk it

April 16 2013

“Wanted Dead or Alive”: Slovak PM Dodges Court Summons

Robert Fico served his first term as Slovakia's Prime Minister from 2006 to 2010, then spent two years in the opposition, and was re-appointed as the PM in April 2012. In 2011, during his gap years from premiership, Fico – being fully aware “of all the legal consequences” – said [sk] that his successor (and, later, his predecessor), PM Iveta Radičová, was “incompetent, a liar, and suspected to have been involved in corruption.”

Radičová sued Fico, demanding an apology for his statement, but he has been ignoring the trial [sk] for a whole year now, and even the police cannot find the PM's address to serve him court summons.

According to the population register, Fico does not exist officially (probably for security reasons). Judge Michaela Králová approached the district police headquarters to have the mail delivered to Fico's last known address. The police discovered that although the nameplate on the door still said “Fico,” the PM's apartment had been sold and the new owner (who happens to be Fico's nephew) claimed he did not know the PM's current residential address. (A few months ago, however, Fico announced publicly [sk] that he had moved to a luxury residence, Bonaparte, located near Bratislava Castle.) The police then sent a notice by mail to the Cabinet Office, but they refused to accept it there.

Robert Fico during the 2010 parliamentary elections. Photo by Tomas to-mas Halasz, copyright © Demotix (12/06/10).

Robert Fico during the 2010 parliamentary elections. Photo by Tomas to-mas Halasz, copyright © Demotix (12/06/10).

Radičová, who had returned to Slovakia from Oxford because of the trial, called the situation “a comedy.”

Fico's spokesman said the claims that “it was not possible to deliver something to one of the most public people in Slovakia” were “ridiculous.”

A recent sighting of the PM occurred at a melodramatic prime time TV show. Gabor Grendel, a former journalist and ex-spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, wrote [sk]:

When it comes to a TV show that features poignant human stories, there is absolutely no problem delivering an invitation to Robert Fico. But once it is the court that's looking for him to explain his remarks, for which he is sued by Iveta Radičová, suddenly there is no one in the Cabinet Office who could take his summons.

Peter Jankovič, of the civic association “Stop Alibismus” [sk], addressed Fico [sk] mockingly:

[...] due to the recent events, I would kindly ask you to dismiss the Minister of the Interior Robert Kaliňák from his post as soon as possible. [...] The employees of his resort are unable to deliver even ordinary mail from the court and not even to the state's most famous citizen, who, moreover, is not hiding. [...]

Ján Macek wrote [sk]:

If the cops are mentally okay, I wonder if it is normal that Slovakia has a person whose address they cannot find as the PM.

Tomáš Bosák wrote [sk]:

I would like to remind the judge of the District Court in Pezinok that Fico is in the Cabinet Office and has enough time to participate in a TV show. Similarly, he could have found the time to accept the [court summons] and to finally come to the hearing with ex-PM Radičová. But the Prime Minister has always tended to behave like a child whose toys have been taken away.

Below are some of the comments to this SME article [sk] on the situation.

User Najsocialnejsi.Financny.Zralok.z.J&T.Fico wrote [sk]:

Last week [Fico] was screaming that there was no rule of law in Slovakia. Right now I do not know whether he was complaining or praising his own work.

User Hlava81 wrote [sk]:

It is contempt for the judiciary. What kind of country is this, where the Prime Minister ignores laws. [...] How do they expect citizens to abide by the laws?

User Dana Bobeková wrote [sk]:

What is the difference between the PM and a member of the Mafia? None. Neither one agrees to accept mail. :)

User a boľševizmus musí byť zničený!!! alluded [sk] to Fico's passion for luxury items – and to the recording of Fico's 2002 secret speech that was made public before the 2010 election, in which “a voice similar to Fico's” said he had made millions “with his own head” (GV wrote about it here):

That's why I recommend: Announce that in the building of the court free Rolex watches will be distributed. [...] He will come – with his own head.

User Kasi wrote [sk]:

[...] Maybe it is necessary to give [the court summons] to him at the live press conference.

User logikanepusti wrote [sk]:

[...] How about having Interpol search for him?

User appleVSsamsung commented [sk] on Fico's academic credentials:

Do you think that a juris doctor and even a PhD has those degrees just for fun? It took him a piece of hard work to learn how to cheat the system :D

User mirsa wrote [sk]:

And who would now claim that we are all equal before the law? The Prime Minister as a lawyer does not believe it, either, and behaves accordingly.

User vskiper wrote [sk]:

[It's] great to live in a country where the police cannot find the PM ;))

User Chytrak wrote [sk]:

“Wanted Dead or Alive” notes should be posted [...].

March 12 2013

Slovak University Needs Repairs, Rector Gets Pricey Car Instead

Blogger Tomáš Homola blogs [sk] about a new Mercedes Benz E car recently acquired for 63,096 Euros for Professor Karol Mičieta [sk], the Rector/President of Comenius University in Bratislava. Homola describes Mičieta's connection to politics, and also recalls that the Ministry of Education just a short time ago was forced to cancel renting of an Audi A6 [sk] for about 3,000 Euros per month from a company whose owner is the former Minister of Economy allegedly deeply involved in the Gorilla scandal. The saddest part of the story is the extremely poor condition that the university building is currently in (see images in Homola's post).

(more…)

March 10 2013

The State of Torture in the World in 2013

On January 23, 2013, an excerpt from the annual report of l'ACAT-France, A World of Torture 2013, makes a fresh assessment of the state of torture in the world [fr]:

“A report called A World of Torture in 2013, assesses torture practices that continue to be alarming, from Pakistan to Italy, by way of South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Bolivia. From authoritarian regimes to democratic countries, none are exempt from criticism on the topic. In 2013, torture remains as endemic, omnipresent and multi-faceted as ever”.

March 08 2013

Green Patrol Shows the Way to Cleaner Slovakia

Green Patrol

The area near the main train station in Bratislava doesn't look too neat [sk]. Nor do other neighborhoods. Some people refuse to accept it passively, however. Next month, the Green Patrol (Zelená hliadka; sk) initiative, led by Matúš Čupka, will celebrate its second anniversary. Through targeted cleaning actions, Green Patrol aims at highlighting the problem of garbage in public areas and motivating citizens to pay more attention to the environment in which they live (see photos). Bratislava's Green Patrol community has already inspired people in other parts of Slovakia (e.g., here and here; sk).

March 06 2013

Slovakia's Roads: “Adopt a Pothole and Watch It Grow”

This year, the situation on Slovakia's roads is bad. On the average, it is probably worse than a year ago.

On Feb. 28, SME newspaper wrote [sk] that in Košice county in Eastern Slovakia alone, there are over 37,000 square meters of potholes, even though the winter is still not over. Zoltán Bartos, the director of the local Road Administration, said that when they were not able to fix potholes [quickly], they had to mark them using warning road signs. Recently, drivers have been destroying these signs to avoid police fines for speeding, or to be able to get compensation for damaged cars from their insurance companies. That's why workers have already started taking pictures of the newly-installed warning signs.

Below are some of the comments from SME.sk's readers.

roman.com:

I wonder how much this pothole documenting costs.

ienko:

and what if road workers buy one sign and then take a photo with it at 25 different places?

Jirkohu:

Repair the potholes well and permanently and this new phenomenon will disappear.

Ján Divno:

In Switzerland, where they have similar if not worse weather – heat, winter, water, snow – and you won't find a single patch on the road! I don't know how they do it, but there are no potholes!

leomir:

I'm driving along the potholes, and suddenly – a road!

In another discussion [sk], users have calculated that in Slovakia €85,000 in car- and road-related fees and taxes are collected annually per each road kilometer.

Here is a dashboard camera video of a first-class road near Domaša in Eastern Slovakia:

Many other examples can be easily found by searching “výtlky 2013″ (“potholes 2013″) at images.google.sk.

Here is a joke popular with the Slovak netizens these days:

An Englishman asks a Slovak: “Which side of the road do you drive on here? Left or right?
The Slovak responds: “‘Round the holes, buddy!”

The image below comes from Diery.sk [sk], a crowdsourced map of potholes that initially covered only Slovakia's capital, Bratislava, but from the end of this week will display information provided by users in other parts of the country:

How to recognize a drunk driver, in Austria and Slovakia. (Image by Diery.sk, used with permission.)

How to recognize a drunk driver – in Austria and Slovakia? (Image by Diery.sk, used with permission.)

A pothole documentation project [sk] launched by Nový čas [New Time] newspaper, has recycled this viral phrase for its title:

Adopt a pothole and watch it grow…

A recently established RSS Daily, a mock news outlet inspired by one of Slovak President's gaffes (more about it in this GV text), quotes [sk] a non-existing deputy of the Union of Slovak Car Services who thinks that pothole repairs carried out in some cities are irresponsible and discourage drivers from making timely overhauls of their cars:

Often just a torn-off wheel reveals a much more serious fault with the car.

But just as life is often stranger than fiction, so is real-life news compared to fake news. Last year, musician Milan Capák lost patience with the holes on the sidewalks of his city Rožňava in Eastern Slovakia and started repairing them on his own and at his own cost, later continuing with the potholes on the roads. German ARD TV did a story [video; de] about Capák's selfless initiative. Later, however, a city official sent him a letter [sk], requesting him to stop his work – because he was using the wrong technologies and was making repairs on the land that was not his property.

March 04 2013

Stadiums Vs. Schools: Slovakia's Misplaced Priorities

When at the end of 2012 thousands of Slovak teachers went on nationwide strike, demanding a 10-percent pay rise, they ended up getting only about 5 percent – along with the Education Minister's explanation that “if there was money in the state treasury box, teachers would get as much as 20 percent.”

Bratislava, Slovakia (Nov. 2012): a teacher is ringing a bell against low pay. Photo by Martina STRMEŇOVÁ, copyright © Demotix (11/26/12).

Bratislava, Slovakia (Nov. 2012): a teacher is ringing a bell against low pay. Photo by Martina STRMEŇOVÁ, copyright © Demotix (11/26/12).

Just a few months later, the same minister – Dušan Čaplovič – announced plans [sk] to spend 45 million euros (4.5 million euros annually over a ten-year period) on the construction of football stadiums all over the country, to be used by the top Slovak football league. This sum, which does not cover the construction of the new National Football Stadium in the capital Bratislava, is smaller than what the teachers’ raise would have amounted to in just one year. Still, the teachers are disappointed, and not just because of their own low salaries, but also because of the state's insufficient funding of education in general.

A banner on a school building in Slovakia reads: "The dignity of a teacher = The future of this country." Photo by Igor Svítok, copyright © Demotix (11/22/12).

A banner on a school building in Slovakia reads: “The dignity of a teacher = The future of this country.” Photo by Igor Svítok, copyright © Demotix (11/22/12).

Some in Slovakia suspect that the reason behind such misplaced priorities is the alleged involvement of the ruling party's sponsors in football business and construction industry. The Education Minister, however, talks of the planned stadium construction as a strategic decision in supporting the young generation.

The SME.sk article [sk] linked to above has generated hundreds of reader comments, and below are a few of them.

Kiixxela:

Stinkers, do not let them even try to pull the arguments about sports and the health of young people, because the foot of an [ordinary] mortal will not [be allowed to] enter those courts/playgrounds in a [whole] lifetime.

Aqua Viva:

Who are we going to build those football stadiums for? For those hooligans who will come there just to fight and ruin the stadium? How much does the deployment of police cost, to constantly monitor such matches?

belnea:

But how will we get to the stadiums? The roads are broken. [This year Slovak roads are in an extremely bad condition.]

mala pistacia:

What will [Slovakia's] unemployed do all the day? In the morning, they'll go to the labor office, in the evening – to a football game.

Timmy_A:

In addition, it is complete nonsense to build [a new] stadium here when only a couple hundred people usually come to the old Locomotive Stadium.

ja111:

But the poor mafia comrades have bought [...] football clubs and now they've run out of money [...] so the state must pay for it!

Cule de FCB:

Schools are collapsing over the heads of students and teachers. No reconstruction is necessary? It's better to donate money to a PRIVATE football club?

provokater128:

We're going to donate money for stadiums – where 20 times a year about 500 people come for football. And that is a falling school – where 200 days a year 500 children come and the wind blows at them in the classroom through a rotten window – but it does not matter.

Deju:

In Slovakia, schools have windows that are 50-60 years old, and because of it, it is cold in those schools and also lots of money is being wasted on heating. I think it is necessary to define the priorities. [...]

panza09:

hm, what would the 45 most devastated schools say to 84,000 euros per year…hmmmmmm

Chocholko [in reply]:

They would say, “It is a beautiful dream.”

iwko:

My girlfriend is a teacher, she got 5 percent more, but they took away all additions [to her base salary], so now she has 10 percent less, a university degree, works for the second year teaching English and brings home 400 euros [a month], and yes, she goes to work at 7am and finished at about 2pm, and in the afternoon she's also teaching at [a private] language school [to earn extra money].

fff01:

A photo with nice-looking athletes brings more votes to a politican than a photo with a satisfied teacher.

February 08 2013

European Regional Differences

Slovak NGO/think-tank Conservative Institute [en] blogged [sk] about the results of a study of 270 second-level EU regions (NUTS 2). Comparing changes in unemployment, they found that during 1990-2011, despite the growing amount of Euro-funds, the differences between the regions grew by about 4 percentage points. In more than 50 years of European integration, the EU institutions have created 112,140 regulations. Conservative Institute claims [sk] that the actual EU strategy is causing loss of competitiveness, higher debts, taxes and a lower level of employment:

(more…)

January 31 2013

Slovak PM's Support for 2022 Winter Olympics Bid Draws Criticism

Whereas Norway and Switzerland are planning to hold referenda before submitting their 2022 Winter Olympics bids, the fate of the Slovak-Polish joint bid already seems decided: the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico has declared his support for it, without waiting for the government's approval.

Slovakia's Olympic expenditures were initially estimated at €200 million, but later the Minister of Finance spoke [sk] of €300 million, while some estimates amount to nearly €500 million. Slovak NGOs, such as Aliancia Fair-Play, and the opposition parties are demanding [sk] the precise cost analysis and a list of funding sources.

Economist Richard Ďurana thinks [sk] that the “organization of the Olympic Games is a very expensive, short-term boost of national pride that only very rich or very irresponsible countries can afford.”

Imrich Body, a member of the non-parliamentary 99 Percent-Civic Voice party, sees the Olympics [sk] as another attempt to “feed the Gorilla“, referring to the corruption scandal that shook Slovakia a year ago.

Blogger Matej Bórik has these questions [sk] for the Prime Minister:

How do you ensure that there will be no overcharge scenario as in London, Athens, Sochi, Vancouver and other mega-cities? What steps will you take when it will occur? Do you have enough cash in [your] personal account?

Blogger Samo Marec writes [sk]:

It should be noted that we have already been fighting for the Olympics – and even twice. [...] It is possible that I'm alone with this opinion, but I strongly believe that the sole purpose of the [Olympic bidding] is making public money private once again. Compared to [those who came up with] this plan, [Jaromír Ruda, known for the failed Deaflympics,] is a poor amateur. [...]

Blogger Karol Šebo is optimistic [sk]:

Poland, not Slovakia, will play the leading role in convincing the International Olympic Committee.

Poland, which has only recently organized EURO 2012 successfully; Poland, which has a strong lobby in a number of organizations around the world. And not to mention that Krakow has a strong brand image internationally. That's why I think that this joint candidacy has a real chance to be successful, and any success provides Slovakia with a great chance to become more visible, something that does not happen often.

Blogger Tomáš Bosák writes [sk]:

A candidate to host the Olympics now, when we are languishing [under austerity measures]? What do we need the Olympics for? [...] I am just wondering from where this or that government will have the money for this parade.

Because I remember what a show it was about [the hockey stadium in Bratislava] and how it kept growing more expensive. Now it would not be enough to build just one stadium. I don't know, it reminds me of organizing May Day celebrations. No calculations, no documentation, but let's do it, because people will have fun. And we will have a chance to show off.

Mikuláš Huba, an ecologist and a newly-elected MP, writes [sk]:

There is a threat to the nature, because the Tatras are not the Alps.

Not giving money to doctors and teachers, but giving it to officials, politicians, developers and sponsors?

The candidacy for the Olympics is such a serious decision that it cannot and should not be made by one person and in one day; it requires a serious, long-term and informed debate not just in the parliament, but in the society as a whole, following the example of Norway.

Prime Minister has openly demonstrated how serious he is about the consolidation of the public finances and also what (and who) his priorities are.

January 26 2013

Slovak President Butt of Jokes Online Due to Prosecutor General Saga

The post of the Prosecutor General has been vacant for more than a year in Slovakia.

Despite this, the Prosecutor General's Office has a very strong position. For example, it has recently managed to attack [sk], in the Constitutional Court, the law on minimal wages of nurses, arguing that it was a selective law that addressed the needs of just one group of medical workers, and, moreover, there were no funds in the budget to implement it. The Court ended up “postponing” the adoption of the law.

At the time of the Slovak Courts's decision, the neighboring Czech Republic promoted a popular prosecutor Lenka Bradáčová, who is “widely praised for her anti-corruption fight.” The Czech example appeared to be the opposite of the Slovak experience and showed why Slovak politicians on all sides of the political spectrum wanted to have their “own” friendly Prosecutor General.

And if that was impossible, then it was better to have none at all.

The previous Parliament chose Jozef Čentéš in June 2011, but President Ivan Gašparovič did not appoint him. At first, he was waiting for the Constitutional Court to determine if he had the right to reject the proposed candidacy or whether he had to approve it. In October 2012, the Court found [sk] that the President could reject a candidate who either did not meet the statutory prerequisites for appointment or there were grounds to call into question his/her ability to perform this function. The President had to make a decision in a reasonable time, however.

When a month later a journalist asked Gašparovič why he still had not appointed a prosecutor, she got this response [sk] from the President:

Are you illiterate? Don't you know how to read decisions of the Constitutional Court? There you have it, white on black.

It was neither the first time that the President was rude to a woman [en], nor the first time when he said something wrong.

Slovak diplomats already know how it is when the “President of the head of the state” (Gašparovič's own construction) speaks about Serbia being located by the sea, uses the word ‘balcony' instead of the Balkans, Lebanon instead of Lisbon, or John Major instead of Tony Blair.

Commenting on the influence of the mafia in sports, the President once said [sk]:

Well, and what [to do] now? When these people are not there anymore, there will also be no football.

Now Gašparovič's past quotes and new jokes have gone viral on the web again.

A mock graph [sk] on the contents of the Slovak internet, posted recently by Cynická obluda, reflect this trend - porn (green) and instructions on how to make a bomb (yellow) lag far behind the jokes about Gašparovič (blue):

“The contents of the internet (as of Jan. 6, 2013)” - by Cynická obluda, used with permission.

Gašparovič's “white-on-black” response to a journalist featured in another one [sk] of Cynická obluda's parodies:

“The Constitutional Court spends more on printer toner than on wages and heating combined. It is no fun when we have to publish all resolutions white on black.” By Cynická obluda, used with permission.

When this year the President finally made the long-awaited Prosecutor General decision, it was not in Čentéš's favor. His arguments will be re-examined by the Constitutional Court.

One of these arguments against the appointment of Čentéš was a quote from a nonexistent publication that the President called “RSS Daily” (”denník RSS”) - which, in fact, turned out to be .týždeň (”The Week”), an online news and commentary outlet:

Needless to say, this blunder did not go unnoticed [sk] by Cynická obluda:

“Don't teach the President! RSS Daily does, of course, exist - I buy it every morning at the “Opening hours” newsstand.” By Cynická obluda, used with permission.

On a more serious note, the President's delayed Prosecutor General decision made many people angry.

A few citizens protested in front of the presidential palace, some signed a Facebook petition [sk] calling for a referendum about the President's removal. Fortunately, the petition did not succeed, because if there was a referendum, it would most likely fail because of non-participating voters. And, in accordance with the Slovak Constitution, this would restart the slowly ending five years of President Gašparovič's term. And this is why the anti-Gašparovič activists have quickly switched to an attempt to sue the President [sk].

Another recent presidential scandal involved blogger Juraj Poláček, who wrote [sk], among other things, that in August 2009, just one day after the President left an army training area, one of his regular hunting companions was accidentally shot there. The blogger wondered if the President's January 2012 amnesty was perhaps designed for the man who did the shooting. Even though Poláček later added that his theory about the amnesty was incorrect, the President decided to sue him for libel.

The President's spokesman said [sk] his boss had been on holiday in Croatia at the time of the shooting. Journalists, however, found that it was not true, so later the President's office came up with other “sightings” of him on that day (e.g., at a football game that never took place). For a while, Gašparovič's whereabouts were simply declared a state secret.

Naturally, this strange behavior has generated some rumors online. As well as plenty of hunting jokes.

Here is one:

“We hunters promise that we will always stand behind the President. It is the only safe place!” By Cynická obluda, used with permission.

Pjotr posted this comment [sk] on SME.sk, bringing home the sobering truth that the overall situation in Slovakia is actually the saddest of the jokes circulating out there:

ANNOUNCEMENT

The Office of the President of the head of the statehood of the Slovak Republic is seeking a quantum physicist to calculate the position of His Excellency, since the president has found in himself the quantum properties and not only can he be simultaneously in two different places, but he can also appear as an element of the ruling party and as one riding on the wave of a civil candidate, but, judging by his functional performance, it is not clear if he is alive or dead.

January 21 2013

Slovakia: Social Benefits for Roma

Lucia Kureková, in her blog analysis [sk], shows that in Slovakia the majority of those who receive the Benefit in Material Need (BMN) are not the “typical” Roma families with many children, but are single, of any ethnicity, and childless (62%), often young and unemployed. About two-thirds of the Slovak Roma households receive child support and other family benefits; about half of them receive BMN, but here they make up about one-third of all benefit-receiving families (while officially there are just about 2% of the Roma population in Slovakia).

January 17 2013

Slovak Antimonopoly Office Defends Obligatory Microsoft Use

European Information Society Institute, a Slovak NGO, reports [sk] that the Slovak Antimonopoly Office (AMO) does not see it as a problem that the country's Financial Directorate is forcing taxpayers to use Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer, arguing that there is just about 10 percent of 44,000 subjects who have to use eTax and eDane applications, which are not compatible with Microsoft Windows. Netizen jaaaaaaaaaaj notes [sk] that, using AMO's logic, murder also affects just a negligible number of the population.

January 15 2013

Slovak Netizen Initiative to Redesign State Institutions' Sites

Inspired by sf.citi (San Francisco Citizens Initiative for Technology & Innovation), Jakub Ptačin [sk] and Peter Fabor [sk] have launched It's Not Possible (”To Sa Nedá”; sk; on Facebook - here), an initiative whose goal is to redesign websites of selected state institutions - for free and without political ambitions. In the initial phase, they created a public text file for citizens to report problems of the Slovak land register portal. They have also already met with a member of the Slovak Blind and Partially Sighted Union.

December 28 2012

Slovak Blogger Promotes Fairness in State Support for Businesses

Blogger Robert Huran reports [sk] on the initial success of his online form [sk] for entrepreneurs, which was created two months ago in response to the news [sk] of the €200 million governmental support for ten selected companies. The reasons these companies were chosen included promises of investment and creation of 2,400 new jobs, as well as preservation of about 1,500 jobs. Now, thanks to Huran, over 200 companies are going to ask for €33 million in state support for providing over 3,200 new and existing jobs. Huran's goal is to push for clear rules that will be the same for everyone - or to discourage stimulus at all, to prevent deformation of entrepreneurial environment.

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