The question that we all have been asking lately – is democracy an illusion? Many people see democracy as the best possible system and one that they should strive to implement and maintain. Freedom of speech, free elections, and clear human rights – isn’t that what everyone wants? A functioning democracy is key to basic rights such as education. However, these days we are witnessing a slow decline in functioning democracies and an assault on these ideals. Specifically, the concept of “freedom of speech” is becoming further controversial. Unfortunately, Slovakia is home to one of these fading democracies.
“Democracy in Slovakia is quite clearly dying right before our eyes, together with the people trying to change that.”
On paper, Slovakia has been sovereign and free for almost three decades, but it is seen as an “oligarchic democracy” at best. The cornerstone of a healthy democracy is freedom of speech – something that Slovakia has never been able to provide to its people. Earlier this year, the plot of some immersive Cold War thriller played out for the entire world to see. A respected journalist focused on investigating the flagrant corruption and clientelism by the country’s oligarchs was pursuing the biggest story of his career. He uncovered a group of high-ranking Slovak politicians that maintained direct ties to the Italian Mafia. Just before publishing his bombshell findings, he and his fiancée were brutally murdered in their own home. His work was published anyways. All this has sent my home country into a tailspin. In a functioning democracy, everyone is supposed to be entitled to voice their own opinion without facing the risk of any consequences, let alone being callously assassinated. Democracy in Slovakia is quite clearly dying right before our eyes, together with the people trying to change that.
This is a crisis that will have far-reaching effects for the years to come. As a young adult and aspiring journalist from Slovakia, I find this situation beyond outrageous. I do not want to have any ties to a country where the rights of its people are compromised. This is a feeling shared by many young people in my country. How can we achieve success and raise a family in a country where not even the most basic rights are guaranteed! We are scared of the future and angry at the present.
“An entire generation has been wasted. This is why more and more young people want to leave Slovakia.”
The fabric of democracy is delicate and relies on the will of the people to defend and maintain it. Unfortunately, Slovakia is becoming more polarized than ever. On one side there is the older conservative generation, that’s lived under the oppressive communist regime. On the other side, there are the ambitious youngsters who look up to democratic ideals and want a better future. Twenty-eight years into our young country’s existence, and yet the older generation has never relinquished their hold on power. An entire generation of young Slovaks has been subjected to their outdated rules and backward ideals. An entire generation has been wasted. This is why more and more young people want to leave Slovakia. Shady deals, tax evasion by the country’s richest, and corrupt politicians are making us lose hope and driving us towards building a better life in less corrupt, foreign countries.
Even though I’ve started a new life away from my home, I still want to see my country improve and succeed. I care about the future of my family and friends that are navigating Slovakia’s greatest political crisis since the Cold War. I care about my country’s next generation and want them to have better opportunities than I ever had living there. There are some glimmers of hope – such as the incredible work of various youth initiatives. After the journalist’s murder, they organized a series of anti-corruption marches and successfully pushed the Prime Minister and the Minister of Internal Affairs to resign. This was no small victory for Slovakians, especially for the youth that had organized these protests. However, these kinds of victories are often short-lived in my country. In this particular case, it is clear that the influence of these corrupt and treasonous politicians is as strong as ever. They may have resigned, but they got to choose their own successors.
It’s hard to vision a happy ending anytime soon. Young and skilled people are still leaving Slovakia and there lies the paradox of it all. It is a sort of existential crisis I’m experiencing as a young Slovak because we have to be the ones that replace the older generation and build something new, but many of us are choosing to leave. We are abandoning it because what we see is a hopeless situation.
Democracy is an illusion. Freedom of speech is just a myth. The flashiness of it all is only used to cover up the fact that it’s all a scam and in reality we are locked up in a bubble, governed by the oligarchs.
Lucia Holaskova is a first-year media information student. This column focuses on Slovakia. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
- Columnist (Fall 2018)