The New Wave of NGOs in Slovakia and East-Central Europe

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com.

Alena Panikova, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation in Slovakia

Alena Panikova, Executive Director of the Open Society Foundation in Slovakia

When I started working on U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1980s, I encountered my first GONGO. This was a “government-organized non-governmental organization.” It was like something out of Alice in Wonderland. An early GONGO, the Soviet Peace Committee styled itself as an NGO. It worked with various NGOs in the West. But it closely hewed to the Party line. Later, as Gorbachev began to shake up the Party, the GONGOs adopted more interesting positions. By 1989, throughout the Soviet bloc, they’d become dinosaurs, and real NGOs rapidly took their place.

As the executive director of the Open Society Foundation in Slovakia since 1995, Alena Panikova has focused on nurturing this new wave of NGOs in East-Central Europe. These organizations were important at two levels – to provide direct service and to put pressure on a government that was becoming increasingly authoritarian under Vladimir Meciar.

“Society is made up of diverse people, diverse opinions, diverse experiences,” she told me in an interview at the OSF offices in Bratislava in February. “Probably only a small group of people was privileged to see democracy with different eyes, having been exposed to other cultures or having had the opportunity to study or talk to good people. But common people were simply interested in their everyday life. They wanted somebody to help them if they were threatened. They didn’t want to be afraid of losing their jobs. They didn’t want to worry about whether their kid could go to school. It was important to develop this NGO sector as an intermediary that could speak and act on behalf of diverse groups and individuals. The ultimate goal has been for every individual to live in dignity and have their rights respected. But there are still people who need the help of NGOs or institutions to achieve this goal.”

The NGO sector was also instrumental in eventually bringing an end to the period of Meciarism that made Slovakia an international pariah in the 1990s. OK ’98, for instance, focused on ensuring that the 1998 elections would be free and fair. “They were not fighting against Meciar, but rather spreading ideas like the ‘right to vote’ and the ‘right to participate’ and the notion of personal responsibility,” Panikova explained. “As soon as I saw so many young people participating, and so many NGOs establishing marvelous networks all over Slovakia, then I trusted that even though Meciar won in those elections, he was not able to form a government. And I had hope that the country could go in a better direction.”

Once Meciarism was safely in the past, the NGO sector was able to help the country turn outward as well. “At the beginning, we were very much focused on ourselves: on our pains, our desires, our need for diversity and for new departments at the university, our desire to understand democracy, to work with young people, and to build civil society,” Panikova pointed out. “But we were too much interested in ourselves. For me, the critical moment was when the first NGO was established to deal with the problems of people outside Slovakia.”

Today, Slovakia has a rich NGO culture. In fact, there are more than 18,000 NGOs in this relatively small country. But it faces a problem similar to the days of the GONGOs, and that is the challenge of BONGOs or business-oriented NGOs. Once again an institution that looks like an independent NGO is more like a dependent marionette.

“There’s also a two percent tax assignation in Slovakia where not only individuals but also corporate entities can allocate two percent of their taxes to some NGO,” Panikova said. “At the beginning it was only available for individuals, but then the government introduced the flat tax. We were struggling to have some other incentives for people to donate or to support NGOs, similar to the Czech Republic or other countries. But instead of giving us this, together with the flat tax, this two percent mechanism was introduced, and legal entities, like businesses, can allocate their paid taxes to NGOs as well. It inspired many of them to establish their own foundations in which they mostly use the money to fund education or health. Because of this complex situation, it’s important to know which NGOs you’re talking about.”

The Interview

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

Yes, I was working for a publishing house. I was sitting in the office in a high building where the J&T Group is now located (one of those financial oligarchs here in Slovakia). I was an editor in those days. We were simply sitting around talking about how Communism was falling everywhere except Czechoslovakia, and that we had to be patient until that happened.

And then you heard the news about Berlin.

Berlin and everything else. I never expected that Communism would really finish. It seemed to last forever. But I thought, “Everything is possible if this happens.” It was fabulous to watch. And it was the beginning of change. I can remember this big feeling of freedom. We also established a chapter of Public Against Violence at the publishing house. It was quite interesting because those who protested were kicked out of that office, so I was unemployed for a while.

When you were working in the publishing house, you thought Communism would continue forever and you would be in that publishing house as an editor for the rest of your life?

Yes. I’d studied at the university, but there was no way for me to work in a position for a university graduate. This editor job was a position for somebody who finished high school. But still, for me, a mother of little children, I couldn’t be unemployed. There was no choice for me. I was lucky to work on a good team, with people who were, for example, kicked out of the Communist Party after 1968, when they protested the Soviet Army intervention. I learned a lot from these very interesting people about life, about good books. If you were in this world of books and using words, it was not a bad future. But you also knew that you had to behave in accordance with the rules if you didn’t want to make problems for your family and friends.

What was horrible in those days was being enclosed within the circle of your family and the few people you could trust. I had a father-in-law who lived in the 1950s and watched all the horrible things that happened to people in those days. He didn’t trust anybody. He warned us not be so open to people all the time, as my husband and I were. It was interesting after 1989 and this Velvet Revolution to see how many people belonged to the system, not the secret police only, but the whole sophisticated system of control. Probably we were quite naive to think that we were powerful.

What did you study at university?

I studied arts and aesthetics, and Slovak language and literature. But I like very much working with people, and also I worked as a translator. Working with words, however, gave me a job and fed me at the beginning of my career.

When you were at the publishing house, you helped organize a Public Against Violence chapter.

There was a small chapter with a few people who wanted to support the changes. But it was a very short time and we were simply kicked out. So, we started to work on our own. I continued to work with words. Then I was employed in a small organization next to the ministry of education that did scientific research into industrial relations. That’s where I met a young British or Scottish lady from the Jan Hus Foundation. And I discovered that there was a possibility to work for the Open Society Foundation, which was looking for people. This was something very close to my personal interest. My life’s desire was to live in a society where logic is more important than struggles for power. Under Communism everything was centralized. Even in the publishing house, the Party decided what you could and could not publish. For me also it was important to be paid for what you do and not for what you say. So, the opportunity for everyone to develop personal freedom was very important.

We had many relatives and friends who emigrated. In our family, too, we were in a situation where we couldn’t meet our relatives who went to Western countries. It was hard for us to meet or to write to each other. Everything was controlled. So, this feeling that you could cross the border to Austria—that was enough. You didn’t need to cross it in fact, but just to have this opportunity was also very important.

I remember two things from those days. The squares were full of people, and everything seemed to be very unified and nice, and celebratory. But this one time I was crossing the square with my little daughter, and people were making ringing sounds with their keys. I needed to cross, but they were so aggressive. On the other hand, next to me were standing some Roma people, and it was for the first time that I saw Roma people standing next to non-Roma people, and there was this hope in their eyes. Even though I have critical views on our current situation, it’s totally different from what it was before.

When did you start working for Open Society?

In March 1993. The foundations were established here in November 1992, both the Slovak and the Czech foundations. It’s interesting that the foundation offices were established alongside the split of Czechoslovakia. That was another challenge. We had a very good start together, but then Slovakia went backwards in many aspects. So it was great to have this foundation here, to have this opportunity to cooperate with people who have similar ideas about life. And also we got money to support those who really wanted to do something.

You mentioned trying to cross the square with your child and people were a little aggressive, and that’s an interesting story. I’m wondering if there’s another point when you thought, “Hm, the situation in this country is not going to be easy. It’s not going to be a “Velvet Transition.” Was there another point when you thought, “Hmmn, we are really going down the wrong path”?

Probably not the “wrong path.” It was not that simple. But immediately after the people recognized and the police recognized and the secret services recognized that nothing like a war or large-scale revenge was going to take place, they simply started to do their jobs. Groups of people tried to spread hatred, but it was packaged in those very nice national feelings and patriotism, so it was very hard for common people to see it for what it was. They were misusing populist rhetoric from the beginning. It was also the time when we were seeing some pretty aggressive small groups. That’s also when this so-called Meciarism began. It was not important whether these politicians were members of the Communist party or not. It was more about their personalities and their values, and their desire to get power, have financial influence, privatize, and acquire a lot of money. That’s when we started to speak about transparency and corruption. It was quite dangerous really to reveal the real corruption in some of the privatization cases.

Society was no longer controlled by one political party. Rather these values were spread across many parties. In both Slovakia and the Czech Republic, after those positive values like “truth” and “love” that were promoted at the very beginning of the changes, there was a fight for seats in the parliament. Almost all the intellectuals, the philosophers who were spreading the more positive approach, they said that it was time to leave politics and let the professionals do their job. For the nationalists, who were not self-critical or competent, they simply saw this as a big opportunity to become more visible, and to get more power, and to influence more people.

On the one hand, it was extremely interesting for me, because I loved all this history. We were living through this history, watching the revolution take place. But after a certain period of time, people started to split, based on ideology or other interests. It could be quite painful, because the people you marched together with at a certain point, you discovered that your interests or your philosophy or your vision of Slovakia’s future were different and then you went off in opposite directions. There are stories of formerly close friends who simply do not talk to each other these days.

You never do things entirely by yourself – you do things together with other people. My experience is that until you mobilize people at the grassroots level and identify at least some group that shares your expectations or vision, it’s impossible do anything. You can invest all the money you want, but it’s still a lost cause.

At the beginning, we were very much focused on ourselves: on our pains, our desires, our need for diversity and for new departments at the university, our desire to understand democracy, to work with young people, and to build civil society. But we were too much interested in ourselves. For me, the critical moment was when the first NGO was established to deal with the problems of people outside Slovakia.

Which NGO was that?

People in Peril. It existed in the Czech Republic, but not in Slovakia. Andrej Ban, a photographer, was the person who established it. It was really important for me personally to watch Slovaks officially start to be interested in the problems of others. It wasn’t only humanitarian aid, which has always been here, but also helping people in difficult situations outside Slovakia, outside Europe.

What year was People in Peril established?

I think it was 1994.

Can you give any examples of how, during the Communist period, the regime transformed language, or shaped the understanding of Slovak literature?

It’s connected with so-called normalization. This was quite difficult to translate. When I was in university, for example, we didn’t have textbooks because so many writers and philosophers, so many living people, had been removed from the official history because they had protested against the Soviet  invasion in 1968 or they hadn’t behaved in line with the expectations of the Communist Party. It was impossible, officially, to learn anything about them. On the other hand, this was probably a motivation for young people to be curious and to look into what was missing.

Nowadays there is a debate about the percentage of Slovak music being presented on Slovak radio. They argue that a compulsory 30% of the music should be Slovak. I’m quite against it because of that experience from the past when you couldn’t listen to foreign music. In the publishing houses it was possible to publish good books, but you needed to have excellent people who were able to find the right books in English or somewhere else and then be very smart in describing what the book was about. The state controlled peoples’ minds and opinions in this way, and it was really bad.

Also, when I hear today a phrase like, “fight for something positive,” it always sounds strange because of that context of the Communist regime fighting with Western countries. Everything around that term was ideological.

Like “struggle for peace” in Russia – borba za mir.

Yes, in Slovak: Boi za mir. Struggle for peace. It’s sad that if you speak too much about peace, then probably you have war on your mind.

Unfortunately, the Communist government created space for many incompetent people to be in power and control people’s lives. Of course, also during Communism, as you can see from popular opinion today, there was some security. You could be sure that you would have work. If you were not fighting the regime, you could move about in a “secure space” without any danger. But it wasn’t enough. You need to decide for yourself. But, as in all societies, some people prefer to be looked after.

Can you give me any examples, at the level of language, of these deformations of language under Meciar and whether there were any continuities with the Communist period?

During the Meciar period, they started to divide people living here into “good Slovaks” and “bad Slovaks,” and that was determined by whether you supported the government’s ideas or not. The Meciar government also used some similar language of security from the previous period, such as “I’m going to look after you.” Also, many hostile words and nasty gossip were used against political opponents.

There was a documentary about a cameraman who worked for Slovak TV in those days. It was interesting to hear him talk about how the Meciar period was an excellent time to learn how to use this video language to make Meciar appear very solid and to use the camera to show his opponents as nervous. It reminded me of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and how she used cinematography during the fascist period, how she developed the technical means but without any ethics. So, it’s not only about the words, but also the language of pictures, the use of video, the approach on radio. These stories always praising the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) people in Meciar’s party were very, very powerful. It was so very frustrating when we went to holidays outside Slovakia and then came back and, as soon as you crossed the border, you could hear the radio saying something like: “If elections were organized this week, the winner would be Vladimir Meciar — with a really big majority.”

You mentioned Leni Riefenstahl. There was definitely an aesthetic that accompanied Nazism, and there was “socialist realism” under Communism. Was there an aesthetic that was connected to Meciar?

It was more like a folklore approach: an image of a strong man with an axe in his hands, which goes back to those folklore roots of Slovak society.

It sounds like it was very gendered. Was there a certain conception of what a man should be and what a woman should be?

I don’t know. Probably not. Of course, the ladies around HZDS were really praising Meciar and many, mostly older women voted for HZDS because of Meciar personally. They also had quite a lot of women in parliament and also as ministers.

What were the priorities for this organization during that period in the 1990s?

One problem was the lack of openness in this society in all possible fields. We were lucky to have an opportunity to bring people here to share know-how and to send people outside to study market economy or business or the arts. We also had the chance to help NGOs, or non-governmental organizations. On the other hand, we also encouraged dialogue with those on the other side, like people from Meciar’s public administration. If you only fight, you will never find common ground. That was the most challenging part: to find a way to start the dialogue and to explain what you have in mind. There were a lot of prejudices against Mr. Soros personally, and against our foundation, which were spread in a very open manner. We were seen as powerful, having this backing outside the country, and also having a lot of money to distribute among the people. So, we were not beloved by many people.

I guess the fact that he was of Hungarian and Jewish origin didn’t help in certain circles.

Of course. And financial speculation also has very negative connotations in these circles. There was also this mythology that he had something in mind, that he wanted to misuse this humanitarian idea of building an open society to simply realize his own business interests. Some politicians many times repeated the idea that he simply paid millions of dollars to some members of parliament to control Slovak society. I would say that it’s weaker now. But still, if you say “Hungarian Jewish speculator,” it’s always easy to play with this to increase hostility among people against somebody connected with his name.

We had especially difficult times in 1995. In 1995, there was this Trans-Montana meeting where Mr. Soros spoke about the hostile environments in the region, and he mentioned Meciar, together with Milosevic and Tuđman, in the context of the threat of fascism and the centralization of power. After that, the hostility of the government towards the foundation increased. But it also made us stronger because it pushed us even more to act according to Open Society values of transparency and open communication with people. We looked harder for ways to open a dialogue. This period was difficult and very demanding for the people. But even with this centralized government, we still had the basic freedoms. There was democracy here, so it was not easy to put people into jail because of their political opinions.

Did the government try to close the office?

Yes, they tried. There were many attacks in the media. It was also the time when the Open Society network started to think more properly about communication. The government tried to control our taxes and operations. And they also wanted to make Mr. Soros persona non grata in Slovakia in those days, but it never happened in fact, and he came again and again. So it was more a question of attacks in the media and the controlling of the foundation. That’s why we’ve been so prudent with transparency and revealing every single dollar or euro we spend. Especially when you want to work on issues like transparency or democratic values, it’s important to behave in line with the values you want to spread.

Was there a moment leading up to 1998 when you thought, “Things are going to change, I see the end of Meciarism”?

I had this hope from the very beginning. As I mentioned, as soon as Communism was destroyed, I simply believed that everything was possible. Now I can see that this period of time was very necessary. Society is made up of diverse people, diverse opinions, diverse experiences. Probably only a small group of people was privileged to see democracy with different eyes, having been exposed to other cultures or having had the opportunity to study or talk to good people. But common people were simply interested in their everyday life. They wanted somebody to help them if they were threatened. They didn’t want to be afraid of losing their jobs. They didn’t want to worry about whether their kid could go to school. It was important to develop this NGO sector as an intermediary that could speak and act on behalf of diverse groups and individuals. The ultimate goal has been for every individual to live in dignity and have their rights respected. But there are still people who need the help of NGOs or institutions to achieve this goal.

In1996-97, we established the Donor’s Forum, through which we’ve had the privilege to support active people with a vision of change. I’ve watched the number of these people increase in society, and we’ve also had fantastic support from the international embassies here, such as the American, British, Dutch, and Canadian embassies. They’ve really helped us a lot with this struggle to maintain democratic values. There were also private foundations and states that wanted to help us from the outside. So, for example, before Meciar stopped governing this country, this group of international donors helped us establish a really powerful group to support people in their struggles. It was called the OK ’98 campaign with thousands of people cooperating in this network. They were not fighting against Meciar, but rather spreading ideas like the “right to vote” and the “right to participate” and the notion of personal responsibility. As soon as I saw so many young people participating, and so many NGOs establishing marvelous networks all over Slovakia, then I trusted that even though Meciar won in those elections, he was not able to form a government. And I had hope that the country could go in a better direction.

It’s a constant struggle. I would divide the modern history of the Slovak Republic into before 1998 and after 1998. This was when Meciar discovered that he was simply not powerful enough. Also, he didn’t have the backing of the Soviet Union like the previous Communist governments had. Since then, Slovakia has started to build its modern history. If you look at current society, we have many problems to solve. But what’s different is the global situation and the situation in the European Union. When we entered the European Union, it was fantastic for Slovaks, and then we adopted the euro, and so on. Each of the governments we’ve had by now has had its mistakes and its positive accomplishments. What’s important is that there is this quite strong civic society that is interested in what’s happening here in the country. Of course, not everybody can be so active, and it’s not probably the desire of all the people. In fact, it would be strange if everyone was involved with these political issues.

But there are some quite powerful NGOs that are courageous enough and visible enough in the society to serve as watchdogs and monitor what the politicians say, what they promise, and what they do. So it’s not that simple for any of the politicians to promote hate or do something that the people in the country don’t support. We also have powerful instruments like a Freedom of Information Act. We have artists who prepare documentaries about the issues that can engage people. And the media is quite free, which is probably one of the good things in the history of Slovakia. We’ve always had at least some media that were independent from political power. What’s sad, however, is that the quality of political parties in Slovakia is not that marvelous, and we have a weak opposition. With Mr. Fico and his party, we again have one strong party, and it’s quite powerful in adopting laws. What’s important, though, is that they didn’t destroy the positive things introduced by the previous government. Still, it’s a struggle.

In the past it seemed to be very simple: there was the free world and our closed world. But it’s not like that any more. It’s much more complicated with the European Union and the global situation. So it’s also more difficult for Slovakia to find a space in this more complicated world.

You talk about the importance of NGOs in Slovak society, particularly now. But I’m wondering if you’ve seen a similar trend here as elsewhere in the region where the status of NGOs has fallen. In Bulgaria, people are not really very happy about the current situation, and they’re looking for someone to blame. And one place they put the blame is NGOs. They’ve seen a lot of money flow into NGOs, but they perceive that their personal life hasn’t changed that much over the last 20 years, so they blame NGOs for not doing enough.

The position of NGOs was never ideal. There has been a constant struggle for NGOs to explain their role to the public. But here I don’t see such a tremendous change, with a peak of support and then a decline. Probably the mistrust at the beginning was higher. But probably not that many people now look at NGOs like they’re something that is simply asking for money. Many people have had experience with some service-oriented organizations, or somebody who works at school or in the neighborhood dealing with some environmental issues. And there are some NGOs who play this watchdog role that are quite liked by the general public. Of course, during the Meciar period, we were all seen as the enemies. But afterwards, over time, working at an NGO started to become quite a desirable career.

And there’s also a two percent tax assignation in Slovakia where not only individuals but also corporate entities can allocate two percent of their taxes to some NGO. At the beginning it was only available for individuals, but then the government introduced the flat tax. We were struggling to have some other incentives for people to donate or to support NGOs, similar to the Czech Republic or other countries. But instead of giving us this, together with the flat tax, this two percent mechanism was introduced, and legal entities, like businesses, can allocate their paid taxes to NGOs as well. It inspired many of them to establish their own foundations in which they mostly use the money to fund education or health. Because of this complex situation, it’s important to know which NGOs you’re talking about. The watchdogs and the foundations like ours are not beloved by any of the politicians. Of course, some accept us more than the others, but this will always be tricky. There are more than 18,000 NGOs in Slovakia

That’s a lot for a small country.

Yes, it’s a lot. Activists are present even in the villages dealing with some issues.

The supporters of Meciar tended to be older. Does that generation gap cut across issues today in Slovakia?

The Sme party is quite energetic among young people. It has a lot of entrepreneurs, heads of businesses, heads of schools, and so on — relatively young people. The more traditional parties appeal to people over 50-60. But, as you can see, HZDS is not really there anymore. So it’s quite a young generation in government and parliament – in their forties and fifties. There are not that many women, but it’s not that bad.

Is there a perceptible generation gap on social issues like the question of tolerance, or on economic questions?

Recently the unemployment rate increased to 14.7 percent. So it’s quite high and a negative development in society. Also, what’s remaining here are these prejudices and hostilities towards others, mostly Roma but also immigrants. It’s not always ideologically formulated, but it has roots in the one-color society. The society here is not very much multicultural. We were, historically, a one-color society. In the 1960s, during Communism, some students from Africa, from Arab countries, from Vietnam came here. So, there was some contact, but these people mostly came and left. That means that this is a challenge for Slovak society to be more open and to accept otherness, including sexual otherness. If, for example, you look at the registered partnerships – legal same-sex partnerships — probably Poland is more open to that question than Slovakia. It’s not just the history of Catholicism here. It’s also that we are mostly a rural society with very conservative attitudes. So change goes very slowly.

For example, one of our colleagues who works for the Open Society Foundation in Presov in eastern Slovakia wanted to reserve a space and some food at a restaurant for a seminar. But because he is Roma, they were not willing to simply take the order for him. They wanted him to pay in cash. He’s a really nice person, educated. The only thing that is visibly different is the color of his skin. The position of Roma is a big big challenge for our society. It’s imperative for the government and for all of us to deal with this issue, and to change attitudes, and to create opportunities for people to be educated and to participate in this economic life and social life so that they are equal to everyone else. There is no other direction possible.

The situation for Roma was pretty bad back in the 1990s here. Have there been improvements in the situation for Roma, even if problems remain for the community?

Of course, there have been certain improvements, although the situation is still difficult. It’s necessary to be involved in these issues for a long time and continuously. So, for example, after seven years of working in the foundation with young Roma leaders, you can see these young people study, participate, express their thoughts, and change their lives. But after 20 years from the government’s side, it was always starting from the beginning with every new government. But what’s changed from the government side is that a special strategy was adopted, sent to Brussels where it was registered, and now we have a quite good quality Slovak strategy for Roma inclusion. There are some action plans on paper, so it’s important to watch it and follow whether it’s being fulfilled.

What’s positive is that more Roma are participating. What’s not improved is the situation of those people who live in the settlements. It’s probably even a worse situation. There are many people who are illiterate, and there is no motivation to really study or to improve their education. There are not many opportunities for that. There is still educational segregation in Slovakia. It’s not really the fault of the teachers. It’s just how they try to solve the situation of Roma coming from very different backgrounds. Many Roma children are still put into special education schools, which is not correct, because very few of them are handicapped. The hope is to focus on every single child in this country, and to meet their needs in the appropriate way.

And what are the priorities here for the foundation?

One challenge is to improve the critical thinking of citizens and to understand the values of democracy. This is nice to say, of course, but it’s difficult to translate into real life. For example, one of the most difficult challenges is with the judiciary here in Slovakia, but this struggle is necessary to improve the overall situation. Also, this government has adopted the idea of an open government partnership, but this needs to be translated into reality. Another task for the foundation is to push the government to cooperate, to include people, and to be transparent. But we also need to improve the ability of individuals to read the media and demand quality information and transparency. That’s what the foundation is dealing with currently. We’re still about building alliances with others to include all the possible players. In many cases, we facilitate meetings to deal with some difficult issues such as inclusion in the Slovak educational system.

When you think back to the 1990s, has there been any major shift in your own thinking over the last 20 years? Any second thoughts about the things you believed in in the 1990s?

Not that much. During my work for this organization, I’ve had a chance to develop and live with the openness that we support. We are not just working with target groups and addressing problems in society in an open way, but also we are trying to be open in the way we do our work. This has been the challenge: to preserve this openness and translate the trust we’ve got from Mr. Soros and others into our performance. It’s important to be critical and open to criticism.

What I discovered just recently when I was looking back to the beginning of our work here was how many people participated in deciding on where the Soros money would go here to Slovakia. It was hundreds of people in different committees. This was the right approach: to include others and not simply behave as the institution with all the power.

When you look back to 1989 and everything that has changed here, or not changed, since that period of time until today, how would you evaluate that on a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being most dissatisfied and 10 being most satisfied?

It differs. Every year it’s different. Right now, probably 6.

The same period of time, same scale, but your own personal life.

I would say probably 8.

Looking into the near future, evaluating the prospects for Slovakia in the next 2 or 3 years, how would you rate that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being most pessimistic and 10 being most optimistic?

It’s probably in the middle. There are so many question marks. So I would say 5.

Bratislava, February 13, 2013