“Slovakia is a Small Country” – Not Much Truth Behind the Complaints That Slovakia is “Too Small” and “Too Poor”

Little Slovakia

June 22, 2012

Allan Stevo

It’s a bit of a misnomer that Slovakia is a small country.  Sure, it doesn’t have the land mass of Russia, the population of China, or the natural resources of Canada, but Slovaks like to underestimate themselves and use wealth, population, and geographic area as an excuse.

In my opinion the wisest words spoken by American President George W. Bush were when he coined the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” (here, here, and in many other speeches)  Merely holding low expectations for someone indicates that you have a bigoted opinion of that person.  Having low expectations implies that a person is something less.

Slovaks tend to place low expectations on themselves.  Some like to call Slovakia poor, lamenting that if only it were bigger it would be a better, more successful place. This is despite the fact that approximately 160+ countries in the world are poorer than Slovakia. Additionally, the Bratislava area has one of the 10 highest incomes (in terms of purchasing power) of any other area in Europe, including rural areas of much richer and more well-established countries.  Bratislava is one of the wealthiest cities in Europe according to GDP per capita measured in terms of purchasing power for locally produced goods. By this measureBratislava and Prague are richer than ANY PART of Austria, Greece, Finland, Austria, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, or Italy.

The International Monetary Fund considers Slovakia to be the 42nd richest country in the world according to per capita GDP (PPP), which it measures as 23, 304.    The World Bank considers Slovakia to be the 40th richest country in the world according to per capita GDP (PPP) 23, 303.  The CIA considers Slovakia to be the 45th richest country in the world with per capita GDP (PPP) of 23,400.  Slovakia’s in the upper 20% of wealthiest countries, with gigantic wealth disparities that make it much, much richer than many other countries in the world.

Some like to make excuses that Slovakia is small, and if only it were bigger, it would be a better, more successful place.  It’s worth pointing out that Slovakia (18,932 square miles) is bigger geographically than quite a few “world class” countries –  Switzerland (15, 942 square miles), Belgium (11,787 sq mi) (often ridiculed by the French for its tiny size, Belgium is the home to Brussels, the de facto administrative the capital of Europe), Denmark (16, 639 sq mi), the Netherlands (16,033 sq mi), Israel (8,019 sq mi), and Hong Kong (422 sq mi) (I know – not really a country), not to mention much smaller places that have developed considerable success for themselves, such as Taiwan (13, 892 sq mi), Luxembourg (998 sq mi), and Singapore (267 sq mi).

Some like to point out that Slovakia has so few people, and if only there were more, then it would be a better, more successful place.  It’s worth pointing out that quite a few well-regarded countries have fewer people than Slovakia such as Denmark (5,432,335), Finland (5,223,442), Ireland (4,015,676), New Zealand (4,035,461), Norway (4,593,041), and Singapore (4,425,720).

Croatia (4,495,904), Jordan (5,759,732), Estonia (1,332,893), Latvia (2,290,237), Libya (5,765,563), Lithuania (3,596,617), Nicaragua (5,465,100), Panama (3,140, 232), and New Guinea (5,545,268) also have smaller populations than Slovakia. There are many more statistics that can be added in support of any of these three points.

So, Slovakia is richer, bigger, and more populous than quite a few well-off countries out there, meaning that none of these issues should be reasons that individual Slovaks should feel held back in life.  Plenty of insignificant arguments and statistics can be thrown at me that help excuse failure, help encourage that soft bigotry of low expectations.

We each have our own crosses to bear.  Everyone has their own adversities in life, crying about your own adversity is called self-pity, a unique trait of humans, according to the British poet D.H. Lawrence in his very short poem “Self-Pity,” on 52 Weeks in Slovakia .  Those who handle adversity with grace are those who we laud.  The difference between self-pity and grace is nothing but a simple, self-imposed change of mindset, a simple change of perspective.

It bugs me how often Slovaks tend to underestimate themselves.  It’s common for Slovaks to underestimate all things Slovaks.  It’s common for Slovaks to underestimate all people Slovak.  It’s common for a Slovak to underestimate himself, just because he is Slovak or lives in Slovakia.  There’s a strange negative fatalism, a combination of fate and doom commonly present in Slovakia, and it seems much more present in the capital city than anywhere else.

A common question and one asked to quite a few foreigners living in Slovakia daily goes something like this “Why did you come to Slovakia? Because if I lived in American, I definitely wouldn’t come to little Slovakia.  I probably wouldn’t even know it exists.”  That, by the way, is a direct quotation.

Look at the front cover of the most popular, intellectual-leaning magazine in Slovakia – Tyzden (it is perhaps akin to a TIME or Newsweek of Slovakia) a year ago, one year before the Slovak hockey team stormed ahead and captured the silver medal.  ”Is Slovak Hockey Dead?” it pessimistically asks, as explained in this article on 52 Weeks in Slovakia.

If that underestimating of oneself were simply an unusual hobby with no affect on the lives of individuals, then there would be nothing wrong with this.  However, it is detrimental to anyone involved in and surrounded by such thinking.  Having disappointingly low goals ensures only disappointingly low success.

Usually, at this point, I’d come up with some positive advantage of such behavior, but I can’t.  I know that during communism it was sometimes the case that metaphorically that the tallest, most successful blades of grass were the ones “cut down” by the metaphorical lawn mowers.  So perhaps it can be argued that mediocrity ensured survival.  Survival, as argued by Kirschbaum in his 1995 book on the topic, is a unifying theme in Slovak history.

A Role Played By Slovak Universities

Sometimes Americans, having seen too many movies about Eastern Bloc nations, and not really understanding how things work, ask me about the strength of the military in Slovakia and whether the military runs the country.  That couldn’t be further from the truth in Slovakia.  There are no soldiers on street corners with machine guns, something that would be more likely to be seen in countries West of here.  Arguably, the Slovak police might be described as a piece of society that looks like it’s still stuck in the bullying habits of a communist country.  There’s an even worse segment though and a very powerful one.  A segment of society stuck in the past.  It’s the Slovak educational system, with the biggest offenders being Slovak universities.  Of any oppressive institution in Slovakia, these are the institutions that are most responsible for preventing individual Slovaks from achieving their full potential in life.

It gets very tiring to get to know really good kids in Slovakia and to see the psychological sabotage that is committed against them by the educational system and by many members of society.  By the time many, many Slovaks (especially in Bratislava) graduate from university at the advanced age of 24, 25, or even 26, they have had much of the hope already dashed from them as they spent some of their most vital years jumping through “academic” hoops at bureaucratic institutions.  And really, academia in Slovakia is so full of tiring hoops and roadblocks.  It’s as if one of the goals of higher education in Slovakia is to simply be more difficult for a student as opposed to being more effective at educating a student.

Nine years of watching that happen is probably starting to have an effect on me, the viewer.  It’s among the greatest injustices a country can do to itself to sabotage the plans of its youth.  The Slovak educational system, especially at the highest levels, seems to be a method of weeding people out instead of a method of giving people the tools to be more prosperous in their life’s goals.

Yes, academia in Slovakia is a near total mess. If there were but one thing that I believe would drastically improve life today in Slovakia and the future of Slovakia, it is this –  the best thing that could be done for the Slovak people would be to cut government funding of all universities. Their screwy function in society – a function that I’m about to describe – would not likely be able to continue in the absence of government support.

Literally every single day in Slovakia, I hear another horror story on the street from some random student of my hundreds of former students and am filled with a new hatred of higher education in Slovakia.  Having known and spoken to so many university professors, I recognize what a joke it is to even suggest that reform will work in such an entrenched and unchanging system that has such a chokehold on the decision of who will advance in life and who won’t.  There was a time in Slovak society where having one degree or many degrees behind one’s name was a mark of distinction.  In fact, one is officially supposed to connect his academic title to his name – on official documents, in signatures, on business cards, on credit cards, on name plates, when running for office, and in many other situations.

Today, those titles are increasingly losing their significance.  The importance of these titles and the societal influence conferred on those granting those titles was a tradition from Austro-Hungary that the communists gladly adopted, as it allowed the communists to automatically have greater control of society.  If you controlled the university system, then you could instill in it a restrictive, jealous, and petty atmosphere, and simultaneously attract to it the brightest of youth.  Once the youth are convinced that they needed to pass through your institution to do anything of meaning in life, you are capable of having a strong hold over the brightest in society and can easily control whether they advance or fail. As the brightest in society were the ones perceived to be the most threatening to the powers that be, this control of universities conveniently allowed for an easy way to monitor and break the independent spirit of talented individuals.  That atmosphere, as far as I can tell, continues today 22 years after the fall of the communist government on this land.

Slovak universities are an instrument of subjugation that have outlived the oppressive regimes that gave birth to them and now find themselves trying their best to pretend that they exist to educate.  That they generally fail at this, and instead achieve the opposite of educating should be of no shock to anyone in Slovak society.  However, nearly everyone treats this information as if it is some kind of impossibility and the academics whisper among themselves “If we admit these universities all suck and are direly in need of reform, then we admit that all of our coveted titles all suck as well, since they were earned under a broken system.  We can’t really do that.”

Thankfully, the year is 2012 and there are other options, whether or not the titled and wizened old professors approve.  Success in Slovakia, after all, is no longer dependent on the blessings of academic gatekeepers.  Young Slovaks are increasingly growing up and wondering if there’s really a point to working all those years jumping through hoops just to have some silly title behind your name.  At the same time, foreign institutions annually come into Slovakia and point out how terribly inept the quality of higher education is.  Yes, higher education in Slovakia can be very, very difficult.  I have no doubt about that.  The more important issue is this – is the goal of education to be difficult or to be effective at educating?  Difficult does not necessarily have anything to do with the act of educating.

After living in Slovakia long enough and being around enough young Slovaks, you’ll come to realize things like “Wow, that’s the fourth time this week that I heard about a student having to collect the proper paperwork to give to a secretary, only to have the secretary tell that student to get another document, then another, never really helping the student out by telling the student at any one time what the entire protocol of the procedure is,”  or “How many times am I going to hear about a professor taking a student’s paper or final exam and deciding to ball it up and fail her just because a certain percentage of students needed to fail? Should I maybe go talk to that professor and tell him what a jerk he is?”  The Slovak educational system utterly craps on its students and then smiles at itself when those seemingly tortuous university years are over – proudly patting itself on that back because it did such a good job forming that excited, independent, curious mind into a downtrodden, drone ready to work any form of governmental or corporate job and to diligently take even the silliest orders, because honestly, no matter how silly the orders of a boss are, they can’t possibly be sillier than the orders that were forced upon a student during 5+ years of university studies.

It’s fascinating to watch the success of some of the people who decided to follow their dreams directly out of high school as opposed to those who decided to put off their dreams for five or six years in order to do what society says is appropriate and seek a university degree.  I have no scientific studies to back me up, but my anecdotal evidence suggests that going to a Slovak university is the worst thing that almost any Slovak teenager can do with his life.

I wholeheartedly believe that Slovakia would be better without a single government funded university.  I don’t just say this because the amount of taxes that go to pay for universities, in fact the costs of schooling to the taxpayer is the least of my concern.  Slovak universities are bureaucratic pariahs, feeding on the lifeblood of Slovak youth.  That’s my concern.  They drain the energy of Slovak youth during that person’s most vital years.

Every time I meet a high school graduate getting ready for a Slovak college, my heart sinks, because I know what the outcome will be on his outlook on life 5 years later.  What was once a cheerful eager high school student will turn into, 9 out of 10 times, a person who has seriously been beaten down in life by the age of 25. It’s not the fate of everyone, but it is the fate of so many who attend a Slovak university that I don’t understand how more people do not speak about this fact.

But it’s not just academia.  There is a very negative and toxic atmosphere towards dreams of success among many Slovaks.  Dreams are often countered with tremendous negativity.

And maybe, I’ve spent too much of my time in Bratislava and have forgotten what the other 90% of Slovaks are like. Maybe it’s this city and not this country that are so good at quashing the youthful dreams of the younger generation.  I once spent many of my weekends in villages, which often had the effect of softening the way I speak Slovak, left me with better perspective on the week ahead, and a closer appreciation for all parts of Slovakia away from Bratislava.  That cop-out is probably an intellectually lazy one though; I don’t think the answer is as simple as “Bratislava is not really Slovakia,” but Bratislava offers further examples of the “Slovakia is too small” bigotry of low expectations.

Bratislava seeks to be second-rate in so many ways.  Its city administration tries to artificially advertise it as a second city to Vienna, which is an hour away, even issuing a magazine called “The Twin City Journal.”  That’s merely one example, but one that too many in the capital city have ingrained in their head “The capital city of our country (and by extension our entire country) is little more than a suburb of Vienna.”  Give a government-funded advertising budget to people like that and others might just start to believe the same foolish thing.

I hope that second-rate will never be good enough for me and it pains me to constantly see the message pounded into the heads of so many Slovaks that their dreams will never come true and they will never be anything but second-rate.  Because I know that once you believe that about yourself, there is nothing better that will come of you.

Feedback?

Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com.  He is from Chicago and spends most of his time travelling Europe and writing.  You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com.  If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email.  You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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Comments

  • From the point of view as a Slovak, Slovak people were oppressed nation for hundred years. Many people believe it was since 10th century. Hungarians, Turks, Nazis, Russians. The only way was to adapt yourself and cause the least trouble to you and your family. When I was growing up, the society celebrated modesty, being good at something but not telling others about it but let them find out. There is even saying “Samochvála smrdí.” (Self-praise stinks).

  • Hello …. your article is full of funny facts… :) ))))

    I have just read these lines not very carefuly … but I do suggest to the author to visit a psychologist .:)))) .. maybe feng-sui… you are full of negativity… you totaly do not understand a hostory of this nation and development during socailism and also after 1989.

    Our University system is one of the most efective worldwide… Which professor in States would be wiling to teach and stay researching at University for 1200 USD per month…. ????

    How you can comment Academia is in total mess …. hmmmm ???? :) )) I know many people in Academia … who are very significant in many areas… why you neglect them…? If you have information you may know that the head of Academy of Science in very good research person and buidling a start up company …

    You are totally off … you have no idea about Slovakia … it is similar like if I would comment a quality of US president and they infuence the whole world….

    But good luck to you but be more profesional … !!!!! IF you are journalist…. or maybe someone paid you to write this about Slovakia …. maybe some from Hungary ???? :) )))))

    Do not worry – be happy – we do have much lower depth in economy as USA on the end of the day :) )))) ….

    study more … !!!!!

    prof. Peter Sincak

  • Sad, very sad, but true. Low confidence is what drains our nation of strength.

  • This is a good article, but i have some things i would like to point out.
    Firstly we don’t say that we would be a successfull country if we were bigger. We are poor because our nation can not (or doesn’t want to) stand up for themselves. And they just talk about the problems with corruption in our goverment and police and healthcare. And that is the reason we’re saying we’re poor. For example a 1km long highway costs 2-3 times more than in Austria or Germany and our highways are so low quality that a 2-3 year old highway has extreme potholes that need extensive repair. This is due to goverment corruption, because there is a indirect link between some of our politicians and the only company that builds highways…
    Secondly i would not say that our GDP per capita is a good indication of our wealth. The number is bloated because the cost of living is unproportionately blown up by greedy people (ourselves, and that is the problem). Just look at some statistics how much living in bratislava costs. it is one of the costliest places to live in the world… you need to look at that number also. Would it matter if we have a relatevely high GDP per capita if we have to spend most of our (if not all) salary to pay the rent?

    And i’m not saying we’re poor… we’re corrupted as f*** and that is the problem, slovakia just likes to complain and not do anything about it, just look at the last elections.

  • Pauline Mably

    Jun 25th, 2012

    I wholeheartedly agree with this article. I have been here for nearly a year and I am fed up of being asked why I am here; why I am happy here; having a pained expression inflicted on me when I try to say something positive about this country; being told that Slovakia is “shit”; and being told that life in the UK is so much better and that it would be better for me to go and live in a “real city”. Life here is not perfect but there is much to enjoy and there is no place on Earth without its faults. I really wish Slovaks could find a sense of national pride. I am from Wales – a tiny country little globally insignificant country that really isn’t rich and has a lot in common with Slovakia but we Welsh could really teach the Slovak people a thing or two about national pride. Maybe it should be my mission while here to teach the Slovaks about “hwyl”???

  • Well I would like to point out that this article have so few to do with reality. All the things you have written are from the mouths of student because they could not handle their failure. It seems to me that your opinion is not very objective and you did not give me any real proof of what you are saying. I think it is very irresponsible to speak about a thing that you are not really educated in. Now I would like to response on Izidor ‘s comment because his historical fact may seems legit but they are just taken out of context because oppression ( as you mentioned ) did not start in 10th century but in 19th. In 10th / 11th Slovakia was conquered by tribes of Ugors but those nomads were defeated in Battle of Lechfeld this forced them to change drastically their way of life because they had to became agricultural ( about what they knew nothing ) so Slovaks had to learn them about it so they had very good standing in society. Hungarians had vocabulary consisted of 2000 – 3000 words ( of course none that was related to to agriculture and really few of regional geography ), so they was forced to take them from Slovakian language. Last thing I would like to mention is that in medieval ages nationality meant nearly nothing.

  • The thing with GDP of Bratislava is that many companies are registered there, therefore their value added is counted as for the region of Bratislava no matter in which part of Slovakia the product was created / a service delivered.

  • “How many times am I going to hear about a professor taking a student’s paper or final exam and deciding to ball it up and fail her just because a certain percentage of students needed to fail?” Seriously, this is maybe the worst myth ever. I cannot speak for other universities, but I have never encouter this at my universities. However, I have already heard that my colleageus and me allegadly let students fail because only a certain fraction is allowed to pass. Nothing is further from truth. They were just unprepared.

  • One of my student after this so negative and pesimistic picture of Slovakia – created by US person … asked me how much optimisim is in States ? I was in States 7 times …. I could not answer….

    Life in Slovakia is not easy but Slovakia is not crap… we have our problems and also people who are very inspirative and profesionals…

    P.

  • Mister Sincak from what you’ve write, you’re just another self-centered “profesors” that show off their ego all over the country. I’ve never seen anyone with university degree having corresponding skill set and habits needed for “the real world”. Only thing that graduate is ready for is to continue in mindless race for a higher degree. You should open your eyes and look outside from your academic shell. Universities here are only a bad joke.

  • I got 2 college degrees from Slovak University. Borned and lived in Bratislava for 25 years. Was traveling around the world to search a place to live and found Slovakia and Liptov as the best place. Yes we do complain all the time. Very few still believe in their dreams, but we kind of like it more than anywhere else in the world and we are proud on it. More than Ozzies that are proud on to be offsprings of prisoners. More than Americans proud on to be aliens in “their” enlarging territory where they are sharing their “freedom” (mostly with force and weapons).

    There is a joke whats the difference between yoghurt and USA? Even a yoghurt has a culture… We have our own culture which you can understand only if you live it.

    Yes our educational system is not ok. It misses the ability of creating motivation, but I think that our culture is somehow substituting this ability. And I feel that it is better to get motivation factors from environment and culture where you live than to get it somehow artificialy from teachers and school. Then you are naturaly motivated and school is just a tool. When you keep it in mind no one (and especially self-complacent teachers) can steel your dreams.

  • Pan Sincak, vasa univerzita v porovanani so svetovou spickou mozno relativne stoji za to, ale odporucam absolvovat semester na Ekonomickej univerzite alebo externe studium prava.

    Z mojho pohladu zachytavaju Allanove slova slovenske skolstvo v priemere uplne presne. Neberiem jeho nazor ako pesimizmus, skor ako popis situacie z ktorej sa da dostat von – pretoze vsetci vidime, ze pozitivne priklady skolstva existuju (ostrovceky v mori – mozno prave ako vasa fakulta).

    Ake by boli vase odpovede na nasledujuce otazky? Skor optimisticke alebo pesimisticke?
    - Aku vahu ma slovo univerzit vo formovani verejnej mienky na dolezite otazky (dochodkovy system, eurozona, globalne oteplovanie, jadrova energia, eutanazia)?
    - Ake percento prijmov univerzit tvoria patenty, ktore vymyslia ich studenti?
    - Kolko zahranicnych studentov prichadza studovat na slovenske univerzity (v porovnani s percentom slovakov studujucich v zahranici)?
    - Kolko clankov priemerne uverejni slovensky profesor v mienkotvornych vedeckych periodikach?
    - Kolko penazi je priemerny student ochotny zaplatit za jeden semester studia? (=Ako aky prinos do zivota ho vnima?)
    - Ake percento diplomovych prac je realne prinosnych a ake su ciste vykradanie?
    - Ako aktualne su sylaby?

    Allan, I do appologize for reply in Slovak, this was mainly for mr Sincak.

  • Well, I do not agree just with one paragraph – the one about letinh students fail because of the requiered percantage etc. – I dont think its a common praxis, maybe in some places it is true.
    In the whole article is a lot of truth, I coudnt name some thongs so well as the author – maybe because I am Slovak and I am so used to the Slovak mentalility (although it bugs me) that I take it as normal.
    The other thing that drives me mad (and I think this is not only about Slovakia) is the negative approach to work. 90 percent of people here in Bratislava hate Mondays. Why for Gods sake are they doing their job then? (The answer is probably money but thats not I wanted to say.) Like somebody here wrote – they are just complaining and complaining and they are doing nothing to change things for themselves.
    I like Slovakia and I like my job and I like slovak young people and I am so sorry that many of them dont like themselves and the environment they are living in…

  • student with a broken spirit

    Jun 28th, 2012

    I’ve just finished reading this article and I can’t stop crying. I thouht my hope was already dead and burried but I guess it is my almost-dead hope that has just burst into tears. I couldn’t describe my feelings better than you just did in this article. I don’t really know what to write. I’m still crying. You are completely right. Everything you wrote is true. “The Slovak educational system utterly craps on its students and then smiles at itself when those seemingly tortuous university years are over – proudly patting itself on that back because it did such a good job forming that excited, independent, curious mind into a downtrodden, drone ready to work any form of governmental or corporate job and to diligently take even the silliest orders, because honestly, no matter how silly the orders of a boss are, they can’t possibly be sillier than the orders that were forced upon a student during 5+ years of university studies.” These were my thoughts exactly during my bachelor’s graduation. I feel so sad and broken now I can’t write anything more..

  • Hi all

    first of all to Lucia :) )))

    I feel I am NOT self-centered … my students just got back from Brisbane (for Your information it is in Australia :) ) presenting their work, also coming back from Zurich and etc. I was almost all over the world and 3 years I was a director of IT Valley Kosice – which I was force to be in touch with IT companies – with managers … and I found out what is Industrial blood and I also admit I know what you talking about that we have academic shells.

    You know the problem – or one of the problems is that my assistant have aprx. 880 Euro salary and my student just finished got 900 to program automation on toilets at one company.

    so I do not feel self-centered :) )) …. and I do believe that we have number of not self-centered professors…

    we are expecting student coming to study MSc. from Japan for 2 years here … why ??? probably he is totally off – right ..??.:))) we have number of visits from abroad in our lab … setting up a businesses with EU company …

    My killing question to the student on the exam is ” what do you want to be ?” if I feel that he/she is not in searching phase of his life
    I do not let him pass…. Those people does not have to be at the university….

    So wishing you best Lucia – but if you do not like Slovakia – if you do not like yourself – U will never like the others…. :) )) God Bless U.

    P.

    PS> Sorry, I am very busy but the main massage is that this article is give a message of pessimisms and I HATE IT … it is way to the hell – I am sorry for student with a nickname “student with broken spirit” :) pls …. you R young and life is a head if U.

  • As a student I think the article is right.

    I think the main problem is for example with social sciences, that on exams or tests, the teachers don’t ask students their opinins but the opinions from literature with literal quotations.

    Just recently I was writing a test filled with questions like “Who said this (following with the direct quotation)…?” and options a)-d). The problem came when I saw 4 people in those options who said something very similar like the given quote.

    So I had to learn literaly the whole book, word by word, not just the point of someone’s philosofy or teachings and opinions. That’s just stunning! What’s the point of learning a book word by word? Where in the real life I’m gonna be asked “What Hegel exactly said about that?” instead of “What was the point of Hegel’s philosofy?”

    I don’t wanna sound as a student who complains about the amount of studying, I’m just having a problem with the requirements to pass the test – the point of studying seems to be not about the point or understanding of given subject but just to memorize something word by word and understanding of it is not something I should worry about.

    Many teachers are great when they’re teaching, but when we want to ask them something at the end of the semester about exams and grades they reply arrogantly like if we were bothering them with something we already know when in fact we often don’t. Anyone who wants some information from administration wrokers at school is a subject of mental abuse, because the lady behind the desk is not in the mood for whatever reason. I know people are sad, but everytime somebody wants to find something out says they are always like that.

    I deeply regret I didn’t go study abroad and just forget about this black hole.

    I think people are depressed and the nation lacks a sense of pride, because wherever you look, something doesn’t work. People are not that motivated to try hard or to study hard when they see how some arrogant prick gets to a high payed position just because his uncle or uncle’s friend is running the company. Politicians are not motivated to do something about anything, because in most cases they profit from the status-quo. The less problems society has, the less we need politicians. It’s basicaly a conflict of interest for them.

  • Excellent blog article, although with many typos.

    The best part was that about Slovak pseudo-universities. I graduated from the biggest one, and it was a traumatic experience. You literally have to prostitute your mind, your talents, and your soul, to get anywhere in this system. While this may be, to a certain degree, true of all universities world-wide, it’s especially true here. I have about as much respect for that damn degree as for a piece of used toilet paper. (And I refused to participate in the ludicrous ceremony designed to celebrate all the prostitution, called “promócia” here, and just picked up the damn paper at their office a few days later.) That pseudo-degree is something to be ashamed of for the rest of my life.

    It’s been almost 23 years years since the fall of Communism, and there is apparently still no improvement. It’s still not so much about education as it is about oppression and intellectual prostitution.

  • Professor Sincak, while you raised interesting points in your first comment (albeit ones I don’t agree with), you proved the point of the article by suggesting that the author is paid by someone from Hungary… :) )
    It is a ridiculous thing to dismiss a different opinion on the grounds of it being paid, and on the very contrary to the principle that universities should teach young people to think critically.

    I very much agree with the first part of the article, and I am grateful for the numbers and data – currently I live in UK and I am just fed up of everyone in Slovakia complaining about how terrible are their living conditions, imagining everything is magically better in “Western countries”.

    However, I wouldn’t be so pessimistic about the education in our country – I agree with the opinion that students fail their courses and try to put the blame on teachers, which adds to the distorted image. One of the problems of our higher education is the motivation of students itself – with no tuition fees, students just want to pass the studies with as little effort as possible. I am not trying to blame students, of course, merely pointing out that they are not just victims of the broken system.

    One of the other problems that I see are structural. How many times have you heard in media about a politician getting his degree in an unfair way? University teacher (can’t recall his title) accused of plagiarism has just been granted to open a new faculty. The faculty of law of the Commenius University frequently goes through scandals about admissions or absolvents, but the leadership instead of investigating only denies everything. What role models have we got in academia?

  • I am happy that I am stilll learning .,..

    to learn that students have to prostitute your mind, your talents, and your soul – during “study” . ……..fantastic sentence …. !!!!

    To refuse the “promocia” in this case is abolutely fair …. and I strongly believe that you have refused your title as well… I am sure that you did even mention in your CV a those lost years at University…. Bill Gates had understood much sooner… :) )))

    have luck in your life without intelectual prostitution ….. :) ))….

  • To a university in Bratislava, I graduated from there. I met many valuable people there, and value my education- after I graduated, I found a job abroad and have been working abrad for 5 years, with no problems… And I am not the only one. Doesn’t it suggest the slovak universities are not such a crap? I occasiinally read your articles, but I agree with what has been said here previously: if you are attempting to be a journalist, try being a little more objective and do some research.

  • Nope, I didn’t refuse the degree itself, because the prostitution degree was the only one available in Slovakia, and I’m no masochist. :-p This now at least gives me the opportunity and life-long mission to denounce the system “from within”, so to say, whereas in your preferred scenario, complacent folks from within the pseudo-academia could have said, “He couldn’t even get a degree, and now he criticizes.”

  • :) )) … Faterson if you want to denouce the system from inside … you are working at Univeristy :) )))) ….

    I have my former students worldwide…. but anyway….I think the role of University teacher is NOT to teach but to INSPIRE ….. that is my opinion ….

    P.

  • Where’s the problem, Peter? Mikhail Gorbachev (Gorbačov) worked for Khrushchev (Chruščov) and all the other bureaucrats and ex-Stalinists for *decades* until he got powerful enough to destroy the system from within (or should we say from the top). :-p

    To be fair, it may be that not all branches of all universities are as bad as the one I experienced. (Which was a supposedly reputable branch of Slovakia’s largest would-be university.) Things are no doubt pretty bad overall, though.

  • so you want to destroy…. what will be next ??? :) )))

    P.

  • (re)create

    The current nonsense masquerading as universities in Slovakia will self-destruct anyway, this needs no particular persons’ assistance. If for no other reason, then for reasons of economy, much like the Soviet Union. Gorbachev only prodded the inevitable process along.

    Each of us can only do what they believe is right. You seem to bask in self-satisfaction with the current system, while others want to replace it by something better, (in their opinion) more intelligent and civilized.

  • no – I have far for satisfaction from current situation at Universities … but now we have a chance to improve it. Only to Universities aprx. 300 milion Euro is given from EU structural funds to Universities starting January 1, 2013.

    It will change …. something… but, we have to change thinking of staff people to be more positive, more people should go out to world and compare, and then come back and improve thinking , creativity, energy of our final product …. student !!!.

    Today students are attending school 2 days a week , doing exams 3 exams a day etc….. this is crazy…. it is not school… but still we are not crap and worthless institution. If university teacher inspired at least 10 percent of diligent and gifted people – it worthed that poor money what we are getting from government …

  • Peter (and other visitors as well),

    I would like to repost a comment left earlier in the week in Slovak for you, Peter, because I believe it will help to advance the discussion.

    Pan Sincak, vasa univerzita v porovanani so svetovou spickou mozno relativne stoji za to, ale odporucam absolvovat semester na Ekonomickej univerzite alebo externe studium prava.

    Z mojho pohladu zachytavaju Allanove slova slovenske skolstvo v priemere uplne presne. Neberiem jeho nazor ako pesimizmus, skor ako popis situacie z ktorej sa da dostat von – pretoze vsetci vidime, ze pozitivne priklady skolstva existuju (ostrovceky v mori – mozno prave ako vasa fakulta).

    Ake by boli vase odpovede na nasledujuce otazky? Skor optimisticke alebo pesimisticke?
    - Aku vahu ma slovo univerzit vo formovani verejnej mienky na dolezite otazky (dochodkovy system, eurozona, globalne oteplovanie, jadrova energia, eutanazia)?
    - Ake percento prijmov univerzit tvoria patenty, ktore vymyslia ich studenti?
    - Kolko zahranicnych studentov prichadza studovat na slovenske univerzity (v porovnani s percentom slovakov studujucich v zahranici)?
    - Kolko clankov priemerne uverejni slovensky profesor v mienkotvornych vedeckych periodikach?
    - Kolko penazi je priemerny student ochotny zaplatit za jeden semester studia? (=Ako aky prinos do zivota ho vnima?)
    - Ake percento diplomovych prac je realne prinosnych a ake su ciste vykradanie?
    - Ako aktualne su sylaby?

    Wishing you well.
    Allan

  • All right, this is my point of view:

    I agree with Allan, he is the qualified person who can judge our system, our society, because he’s a foreigner and still lived here long enough to see things the way they are with ubiased sight.

    So. There are universities and universities. Some of our schools are not that bad (mostly technical) but some of them really suck. Why?

    What do those bad universities teach our students?
    - memorizing useless information: this is our long term problem.

    - cheating: if I can get a degree without fulfilling all requirements, what does it teach me? If I can pass an exam without deserving it, what does it teach me?

    - injustice is normal: wrong criteria for passing exams. (The
    problem here is that during the exam the student is asked questions only about a few topics. From the statistical point of view there is a possibility that the student will pass even if he/she knows just 10-20 % of the course material. And there is a chance that a student who knows 75 % of the course material will fail, if he/she picks the wrong questions. Is this ok? IMO students should be given questions from all topics covered by the course.)

    - ignorance and inrresponsibility: cancelled tutorials because the teacher is busy. Wtf? What is he paid for? Lauging form others’ opinions – we can see it in this very same discussion..(!)

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to our good faculties with successful students, I was talking about the crappy ones.

    The society is a mirror of minds of its members. If we don’t start to believe that we actually can make things work better we won’t improve.

    And in general we should not forget that our national specialty is complaining :) Things are mostly not as bad as we say (that’s something every visitor of Slovakia must have noticed:).

  • Very interesting and thoughtful article, Allan. I think we have some of the same issues with the government’s getting involved in American universities and their subsequent decline while tuition has skyrocketed. I hope businesses in the United States will stop making a college degree their minimum criterion for a job that really doesn’t require it. Only then, when these arrogant universities stop believing that young people have no choice but to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to them, will they stop charging exorbitant rates just to indoctrinate our youth into big government, un-American, and frankly, anti-American beliefs and values. Thank you.

  • I am student and I think this article is kind of one sided. I heard those stories from students (mostly from Bratislava and only from non-technical schools). I am not studying those so I can’t judge it, but I think most of them are just rumours. I am studying informatics in Žilina. I have to say that this school is really on high level. Teachers are fair and most of them give a lot of extra values to their students. It is just sad to read about bad system, when reality is far from this. At least at technical schools which are really high quality in my opinion. I never saw situation that someone would be kicked just because school have to kick certain amount of people. What I saw was only some subject with harder exams, but they all were possible to pass and with equal chances for everyone. I really do not know if students are the best source. Because they will complain about everything if they do not pass. I saw it myself. It was always teacher’s mistake. But when I came to do my exam I saw reality is far from what were those failed students describing. Of course in many schools system is really bad. As I said especially non-technical schools. But that again mainly at schools with “big” name. And I think problem can be somewhere else. They are maybe thinking that name of their school is the most important thing and they do not care about students. But this is nroblem of my school and I have to say I choosed right one.

    Btw net year I will study in Finland so I can compare better.

  • Btw I also do not agree with that government should stop donate school. Free educations and equal rights to study for everyone are key advantages of our system. Anyway I think there should be some changes. Maybe support for universities with high rate of students which were employed in job connected with their field of study after graduating. So money will go to schools which really educate for future life of student and not just for money from government.

    Btw u were describing that students have to bring tons of papers and officers will not help them nor explain them why. I never met with this. When I needed to bring some paper officer always explained me all I will need and why I have to do it. All I needed was just ask politely (which mist of students are afraid to do – but what this kind of student is looking for at university if they do not know how to ask? Questioning is main skill u need when u want to study). Anyway I really never met with situation I had to run from office to office or anything else….

  • Erm, that was originally my comment. So do you identify with it, recommend it for others to follow, condemn it, or what? :)

  • In my view, there is no perfect country. People in the country make it look perfect. If we all unite, we can really make big difference to our country.

  • Dear Friends,

    Admin – Allan ask me to comment the following issues :

    Aku vahu ma slovo univerzit vo formovani verejnej mienky na dolezite otazky (dochodkovy system, eurozona, globalne oteplovanie, jadrova energia, eutanazia)?

    I think it is absolutely important part of University. I am at Technical University and I know that professor in power engineering had great influence in sold German owned company since he is generating students… for the industry. Actually our former Prime minister – she hold a professor degree and currently the Fico is holding associate professor degree. I have no idea how it is going on in other sciences…

    What I do miss is Association of University professors… now all the communities have professional group … but no Slovak professors… I mean like this… http://www.aaup.org/aaup

    - Ake percento prijmov univerzit tvoria patenty, ktore vymyslia ich studenti?

    Funny question :) )) … We have problems to start students to think … All of them want to to softskilled managers and so on … but a real work must be behind … softskill is fine but a real work done by humans with talent and stamina must be before you want to sell something …

    BTW Patenting is a big problem… you have a entrance fee, research fee and annual fees and this is problem. I have seen number of patents in States which patented ideas …. It needs money … patenting is a business… if you do not have money you will loose a patent … certainly … it should be so good that you should get money for it ,,,, but it is not easy….

    - Kolko zahranicnych studentov prichadza studovat na slovenske univerzity (v porovnani s percentom slovakov studujucich v zahranici)?

    We do have Erasmus program …. I think it goes well…. and we are starting to have it bidirectional…. I am sending students to Japan but sometimes come back and say that our lab has better equipment that those in Japan… certainly students are more dedicated and professors are having totally different position on society… ??? Why … ? Historically it is a JP approach to appreciate people which do research and train people …

    - Kolko clankov priemerne uverejni slovensky profesor v mienkotvornych vedeckych periodikach?

    Difficult to say. I just can talk on behalf myselft – I want to be at least once a year on World conference … i would say that 3-4 papers a year, running some projects, to teach and work with students for 1000 euro basic salary is very good …. nobody in advance coutries would do it…. :) ))

    - Kolko penazi je priemerny student ochotny zaplatit za jeden semester studia? (=Ako aky prinos do zivota ho vnima?)

    This question is badly taken… You never know what you will need
    in your life…. How you can say that you do not need mathematics since you are absolutely sure that you will not need derivation ????
    Allan there is something like “inspiration” and each think what you learn can be potentially important for your life… Based on this question I do reckon that you are young :) )) but remember me life is not so predictatble as you think… . So how can student say this subject is useful the other not…. ??? Certainly if I am IT I know that literature is not a subject for my university study … but I hope
    you know my message … Regarding paying University study – I have no problem for it BUT take care it is not bussiness that “you pay and I give you title” but “you pay-I teach-you know-you get a title”. Many student want the first option :) )))…..

    - Ake percento diplomovych prac je realne prinosnych a ake su ciste vykradanie?

    In my experience aprx. 30 percent diploma work are good level and the others are average… The important thing is that student must be a leader in his work and professor can inspire him … According to the law 50 percent of author of the diploma work is hold by student and 50 percent by University…

    I do not know what do you mean “vykradenie” … :) ))) I have heard a nice :) )) word that students are “intellectual prostitutes” :) )))) it made me funny day :) ))) so if you student of former student fell like “intellectual prostitute” do not tell anything to anybody… :) ) but then nobody can give you a title … Why you need a title ????? I know that you have better change to get a job / but if you have a knowledge/product you would get it ..market decides…. :) )))))

    - Ako aktualne su sylaby?

    Curricula s are not so actual… but have you ever did curriculas … ? It is work of teachers and teachers MUST be paid since they influence the future of the nation … Pay better and ask for the state of the art curriculum…

    I think companies should also press and invest into research and innovation … Slovakia is around 0,5 comparing to HU around 1,0 and CZ around 1.5….

    have a look to page 36 for comparison with other countries…

    http://ec.europa.eu/publications/booklets/eu_glance/66/sk.pdf

    I just hope that we will understand…. :
    http://www.publicserviceeurope.com/article/1080/investment-in-eduction-essential-for-europes-future

    So in fact we are very good :) )) for 0,51 percent to produce something it is a very effective business … :)

    I have to get back to work :) )) have a wonderful day…

    P.

  • Igor de Morais

    Jul 11th, 2012

    As a Brazilian who’s been living here for four years and just completed the college education I can attest at least partially to what the author states. Firstly, the Slovak self-image thing is something I’ve noticed and pointed out often over the last few years, mostly because it is unjustifiable to me. However, foreigners might lack the bittersweet tinge of the native mentality( like, say, the stereotypical portrayal of jewish self-loathing which a Jew once told me that no gentile would ever understand so neither should one presume to analyze beyond satire) and might thus find himself in unwarranted dismay. In regards to the education system, the 5 year system is pretty standard in Europe, I have no objection to that. However, the system of “statnice” , the oral tests you must take before earning a title, are an absurd antiquated lottery and should be removed as soon as possible. As for the academic environment, I did not find it oppressive at all, as a matter of fact I found myself exposed to extremely qualified professors who were welcoming and always open to dialogue.

  • Igor,

    “statnice” is absurd ? :) ))) believe me we do not have ambition to exam … students… and prove that they do not know something….

    but if “statnice” will be totally off it will not be good…

  • I am a Slovak, I am nearly 30, I actually work in one of the universities and – I completely agree with this article. But again, I have to stay pessimistic – 50% of people who will read it will feel absurdly offended, writing shitty comments about how bad this article is or/and some painfully stupid sentences about “Americans”, 49% of people reading this will not finish it because its “too long” and that 1% of people who will actually finish it and even agree with it – these people are absolutely insignificant and invisible. We Slovaks are not that pessimistic, we just simply shit on our own heads because thats what we were (and are) tutored to. Our educational system (or anything) will not change unless a hard restart of all the communist heads, obscurantists and extremely narrow minded jerks that are concerned only about their income, that are still the moving force in this country. I will gladly share this article anyway and I am pretty happy that I can, because no Slovak would write it better.

  • Tomas, there was a similar excellent article written 11years ago by university maths teacher Ivan Zezula:

    http://aboq.org/zezula/sialenstvo-en.htm

    So you’re incorrect when you say a Slovak person couldn’t write about this just as well and clearly. But as you can see, 11 years later, nothing has changed, and the situation today is possibly even worse than in 2001.

  • I am from Wales – a tiny country little globally insignificant country that really isn’t rich and has a lot in common with Slovakia but we Welsh could really teach the Slovak people a thing or two about national pride. perhaps it should be my mission while here to teach the Slovaks about “hwyl”???

  • You might get confused with Slovak nationalists/neo-Nazis. Those folks really gave “national pride” a bad name starting from the early 1990s, so that anyone using even vaguely similar vocabulary automatically becomes suspect.

    Right now, there is little to be proud of, anyway. A tiny, thoroughly corrupt post-Communist country, rotten to the core in terms of state management.

  • Love your writing style. I have thought a lot about Slovakia these many years. As a dual citizen, I could easily live in NAmerica but I have seen a great decline in society, service and attitude over the years that I left NAmerica and spend half my time in Slovakia and the other half traveling and learning about the world. Slovakia is a beautiful country. I love the land of my grandparents and mother. Paperwork can be frustrating at times and a grey zone appears in some cases but no country is perfect. I wish you well Slovakia. May the sun shine more as well as the smiles. Enjoy the beauty of the land and the people and I have often heard, “why as a Slovak would you live here and not in NAmerica?”. Truth be told that NAmerica is not what it used to be 20 years ago and I have seen Slovakia grow and become a more vibrant country.
    I carry my Slovak passport proudly and you will know me by the guy who walks around with a smile and enjoys the details and beauty of what I don’t understand or can’t possibly comprehend at times. Slovakia is a mystery but also a dear friend and my blood. I can’t say that about NAmerica.

  • Deviltrax

    Jun 9th, 2013

    I am English with a Slovakian girlfriend and from what she has told me the education system seems very antiquated. Also 5 years is a long time for a degree, in the UK it is 3-4 years (5+for Doctors and Masters degrees) and you are taught to do a lot of research and provide your own opinions. You do have to learn your subject’s facts obviously. It seems more free thinking is promoted in the UK. I often get emails from my girlfriend’s sister asking me to translate Slovak documents into English. I do this willingly but I ask her don’t you want to learn English if it is required. She states it is not required it is just her professor’s idea of tuition, he marks the papers I send and he can’t even speak English. WTF.. I really can’t get my head around this. If when I was at University the Professor asked us to translate to Arabic and it served NO PURPOSE I would have objected and spoken to the head of the department or even the Principle. Slovakia is a beautiful country with great kind people especially in the east. I found in Bratislava some anti English sentiments(racism). Try living here in London less than 50% of the population are white British as of the 2011 census for the very first time . Sorry bit off topic there.

  • I thoroughly agree with your point of view, you hit the nail on the head and basically outlined why I decided not to continue my university studies at a Slovak university. Reading this I can’t express how happy I am about choosing a uni abroad. Slovak education system is archaic and I see little hope of change…for the better that is. Because when it comes to change Slovak government can change things but only for the worse and make everything even more chaotic, illogical and disorganised than it was before. It’s the same with other affairs in this state. Sadly, it seems that Slovaks simply cannot rule themselves. And they have so much knowledge and experiences from other countries around them but they can usually only follow the bad examples. To make things better basically you’d have to re-educate the entire society about things like respect; responsibility; loyalty and mutual support. And the Slovak society would have to be willing to listen and that’s sometimes pretty impossible to achieve. Just look at what’s going on now, we are voting the extremists and racists like Kotleba to run affairs over here. One is almost scared to think what will happen how will the educational system and other state affairs be run when majority of politicians who represent us share the view of this thug. Slovakia is a LOST CASE and I can’t wait to leave to another, proper country. A country which has a history but most importantly, a country which has a future. You should be very grateful that you were born in America and I am one of those who are also surprised that you waste your time and energy here. This place is a dump turning toxic and really dangerous so maybe it’s time for you to save yourself and go whilst you can safely leave.

  • Teacher of Slovak

    Jun 23rd, 2014

    Here is all anyone needs to know about the Slovak education system:

    http://aboq.org/zezula/sialenstvo-en.htm

    http://aboq.org/zezula/sialenstvo-fb-en.htm

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