Pozornost', d'akovné, všimné (Slovakia)
|Pozornosť, ďakovné, všimné|
|Author: Prof. Andrej Školkay|
|Affiliation: School of Communication and Media, Bratislava, Slovakia|
Original Text: Prof. Andrej Školkay
In Slovak, the words pozornosť (attention), ďakovné (gratitude) and všimné (a colloquialism meaning ‘expressing gratitude by means of a small gift’ or ‘kickback’) all refer to ways of expressing gratitude for official or unofficial services. These practices are sometimes seen as an innocent expression of gratitude, but sometimes as a bribe, which explains their ambivalent character.
The term všimné best describes ambiguous interactions. It is used today as a euphemism for a bribe, as in the blog headline: ‘Love is such všimné from Heaven, a little bribe, in order to survive life...’ (Láska je také všimné zhora, malý úplatok, aby sa život dal vydržať, a ako vieme, darovanému koňovi sa na zuby hľadieť neodporúča) (Anonymous 2013). Twenty-five years ago, všimné was defined as a jocular term referring to voluntary payment for a service provided (Hegerová 1991:330).
The term pozornosť, by contrast, was dissociated from ‘bribe’ by the sociologist Iveta Radičová (who served in 2010-2012 as Slovakia’s first woman prime minister). Emphasising that it has long been customary in Slovakia to visit a notary, teacher, priest or mayor bearing a small gift, Radičová argued that there is a clear distinction between such traditional ‘elementary decency’ and paying bribes (Topky 2011). In practice, however, it is not always easy to make such a distinction. Just as the tradition of paying tribute for state services was once criminalised (Lovell et al. 2000), in modern societies the size of the gift is usually regulated by anti-corruption legislation. Small gifts and payment, however, remain a matter of individual discretion. Even this is not always unproblematic, however, and much depends on the context. For example, Slovak courts frequently hand down heavy penalties for bribes as small as 5 to 10 Euros paid for putting someone on sick leave without genuine medical justification. These penalties may include a suspended prison sentence and a fine of several hundred Euros. While such sentences have been criticised as too harsh by bloggers and in the press, Judge Hrubala has pointed out that, taken together, such corrupt practices can cost the state and society huge amounts of money paid out in the form of health and social benefits from public insurance funds (Hrubala 2015).
As a result of the fact that parts of today’s Slovakia were under Ottoman rule in the 16th and 17th centuries, the Turkic word baksheesh was commonly used in Slovakia at least until the 1920s to denote such practices as tipping a waiter (Makarová 2005). It was also used to denote a small bribe paid to someone in authority. (Indeed, it is used in that sense in many other countries to this day, see entry on baksheesh in this volume). Since the 1980s, Slovak terms have come to dominate, and for 20 or 30 years bakshis ceased to be used. Recently, it has begun to be used again, but only in the context of travel on holiday to North Africa or the Middle East.
It is telling that the standard dictionary of the Slovak language, published in 1987, included only one of the three words discussed here — pozornosť. Among other meanings, the dictionary included the informal meaning of ‘an object (vec) given to somebody to show affiliation, thankfulness’ (Doruľa et al. 1987:327). The 1987 edition of the dictionary (which included all the words judged most likely to be used at that time by high-school graduates) contained no entry for either ďakovné or všimné. This suggests either that these terms were morally ambiguous, and/or that they were not frequently used. The 2003 edition of the same dictionary (which listed the 60,000 words most frequently used at that time in everyday speech) defined the term všimné as a jocular way of referring to a small bribe, while ďakovné received no mention.
Today, ďakovné is still used relatively rarely. It seems to have an archaic connotation. (Indeed, linguistically similar terms can be found in a dictionary published in 1825 [Lexicon Slavicum, 1825]). By contrast, both pozornosť and všimné are commonly used, normally in the context of the spread of informal practices and corruption in the Slovak public services.
Všimné can also be found today in the popular online dictionary, Slovnik Online. There it is defined as a clear case of a bribe but is also likened to tipping (bakshis) – that is, a relatively small amount of money given for services rendered. Because tipping is not seen as reprehensible, the moral meaning of všimné remains ambivalent: unacceptable when associated with bribery but acceptable when associated with tipping.
The same ambivalence can be found in the use of pozornosť, loosely defined as ‘appreciation of someone´s attention in official relations’ or — in a simpler sense, ‘a present given without expectation of recompense’ or ‘something given as an expression of gratitude’ (Slovnik Online). Where informal practices are concerned, ‘official relations’ might include public services such as health-care, education or registering official documents. As measured by the Global Corruption Barometer 2013, the frequency with which such practices are carried out in Slovakia is similar to those in the Czech Republic and Italy as well as many countries around the world.
The relatively low approval ratings enjoyed by Slovakia’s public services appear to confirm the negative impact of practices such as pozornosť. Slovakia’s ratings lag behind those of many other developed countries. A study conducted over the period 1995-2009 compared the performance of nine public services in 28 developed countries. Comparing outcomes (‘what is achieved? ’) and financial efficiency (‘at what price?’), the study found that Slovakia scored on the low side as regards public administration, health-care, housing, economic affairs and infrastructure. Similarly low scores were reported in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia. In line with their relatively low performance, public confidence in the public sector in the Central European countries was also found to be below average (Jonker 2012:17).
In Slovak media mini-surveys, one can find questions related specifically to the practice of všimné (see, for example, the daily newspaper SME during the 2014 presidential election campaign). The fact that this term was selected for inclusion in the questionnaires, and in the possible responses that were offered, indicated the moral ambiguity of the term. When asked whether they had ever offered a všimné, four presidential candidates replied ‘No,’ while three replied ‘Yes’ with reference to giving všimné to a doctor or physician. However, even some of those who responded in the negative admitted to having given some presents (such as a box of chocolates) to a doctor after they or their family had received medical treatment. One presidential candidate considered všimné to be a warm ‘thank you’ for health-care services. In other words, there was no consensus among the candidates over the reading of všimné or its positive or negative connotations (SME 2014).
This casts doubt on the impartiality of Slovakia’s publicly-funded health care. Some physicians claim to have refused all presents from patients—though giving such gifts is common practice in Slovakia—while others see no problem in accepting small gifts. It is telling that opinion poll data reveal that health-care is generally seen as Slovakia’s most corrupt sector (Transparency International 2014a). In some hospitals, informal norms of všimné apply, though the word is not officially used. For example, a payment of up to 20 Euros may be seen as an acceptable way to express gratitude for good care, with higher fees being acceptable for special privileges such as choosing which surgeon will carry out one’s operation (Krempaský and Vražda 2012).
Some of these morally ambiguous practices are increasingly contested. For example, when an online discussion was initiated in 2015 on the web-portal modrykonik.sk by young mothers who had paid všimné, pozornosť or dakovné when giving birth, this was picked up on and reported on the agenda-setting portal SME. This was not just an acknowledgement of the importance of the issue, but also a contestation of the legal status of this social norm, and an investigation was launched by the Special Prosecutor’s Office (Burčík 2015; Gécziová 2015). The moral ambivalence of the issue was clearly reflected both in media reports and in online discussions, where journalists and bloggers drew attention to the ambiguity of the words ďakovné, pozornosť and všimné by putting them in quotation marks.
Another focus of public discussion was the way in which the word pozornosť can cover illegal non-monetary privileges or rewards that may amount to bribery, such as membership of an exclusive club, privileged service at an airport, or a state award (Law Office Ružička Csekes s.r.o. 2013). Pozornosť was also used in a report on a corrupt Chinese general, who preferred to receive gold rather than a monetary bribe, leading to the headline, ‘Mercedes full of gold as pozornosť‘ (Sladkovská 2014).
Because of their elusive nature, the practices of personalisation implied by the use of ďakovné, pozornosť and všimné remain under-researched. On the one hand, they may imply only an enhanced quality of services that are in themselves legitimate. On the other hand, the personalisation of state services is generally viewed by the state as corruption. As long as one of the parties is willing to cooperate with the police, this type of minor crime is easy to prosecute; it also makes for popular newspaper reporting. But, while hundreds of minor or relatively minor corruption cases come before the Slovak courts every year, far fewer cases of large-scale corruption do so (Transparency International 2014b). Petty corruption also provides moral cover for more serious crimes by top politicians or influential businesspeople.
Morally and practically, much depends on whether gifts are voluntary, expected or even extorted, and whether they are presented before or after a service, such as a medical operation. However, all cases of ďakovné, pozornosť and všimné seem to hinge on the need to personalise a relationship in order to secure preferential treatment. This suggests defects in the functioning of impersonal institutions, which in turn justifies personalisation to some extent. On the other hand, getting preferential treatment at the expense of others will always be morally dubious. In early 2015, the Slovak government abolished fast-track access to doctors on the grounds that it was prejudicial to the poor and to those who were prepared to wait patiently for treatment. Interviewed on television Dr Peter Lipták, a physician, admitted having received thousands of gifts from patients, including flowers and small amounts of money. He strongly denied that either could be considered a bribe. At the same time, he claimed that he needed these voluntary gifts in order to finance his medical practice (Turanský 2015). The case was widely discussed in the media and was investigated by the police. In the end, Lipták was not charged with either corruption or tax evasion. But his story illustrates how the informal practices examined here are evolving: they are being publicly discussed in the media, investigated and transformed into new legal and social norms that will help to transform such practices in the future.
- Anonymous. 2013, May 26. Láska je také všimné zhora, malý úplatok, aby sa život dal vydržať, a ako vieme, darovanému koňovi sa na zuby hľadieť neodporúča (Love is such všimné from Heaven, a little bribe, in order to survive life...). http://s-u-n-r-i-s-e.blog.cz/1305/laska-je-take-vsimne-zhora-maly-uplatok-aby-sa-zivot-dal-vydrzat-a-ako-vieme-darovanemu-konovi-sa-na-zuby-hladiet-neodporuca
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