In the four years since I first visited the post office in Bratislava’s Old Town, nothing has changed. The historic building with its stained glass ceiling is still beautiful while the queues are still insufferable. Akin to the line at the deli at Keene’s Hannaford, everyone is issued a small paper ticket with a number. However, the comparison ends there, because once I finally made it to one of the postal counters two weeks ago, I left the post office with nothing to show for it besides a lighter wallet and a feeble hope that my absentee ballot for the N.H. primary would arrive on time (it didn’t — my sincerest apologies, Mr. Yang).
Dramatic lament on long queues aside, the Bratislava post office has come to represent both hope and despair in recent weeks; it is the most tangible symbol of my political fatigue.
During the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, I happened to be in Bratislava, one of the many stops on my solo trip throughout Central and Eastern Europe, when it came time to cast my vote. While I wasn’t a passionate Hillary Clinton supporter at the time, I was confident that she would make an adequate president and protect our country’s democratic and diplomatic interests. More importantly, I was so sure she would win.
I was in Brașov, Romania, alone in a laundromat, when the results came in. I was shocked and frustrated, and not because my clothes were taking forever and an age to dry.
Flash forward to now, and those feelings of apprehension and confusion are bubbling to the surface once again. Following the eerily quiet exit of the UK from the European Union and the ongoing heavy campaigning going on in Slovakia ahead of the Feb. 29 parliamentary elections, the only thing I can say with confidence is that I am tired of politics. Being immersed in Slovak and EU political issues while watching the U.S. elections from afar is particularly hard.
In the U.S., the main concern is whether the Democratic candidate who ultimately becomes the party’s nominee will defeat Donald Trump. In the UK, there are more than a few concerns following its messy break-up with the EU. At the moment, not much has officially changed, since the transition period will not end until December, but after seeing a picture of someone removing the British flag from the EU Council building in Brussels, the wedge between the EU and UK is already palpable. The removal of the UK flag from such a powerful and symbolic building feels deeply personal and several Slovak politicians have made it clear they are sad to lose the UK as an EU partner.
And in Slovakia, civil society is fretting over the success of the far-right L’SNS political party in nationwide polls. This is a party of professional fear-mongers who gain followers through anti-migrant, anti-Roma, anti-establishment, anti-pretty-much-everything rhetoric. In the last poll published before the pre-election moratorium, they came in third with 12.1 percent.
Political fatigue knows no borders, and like so many others I am feeling a little overwhelmed by it.
But as tiresome as it is, I still welcome (begrudgingly) this feeling, even if it means spending the afternoon in a Slovak post office, reading way too many pessimistic political analyses or editing story after story about the alarming presence of facism in post-socialist Slovakia. Because freedom, democracy and diplomacy, the essential ingredients to a productive society, can be drowned out by even a drop of apathy.