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25 Aug 2014 Beata Balogová Opinion
MANY Slovaks will associate the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) with the long weekend they get thanks to August 29 falling on a Friday. Those born before the 1980s might recall centrally organised celebrations of the SNP when as students they had to wear their pioneer uniform, the blue shirt with the red scarf around their neck designed for the Communist Party’s youth organisation, and march to the town square to listen to endless speeches about the leading role the communists had in everything good in their life.
There are others who will recall a family member who actually fought in the SNP, which, regardless of the interpretations that one political regime or another attaches to it, remains one of the key moments in the country’s modern history.
Some politicians will deliver speeches designed to convey messages in support of a political line they represent or to prove their opponents wrong. As historians note, the very fact that politicians are so eager to attach their interpretations to some historical event, only proves its significance.
Part of the generation of Slovaks born before the 1980s might still suffer from a communist-induced aversion towards any historical event that was frequently deployed as part of the brainwashing techniques, failing to understand that they were making the population resistant to any historical message.
Yet, it does not mean that this part of the population knows the “true” story or, so to say, the version of the story that falls closest to what actually happened in central Slovakia back in 1944, when Slovaks joined the European anti-fascist resistance movements and supported the Allies, in defiance of the Nazi-puppet government.
Then there is of course a group of Slovaks who care very little about facts and only about their twisted and oversimplified interpretation of history or myth-making, which can mushroom into an environment of ignorance. It is doubtful that extremists who on March 14, the anniversary of the rise of the wartime Slovak state, routinely march to the grave of Jozef Tiso, its controversial leader, to celebrate the darkest period of Slovakia’s modern history, care much about facts.
It is unfortunate that more people in Banská Bystrica Region didn’t care about facts. This was once the centre of the SNP, and it is now home to Slovakia’s best-known far-right extremist, Marian Kotleba, who serves as their governor.
Kotleba comes exactly from an environment where historical interpretations are twisted to praise the wartime Slovak state, which sent its own Jewish citizens to death camps as the sole country that actually paid Nazi Germany to deport people. Kotleba & Co instead deny these facts and with it the relevance of the SNP, which they call a coup.
It is unlikely that the media, by offering the views of trusted historians, can influence the opinions of these people, because for them the point isn’t facts but myths.
The foolishness could be left to its own devices were it not for the young generation who, in general, know very little about the modern history of their country. Many of their teachers might still feel confused as they are themselves tasked with interpreting the complications of recent history.
A survey from 2013 conducted by the Focus polling agency suggested that the Holocaust and the responsibility of the wartime Slovak state for its participation in the Nazi-controlled extermination of Jews remains part of the history that Slovaks know relatively little about. Back then, sociologist Oľga Gyárfášová of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) noted that “particularly shocking is the level of ignorance and unawareness [about this part of history] among the youngest age groups”.
Perhaps this is the gap that anniversaries, when handled responsibly, can help to fill. If speakers on the podiums on August 29 can for a moment forget about their political agenda and leave the microphone to those who have the knowledge to tell these stories, and the media can temporarily abandon the normal “how many clicks can it generate” approach, something close to the truth of these formative events could get out.
That would be something truly historic.
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