Let's end the silence about the wartime Slovak state

NOSTALGIA and sympathy for the wartime Slovak state are fading among Slovaks. At least, that was the finding of a poll by the MVK agency last March that tested public attitudes towards one of the most controversial moments in Slovak history.

NOSTALGIA and sympathy for the wartime Slovak state are fading among Slovaks. At least, that was the finding of a poll by the MVK agency last March that tested public attitudes towards one of the most controversial moments in Slovak history.

A similar survey in 1992, probably the first of its kind, showed that the majority of those polled felt sympathetic towards the state, led by the Roman Catholic priest Jozef Tiso and his Nazi puppet government.

Sociologists explained the 1992 findings as symptomatic of the desire of Slovaks to re-discover their historical roots and re-examine the historical interpretations handed them by their communist teachers.

Slovakia's was not the only boat rocked by nationalist waves during these years, with most post-communist nations taking the same journey in their search for identity.

Today, according to the MVK poll, it is mostly pensioners and blue-collar workers who fondly remember Tiso, whose government excluded Jews from public life based on the Nuremberg Decrees of 1935. Slovakia, in fact, was the only Nazi collaboration state that covered the costs of deporting its own Jews.

But whatever the survey said, the disappearing snow and the first month of spring will bring the sympathizers of the wartime state to the streets on March 14, the anniversary of the day when Germany allowed the Slovaks to declare independence in 1939. This year, as has become a tradition, young men with cropped hair will gather around Tiso's grave to pay tribute to their idol.

This year too, the March nostalgia will bring some pensioners and young men out in uniforms resembling those of the Fascist state's militia, the Hlinka Guard. They will sing their songs and deliver their speeches about how the majority of Slovaks have turned their backs on their own brown history.

Even though the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the ultra-nationalist Slovenská pospolitosť party on March 1, the group will likely not miss the chance to march through the streets of some Slovak cities on March 14 in promotion of their ideology.

Pospolitosť never hid its sympathy for Slovakia's wartime state and Tiso's Nazi puppet government. Some party members have said that German forces entered Slovakia in 1944 to rid the country of criminals and partisans.

Still, the decision of the court sent a clear message that human rights organizations, including the People Against Racism, which had been calling for a ban on Slovenská pospolitosť from its very inception, loudly applauded.

However, many asked how the Interior Ministry could have registered the party at all, giving legitimacy to the group.

Even without being registered with the ministry, Slovenská pospolitosť would have done its networking and build up its structures. But with official status, the party started work on its "programme", which violated the constitution, right under the nose of the ministry.

Last year's MVK poll also revealed that one third of respondents did not express an opinion on the wartime state, either because they didn't have one, or because they didn't know their history.

It's not just that there has been a huge historical silence over the wartime Slovak state, but also that Slovak officials, who otherwise are eager to comment on a wide variety of topics regardless of their ignorance or expertise, have avoided comment on this period in the country's history.

Last year, President Ivan Gašparovič, speaking at the Yad Vashem Names Memorial on a two-day visit to Israel in mid-March, made a clear statement that pleasantly surprised the critics of this political silence around the wartime state.

"I come from a country that did not avoid the brown plague - as we call fascism - and, unfortunately, did not avoid deportations of Jews either. Of them, more than 70,000 never returned home. The Holocaust is the darkest stain in human history," Gašparovič said.

However, politicians often argue that Slovakia officially faced up to its fascist past in 1990, when parliament issued an apology, victims of the Holocaust were compensated, and the leaders in charge during that period in history were repeatedly condemned.

No one would suggest that politicians have to restate their positions every time a bunch of skinheads decide to bring flowers to Tiso's grave.

But there are so many anniversaries on which politicians express thoughts and slogans that carry no message beyond the desire to be heard and seen, that the country could easily afford to devote one to meaningful statements.

So far, 420 Slovaks have received the Righteous Among Nations (Yad Vashem) award from Israel. Many Slovaks risked their lives and the lives of their families to oppose the policies of the wartime Slovak state. These people all deserve more frequent commemoration, or at least a political statement against fascism in March when the skinheads become more active in the first spring sunshine.

After all, it's not as if the young men dressed in the Nazi uniforms know or care about Slovakia's history. Slovenská pospolitosť's extremist programme has made it quite clear what they really stand for.

By Beata Balogová

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