"My problem": Hungarians and gypsies

IT'S MID-May, a month from national elections, and Žilina Mayor Ján Slota is everywhere in this thriving town of 85,000.

Ján Slota draws a beer at Žilina´s inaugural Beer Festival in 2005.
photo: SITA

IT'S MID-May, a month from national elections, and Žilina Mayor Ján Slota is everywhere in this thriving town of 85,000.

Now in his 16th year as Žilina mayor, Slota's name is more closely bound to his city than that of any local politician in Slovakia. His face, with its airbrushed expression of patriotic probity, stares from billboards, bus shelters and information tables. And with good reason - he has overseen Žilina's striking reconstruction into a modern European city, and with last year's announcement by Kia Motors that it was building a €700 million factory nearby, Žilina's economy and real estate market are booming as well.

As a national politician and head of the far-right Slovak National Party, however, Slota has alienated much of the current political establishment with his firebrand rhetoric concerning "gypsies" and ethnic Hungarians, as well as his alcohol-related escapades. But with over eight percent in pre-election polls, his SNS is certain to be a force in post-election manoeuvring.

On this spring day, President Ivan Gašparovič has been in town to help Slota unveil a new Sk30 million statue honouring Jozef Miloslav Hurban, one of the 19th century founders of the Slovak nation. The Žilina mayor has been on the run all day, from a passionate stump speech at the monument ceremony, to lunch and drinks with the bigwigs at his Gold Wing restaurant on the gorgeous Marianské Square, and finally - over an hour late - to a meeting with the party faithful at the town hall.

As he enters the hall, jaunty in a light spring suit and white shoes, he is taken in tow by determined but respectful admirers. Election flyers are proffered for signatures, cameras produced for photo ops with the great man. After satisfying the most importunate requests, Slota retreats to the steps, clutching a plastic cup brimming with white wine, and makes a short speech.

In the late afternoon, Slota finds time for an interview with The Slovak Spectator in his office in the Town Hall. "Let's have something to drink," he says, producing an enormous bottle of Johnny Walker - the kind with a central swivel that allows the bottle to be plied without lifting it. He pours the drinks; we meet each other's eye in the approved Slovak way, knock back our first of several, and begin the interview.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): You have clearly been successful as the mayor of Žilina, while the 1994-1998 government you were a part of was not regarded as a successful government. So why are you going back into national politics?

Ján Slota (JS): The Slovak National Party is the oldest party in Slovakia, and on June 4 celebrates the 135th anniversary of its founding. The party aims to participate in governing this country after June 17 elections, and to this end it is bending all of its efforts. We are convinced the party's programme appeals to the great majority of Slovak voters, and that in the elections we will secure at least 12 percent of the vote.

TSS: You were invited by the French ambassador recently for a private meeting at which he asked you about your intentions if you got into government. What did you tell him?

JS:It's no secret that I met with His Excellency, the French ambassador, and that we had lunch together and talked about the post-election scenario in Slovakia. I took it [as a recognition] that the Slovak National Party would secure a sufficient number of votes to take part in a coalition government. I assured His Excellency that the Slovak National Party has absolutely no interest in disturbing the image Slovakia has acquired in the foreign policy arena, and that we will stick to the line followed by Slovak governments to date. We accept and welcome very close cooperation with the states of the European Union.

I stressed, however, that our party prefers a European security system that is based on European military forces that could intervene in various problem areas around the world. We make no secret of the fact that the Slovak National Party was always against Slovakia's entry to NATO, because we are convinced that the adventurism of United States policy around the world is extremely counter-productive to the efforts of the states associated in the European Union, and that Europe should decide its foreign policy on its own, without interference from the United States. At the same time, we would not enter parliament with the intention of withdrawing from any of the integration groupings of which Slovakia is a member, including NATO.

TSS: If you were part of the next government, could it lead to the withdrawal of Slovak troops serving in Iraq, for example?

JS: If we were part of the next Slovak government, our ministers would immediately demand the withdrawal of our troops in Iraq by the end of 2006 at the latest.

TSS: In terms of your economic policies, the SDKÚ party has been presenting these elections as a battle between continuity - in economic reforms and fiscal policy - and discontinuity, such as in scrapping the flat tax and rolling back health care and other reforms. Which side is the SNS on?

JS: The SNS is a fundamentally conservative party, as other national parties are around the world. However, it has a social dimension regarding the poorest groups in society, a dimension that has absolutely no influence on the corporate sphere. I want to stress that - we are in favour of the system created after 1989, and we are emphatically in favour of the free market, because we see it as the only source for growth in economy and culture. We reject the idea of some kind of socialist experiment that would correct some aspects of the market. I was always an anti-communist.

On the other hand, while many bad things were done during those four decades of Communism, many great economic institutions and factories were created that put the Slovak economy on a decent level. For that reason I would be a bit more cautious in my evaluation of this period, because it would be very counter-productive for this nation and this state to simply throw out everything that was created under Communism.

The SNS is in favour of the flat tax, with the sole exception of basic foodstuffs. It seems to us a bit extreme for ordinary people to pay 19 percent tax on bread, milk and butter. In the area of culture it also seems to us unfortunate that Slovak youth read very little, and that the sphere of culture is becoming very Americanized with perversions such as Big Brother [TV reality show]. It's something unimaginable, and the Slovak National Party will fight such tendencies, fight hard, hard and uncompromisingly, because I think it is a perversion, and that it is against the Slovak Constitution. So we would correct these things, of course.

We are in favour of a different approach towards the energy self-sufficiency of Slovakia. All around the world, nuclear energy is the cleanest form of energy. People can say what they want. Of course, catastrophes like Chernobyl can happen, but then you can have catastrophes like someone from another galaxy attacking the earth, or we could be bombarded by a hail of meteorites, and we are equally screwed, if you'll pardon the expression. Around the world, about 200 nuclear plants will be built in the next five years, so I think it makes no sense for people to fight against nuclear power. It's a joke.

We are also strongly against the closure of the Jaslovské Bohunice nuclear plant, which has at least another 15 years of life, minimum. It seems to us an act of sabotage by the current ruling coalition to have signed a document [with the EU] agreeing to close and liquidate this plant. Jaslovské Bohunice produces an annual profit of almost Sk30 billion and above all produces energy for this state, which is the lifeblood of any economy. The Slovak National Party will never agree to this [closure].

We also of course have our own ideas about the national minorities issue. We strongly disagree with the minority policy promoted by the Hungarian Coalition Party, whose goals are autonomy and maybe even separatism within Europe.

TSS: Isn't politics based on nationalism in conflict with the whole idea of the European Union?

JS: We believe that Europe should be a union of strong nation states that would cooperate, and we absolutely reject a Europe based on a strong federal system. I am personally against it, and our party also has it in its programme that we will not support a strong European federal state. We believe that individual members of the European Union should retain their culture, identities and language.

TSS: Your party's politics is based to a great extent on "protecting" the ethnic Slovak nation from threats. What threats do Slovaks face these days?

JS: The Slovak National Party sees the trends in the world today, such as Muslim fundamentalism, as very dangerous. Slovakia is an overwhelmingly Catholic country and is disturbed by the flow of Muslims to France, Germany and England, where a great many now live. Take the bombings in Madrid, the attacks in Germany and England - it's all people who don't have roots there, in the sense that they came from the East, from Iraq or Iran or some other state, Algeria, Tunisia, Turkey or some other Muslim country, or Germany, where there are a lot of Turks, about four million. We see what impact it has on the life of those societies. We saw last year the huge conflicts in France where thousands of cars were burned and there was rioting, or the explosions in the subways [in London] where many absolutely innocent people died. I think this is all a result of the fact that the policy of the European Union was so receptive to American adventurism. The United States follows its economic interests, and I have the impression it regards the EU as the loyal backer of its adventurism. Europe is paying a huge price for this backing, which is why the Slovak National Party supports all efforts to ensure that European policy is European policy, and not policy that is dictated and directed by the USA.

TSS: And threats from within?

JS: Slovakia, like Europe as a whole, is ageing, because we want to live a quiet, balanced and healthy life. Our wives are emancipated and don't want to give birth, they just want to study, be employed, earn money. That's the reason the divorce rate is so high, of course. I also have an emancipated wife, and she thinks that making love to a single husband is something old-fashioned (laughs). Those may be harsh words, but that's the way it is. Unfortunately.

In Slovakia the birth rate has gone way down, and is far exceeded by the mortality rate, which is bleeding dry the healthy blood of the nation. From this point of view it is dangerous for us that the birth rate of the gypsy population is higher, and here we are only drawing on the statistics that are available. It's dangerous in a way we can see if we compare this problem to Kosovo. Some 50 or 60 years ago, Kosovo Albanians were absolutely not as numerous in this region as they are now. But they are multiplying like mice, just like mice. The Kosovo Serbs found themselves in a minority position in a province that was exclusively Serb, and where thousands and thousands of Serbs fell before the gates of European culture and European Christianity - I want you to stress that. Now, we Europeans turn our backs on the Serbs just because they are a proud and honourable nation, and favour a nation for whom drugs and people smuggling are the most important things. I just can't understand it. Where is the justice? Where is the justice?

From this point of view I also don't understand the way such things have been addressed in Slovakia, which is why the Slovak National Party will fight hard for laws that will support young families, such as by building flats for them. We will do everything we can to motivate them to have children, and to ensure that having children is not simply yet another expense.

TSS: You are infamous for your statements on other ethnic groups or nations in the past, such as taking a long whip to gypsies or climbing in tanks and going to flatten Budapest...

JS: All you journalists keep coming back to that again and again. Come on, think up something new.

TSS: But you didn't let me finish - despite such statements, many Slovaks seem to like you, even while condemning such sentiments. How do you explain this?

JS: Mr journalist, let me tell you, there is a difference between what some journalists write in their newspapers [and reality]. Look at the polls - some of these polling agencies are in the pay of political parties and give false figures. The greatest fraud is with the Free Forum party - when someone starts out with 2 percent and suddenly has 8 percent, that's pretty strong coffee. That second-rate journalist's [Free Forum leader Zuzana Martináková, formerly a reporter with the Slovak BBC channel] programme consists in merely criticizing everything. When she is asked how she wants to fix things, she has no answer. Well, in the same way, I could say I have the solution to the collision of two galaxies, but I'll tell you how in five years, when it's no longer relevant.

TSS: And your opinion on why you remain relatively popular given the extremity of some of your views?

JS: Because most Slovaks are just like me. These few intellectual dogs, this scum - make sure you write that, scum - this manure, I'm ashamed that they call themselves Slovak. I don't regard their criticism of me as important, because they are absolutely no threat to me. I think democracy is all about who gets the most votes, and I am convinced that Slovaks will give their votes to the Slovak National Party, to their nation, to this nation state, and to a united Europe of strong nation states.

TSS: Vladimír Mečiar, your former partner in the coalition government from 1994 to 1998, told this paper last week that he saw your party's nationalism as a political threat to the country. Did you two have a falling-out of some kind?

JS: I don't really want to attack him, basically I feel sorry for Mr Mečiar. I would advise him to withdraw from politics. I think the things he said yesterday, for example, on Sito [political talk show] were very stupid and primitive.

On the other hand, the Slovak National Party has absolutely no problem dealing with sensible people from the HZDS [Mečiar's party], such as [parliamentary European Affairs Committee Chairman] Tibor Mikuš. I'm a technician, and I find it easy to speak with other technicians. When people talk logically they can always find some common ground. Always. But with Mečiar, I don't know if he was some kind of lawyer or what he was. He should think about himself, and not the politics of the Slovak National Party or the Slovak Republic. Especially not the Slovak Republic. It's time for him to leave. Let him just go.

TSS: Who are your most natural partners on the Slovak political scene?

JS: We would most prefer to work with ourselves, say if we got 70 percent of the vote, because we really don't have an ideal partner on the political scene. Unfortunately, politics is not about what you have, but what exists. I'm not the kind of politician who says he is right wing or left wing, I'm a conservative politician, and this is a conservative party. I think the word "national" should be heard louder in European politics. I want to work for my nation. I am also a part of Europe and the European Union, but only as long as no one interferes with my national rights. That's the alpha and omega of the SNS. I don't want to take anything from anyone else; let no one else take what is mine. That's the basic element. It's common sense, and it's absolutely understandable for everyone.

I think that in my person, the Slovak National Party shows its economic and business strength. It's not just about national policies. We are true patriots, not nationalists, like the Scottish National Party or the Republican Party in the US. I have neither greater nor lesser ambitions than any of these people. The small difference between us is that they lead a state of 200 million, and I have behind me a state of 5.5 million, of whom 500,000 are Hungarians and 500,000 gypsies. That's my problem, and the problem of the Slovak National Party.

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