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Church continues to distort truth of WWII

EVERY MONTH, it seems, another slimy character from Slovakia's past shambles from the undergrowth to bask under the heat lamp of the country's nationalist/populist government.

EVERY MONTH, it seems, another slimy character from Slovakia's past shambles from the undergrowth to bask under the heat lamp of the country's nationalist/populist government.

This month it was the turn of Bratislava-Trnava diocese Archbishop Ján Sokol, who said on a talk show on the TA3 news channel that he respected Jozef Tiso, the president of Slovakia during its fascist World War II interlude.

"We were very poor, but while he was in power we did alright," said Sokol, when asked whether he supported the proposal of "historian" Milan S. Ďurica that Tiso be sainted by the Catholic Church.

"I very much respect Mr. President Tiso," he repeated.

The Council of Roma Community NGOs publishing the tart rejoinder that "We hope you weren't referring to that Slovak state which sent thousands of its minority citizens to concentration camps".

But, of course, Sokol was referring to "that" infamous state with which the Slovak right seems unable to come to terms. This is the same Sokol who, according to witnesses, issued a blessing to Marián Kotleba, the leader of the banned Neo-Fascist Slovenská Pospolitosť movement, at an event in March 2005.

Not to be outdone, Ďurica published a book in October last year saying that Tiso had not been responsible for the deporation of 70,000 Slovak Jews to concentration camps during World War II.

A priest himself, Ďurica gained notoriety in 1997 for writing an anti-Semitic book titled The History of Slovakia and the Slovaks. In that tome, he devoted 70 pages to the 1939-1945 period, compared to 75 pages for the Stone Age up to 1848. He portrayed Jewish captives in wartime Slovak camps as enjoying good conditions, and said that in the western Slovak town of Sereď, prisoners could use "the most advanced carpentry equipment available at the time".

Ďurica also defended the support of the WWII Slovak prime minister, Vojtech Tuka, and the interior minister, Alexander Mach, for the mass transports of Jews, saying that the man hadn't wanted their families to be torn apart by the send-offs. "Therefore, from April 11, 1942, they began to deport whole families."

It is a disgrace that such men have access to any pulpit from which to scandalize decent people with their "thoughts". It is doubly disgraceful that this incident occurred the same week that two Jewish Slovaks who escaped from Auschwitz in 1944 to tell the world about the mass murders of inmates received state decorations.

It is tempting to make a connection between such utterances and the current government, given that it contains the far-right Slovak National Party, which has been trying for months to get WWII state sympathizers elected to the Nation's Memory Institute, which among other things is tasked with exploring the crimes of the fascist era.

In 1997, when Eva Slavkovská of the SNS was Education Minister in the third Mečiar government, the ministry paid for 80,000 copies of Ďurica's first book to be printed and distributed to elementary schools as teaching material.

But the root of the problem is not in politics - it lies with the Church, which since 1945 has never once disowned Tiso, whereas Slovak MPs formally distanced themselves from the World War II state in 1990.

After Sokol's statement, Church officials again refused to take sides, while the Archbishop's Office said "some entities" were intentionally misinterpreting Sokol's words.

For 60 years, the Catholic Church in Slovakia has itself been intentionally misinterpreting both the facts and the meaning of Slovakia's horrible World War II experience. Sokol's words would be a hideous joke if they weren't part of a sustained campaign to distort the truth, and if there weren't so clearly an appetite for such sentiments.

By Tom Nicholson

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