MPs vote on 'Father of the Nation'

A BILL that would officially recognise Andrej Hlinka, the priest who led the party that after his death went on to lead the fascist Slovak State, as "Father of the Nation" has been passed for its second reading.
The bill submitted by the Slovak National Party (SNS) would also declare Hlinka's mausoleum in Ružomberok to be a site of honour.

A BILL that would officially recognise Andrej Hlinka, the priest who led the party that after his death went on to lead the fascist Slovak State, as "Father of the Nation" has been passed for its second reading.

The bill submitted by the Slovak National Party (SNS) would also declare Hlinka's mausoleum in Ružomberok to be a site of honour.

"Visitors of the mausoleum and its close vicinity have to show respect for the person of Andrej Hlinka, and to abstain from anything that could disturb the peace of the site of honour," the bill reads.

MPs passed the bill at a Parliament session last week. A similar bill submitted by the opposition Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) was not accepted.

Hlinka, a Catholic priest, was the chairman of the Slovak People's Party from 1918 to his death in 1938. The party was renamed Hlinka's Slovak People's Party in 1925.

After his death, Jozef Tiso became the party chairman. Tiso later became the president of the wartime fascist Slovak state, and during his presidency, more than 60,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps.

By that time, Hlinka had become a revered personality. Even the state militia was called the Hlinka Guard.

In the debate on the bill, SNS chairman Ján Slota defended it fiercely. He said MPs who do not support the bill on Hlinka's merits should be ashamed before the whole nation.

"Father Andrej Hlinka did more for the Slovak nation than all of us that are gathered here put together," he said. "We did not do one-millionth of it - that is, except for me.

"And if one MP here does not vote for this bill, shame on him before the whole nation, his children, parents and grandparents."

He added that Hlinka deserves the title Father of the Nation, as he fought his whole life for the rights of the Slovak nation, even at the cost of being persecuted and imprisoned.

Rafael Rafaj, an MP for the SNS, called Hlinka a Slovak Gandhi.

Vladimír Palko of the KDH spoke in favour of his party's bill. He said in spite of the propaganda of past decades, Hlinka is a unifying personality.

"Hlinka is not the property of any political party," he said.

KDH chairman Pavol Hrušovský said there might be a political agreement between the opposition KDH and the ruling coalition SNS on the matter.

"An agreement was concluded, that the politicians have to agree to, regarding the personality of Hlinka," he told the Hospodárske Noviny daily on September 19.

Even one MP for the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) voted for the bill submitted by the KDH - Miklós Duray.

"I was not wrong," he told media. "I told my colleagues from the caucus that I would vote for it, and I suggested they should do so, too."

SMK chair Pál Csáky expressed grave concerns about the bill. He told the TASR newswire that a similar law on merits of Hlinka was passed on April 25, 1939, during the fascist Slovak state.

"That version corresponds de facto with the bills that are now circulating in the parliament," he said. "It seems that this country is headed in a wrong direction, it seems that the SNS has run hog-wild."

Controversial figure

Historian Dušan Kováč told The Slovak Spectator that the bill strays from the historical truth right from the beginning, as Hlinka had no role whatsoever in the forming of an independent Slovak state.

"Hlinka was a determined supporter of the Czechoslovak state," he said.

Apart from this, Hlinka was a controversial personality of Slovak history, Kováč added, so it's not clear why he should be officially recognised.

"'Father of the Nation' is a myth that was created by Andrej Hlinka himself," he said. "He is part of our history, he is an important personality, but I would not submit such a bill to the parliament.

"I think he had his good sides, especially during the Hungarian empire; however, he was controversial."

He noted that in the early 1990s, the Slovak parliament made Milan Rastislav Štefánik, co-founder of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and evangelical Protestant, an honoured figure. The current SNS effort to do the same for Hlinka gave him the impression that Slovak Catholics decided they wanted a Catholic personality to have his own law, too, he said.

In a blog on the Sme daily website on September 20, political analyst Eduard Chmelár said Hlinka fulfils the notion of a top leader neither from the theoretical point of view, nor from the human point of view.

"He often called his opponents dirt, louses and the like. He very seldom could hold his temper," he wrote.

"Even in a case involving not his political enemies, but rather poor people who at the time of a world economic crisis desperately described their difficult social situation to him, he could not control his choice of words," he continued, "and at one meeting in Ružomberok in 1933, this priest snapped at them: 'Swallow stones!'"

Political analyst Miroslav Kusý said he considered the bill completely absurd, and not appropriate in the 21st century.

"Specifically, Hlinka is not suitable for something like this, as he was an antagonistic personality," he told The Slovak Spectator. "He hated Lutherans, Czechs, Hungarians and Jews, and he displayed his hatred violently."

He added that Hlinka can only be seen as Father of Nation by those Catholics who have a positive view of the period of the fascist Slovak state between the wars.

"Organisations in the period of the Slovak state, which took his name after his death, acted loyally in his spirit," Kusý said. "For example, take the Hlinka Guard. They named themselves after him because they acted in the spirit of what Hlinka propagated."

He added that Tiso was a loyal disciple of Hlinka and directly followed in his footsteps.

"When Hlinka was dying, Tiso was by his bedside, and he announced Hlinka's messages to the nation," he said. "No one could check whether Hlinka really told him these things, but Tiso presented them like this."

But the direct impact of passing such a law in today's political scene is marginal, Kusý said.

"It just shows that the SNS and the KDH are very close due to their relation to the clergy-fascism," he said.

Oddly enough, Hlinka's body does not lie in the Mausoleum in Ružomberok that the law seeks to make a place of honour. Hlinka was buried in the Ružomberok cemetery in August 1938, but almost three months later, his body was moved to a mausoleum built for him.

Shortly before the end of the Second World War, in March 1945, the then-interior minister Alexander Mach ordered the coffin with the embalmed body to be moved to Bratislava. Hlinka's remains got lost in Bratislava, and have not been found to this day.

A wax figure of Andrej Hlinka is being made in Prievidza and it will be transported to the Mausoleum on October 27, the 100th anniversary of the shooting of residents of the Ružomberok district of Černová, the Pravda daily reported.

During the time of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, the residents protested against Hlinka's suspension from the priesthood "for agitating against the Hungarian nationality." Fifteen residents were killed.

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