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Tolerant Dutch notch gay-rights first

For the first time in its history, Slovakia has a non-pornographic homosexual magazine, a feat its Slovak creators said would not have been possible were it not for the Dutch community in Slovakia.
The Dutch, long considered beacons of liberalism by the international community for their stances on abortion, hard drugs, legalised marijuana and prostitution, have in this country been lauded for their open-mindedness and acceptance.
"If it weren't for the Dutch embassy's support of the [Atribút gay/lesbian] magazine, we would have had to find some other way to get the money," said Marián Greč, spokesperson for the Bratislava-based HaBiO homosexual rights group and external editor of the magazine. "We needed the financing because we wanted to create a magazine focused only on the social, political and cultural themes of the homosexual community."


Atribút g/l magazine, the country's first non-pornographic magazine for homosexuals, is financed by a 300,000 crown gift from the Dutch.
photo:Courtesy HaBiO

For the first time in its history, Slovakia has a non-pornographic homosexual magazine, a feat its Slovak creators said would not have been possible were it not for the Dutch community in Slovakia.

The Dutch, long considered beacons of liberalism by the international community for their stances on abortion, hard drugs, legalised marijuana and prostitution, have in this country been lauded for their open-mindedness and acceptance.

"If it weren't for the Dutch embassy's support of the [Atribút gay/lesbian] magazine, we would have had to find some other way to get the money," said Marián Greč, spokesperson for the Bratislava-based HaBiO homosexual rights group and external editor of the magazine. "We needed the financing because we wanted to create a magazine focused only on the social, political and cultural themes of the homosexual community."

"Other magazines, for example in the Czech Republic, tried to do this but they struggled," Greč continued. "They could only survive if they teamed up with a pornographic homosexual magazine. But we did not want to be associated with porn, we wanted to concentrate purely on homosexual issues."

The Dutch embassy's contribution of 300,000 Slovak crowns ($6,000) made the goal attainable. "We decided to finance the magazine for one year in order to encourage its growth," said Dutch Ambassador to Slovakia Henk Soeters. "We provided the financial initiative and now we hope it bears fruit."

"The Dutch also supported our April gay and lesbian film festival," Greč added. "They are an open-minded, politically correct, liberal people and they have been a great help in Slovakia by setting positive examples."

While being praised as tolerant, however, the Dutch themselves say that they are doing nothing more here in Slovakia than what comes naturally to them. "We have a long tradition of being traders," explained Soeters. "A trading tradition brings the influence of different cultures into our country. And having these different influences creates a liberal society, one in which we are open to other people and allow for different lifestyles."

Dutchman Eduard Wienk, the owner of Class language school in Bratislava, explained that Dutch liberalism was a result of verzuiling (or 'pillarisation'), a Dutch political philosophy in which the socialists, Protestants, Catholics and liberals of the country were divided into groups so as to identify the major societal influences.

"In order to create laws everyone can live with, you first need to identify the differences," said fellow Dutchman Jan Waanders, the founder of Click Eastblock Internet company in Bratislava.

"For different sub-societies living together in one country you need to come to a consensus in order to have everything function," Wienk said.

But identifying differences does not always translate into acceptance. In recent months, Slovaks have been criticised internationally for their treatment of the Roma minority, for not controlling their violent skinheads and for their intolerance of homosexuals, an accusation which arose after Justice Minister and ex-Christian Democrat party boss Ján Čarnogurský said that a homosexual partnership law would never hit the books as long as he held his post, and that Slovak gays who did not like it could "leave [the country] if they want to".

Acceptance of social difference, as Čarnogurský has shown, is a characteristic Slovaks are sometimes lacking. "The Dutch point of view is clear: We want Slovakia in the European Union," Soeters said. "But societies which are not open are not acceptable to the new Europe. The transition from a closed society to an open society requires tolerance and the acceptance of difference."

"With an open approach," he added, "you can achieve the best results, which are a consensus of all the groups involved."

While saying that their liberalism is second nature, the Dutch natives living in Slovakia say they do not want to be seen as tub-thumping preachers on a mission to correct aspects of foreign societies they see as wrong.

"Like everyone else, I probably compare the things I see here to my own country and make a judgement," Wienk said. "But we are still very open and when we are here in Slovakia we say, 'OK, we are in your country so we will speak your language. And oh, you have halušky? So I want to try some'."

"This attitude allows us to adapt quite easily to different situations," Waanders added. "We're quite flexible and I honestly think that if you put us in Indonesia or wherever else it would be the same way. We are interested in the society in which we are living."

But adaptability does not necessarily mean that all events in the host country pass without comment. In regard to Čarnogurský's comments on homosexuals, Soeters chose his words carefully, finally settling on: "Sometimes Slovak leaders think that their statements will be heard only by their followers, when in reality their words will be on the Internet within five minutes. They should realise that some of those comments will be observed by the international audience and that many will find such statements... remarkable."

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