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EDITORIAL

John Sanchez Bendezu: Of Mice and Men

In standing up to defend a Korean fellow-student from three skinheads, and taking a punch that fractured his skull in the process, 26 year-old Peruvian student John Sanchez Bendezu set an example for Slovaks and ex-pats living in Slovakia to follow.
Skinheads are despicable. With their cowardly pack mentality and their repulsive fascist slogans, skinheads have turned life in many European cities into hell for their dark-skinned residents. They are tolerated by the police only because security forces across the continent are controlled by white-skinned administrators, who themselves are kept in office by indifferent electorates.


Police campaign against race hatred continues
illustration: Igor Lyskov

In standing up to defend a Korean fellow-student from three skinheads, and taking a punch that fractured his skull in the process, 26 year-old Peruvian student John Sanchez Bendezu set an example for Slovaks and ex-pats living in Slovakia to follow.

Skinheads are despicable. With their cowardly pack mentality and their repulsive fascist slogans, skinheads have turned life in many European cities into hell for their dark-skinned residents. They are tolerated by the police only because security forces across the continent are controlled by white-skinned administrators, who themselves are kept in office by indifferent electorates.

Slovakia is no exception. The place where Bendezu was attacked - the premises of a Bratislava school which prepares foreign students to study at Slovak universities - is across the street from a regional courthouse which calls itself by the Orwellian misnomer "Palace of Justice." Bratislava's main downtown police station lies several hundred metres to the south, and the Bratislava County Police Headquarters, with its stone lions glaring impotently over Špitalská Street, creates to the west a third point in a geographic police cordon. At the centre of this triangle lie Bendezu's school and a nearby skinhead bar, whose patrons affect a short-haired fondness for pit bulls.

One would think that the existence of a school populated mainly by students from Arab countries and located in the heart of one of Bratislava's tougher white-power neighbourhoods would galvanize the police in some way, make them sensitive to race-crime and the likelihood of its occuring on their back doorstep. But the only 'assistance' the police rendered in Bendezu's case was to stop the car ferrying him to hospital and fine the occupants for not having the proper documents - which the police themselves had not managed to issue in a reasonable time.

One would think that after attacks in August on the families of Libyan diplomats in Bratislava - which was followed by Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner's statement on August 16 that "I'm warning all skinheads that doing what they do contradicts the law - they will be driven back hard by police" - would bring some real action. But the skinheads Pittner was addressing were not listening, and nor, it appears, were the police.

And so the violence continues, with neither the police or the inhabitants of this country giving a damn one way or another. Sure, many people claim to care, if wringing hands and impotent breast-beating count for anything, but no one actually takes a stand if it might force him to get out of his comfy police car, or earn him a punch in the nose. Until, that is, the bravery of the diminutive Juan Bendezu, who weighs 50 kilograms with his school books and who tackled three skins with tatoos on their knuckles.

Foreigners in Bendezu's position have little power in Slovakia. They don't invest huge sums in factories, and they don't speak the language - they live in depressing little dormitories and fret about their documents constantly. If they're attacked by skinheads they have few resources to fall on except their own meagre stock. They certainly can't force the police to protect them, and nor do they have a strong claim on the conscience of the nation.

But as Czech novelist Milan Kundera wrote, human societies are judged by how they act towards their weakest members. This is a test that Slovak society - including all the ex-pats who live here as well as citizens of this country - is failing miserably. It's not so much that people don't interfere when they see skinheads attacking their victims, it's the fact that people walk away - and pretend it's none of their business.

It's all of our business, every one of us who is disgusted by these racist, cowardly thugs. It's our business at least to say something when we witness such violence, and to report the incident to the police. It's our business to call Interior Minister Pittner, and ask what the hell happened to his fine intentions (Bratislava telephone number: 07-5094-4227). It's our business to stand up for what we claim to believe in, and make sure the police do the same.

Get well, John Sanchez Bendezu, and hope that Slovak society finds a cure for what ails it.

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