Slavic Brethren The Slovak Spectator generally displays a super-imposed editorial photo in this space. However, this unretouched snapshot of a meeting between former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar and Yugoslav President Slobodan Miloševič speaks for itself.
Supporting NATO were the deputies of the ruling coalition of Prime Minster Mikuláš Dzurinda, who see the Yugoslav conflict as another opportunity to show the world how serious they are about joining western alliances. On the other side were Slovak nationalists and supporters of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, who see the NATO bombing as a chance to stir up public fears and reap political benefits in the process.
Painted in absolutes of black and white, these debates were more about domestic than international politics. In Slovakia, the NATO bombing threatens to become yet another issue which divides citizens among themselves, which turns friends into enemies on the basis of whether one supports or opposes NATO's actions.
On the streets, as in parliament, people who support the bombing of Yugoslavia are the same people who support the western orientation of Slovakia's economy, who want to turn Slovakia towards Europe and see the country join the EU. They are people who want former secret service boss Ivan Lexa to go to jail, and who want the crimes of the Mečiar era investigated.
Opposing this group, and protesting the NATO bombing as a form of imperialist aggression, is a camp of nationalists and reactionaries, people who feel nostalgic for life under Mečiar, Lexa and Gustav Husák. For these people, supporting NATO bombing is tantamount to giving up sovereignty over Slovak affairs, to returning to a state in which Slovakia is ruled by a foreign power.
Feelings run high, and are being fanned by the media, which have painted the conflict between Miloševič and the Albanians in colours so stark that the public is led to believe that supporting anything less than the carpet bombing of Yugoslavia means supporting ethnic cleansing and its horrific cruelties. The atrocities going on, one is told again and again, are so egregious that NATO has no choice but to fight fire with fire.
And yet, there are probably many people in Slovakia who feel torn by the bombings - EU supporters who don't like bombs, or nationalists who believe NATO is right. But their voices have been lost in a hysterical political and public debate which has more to do with animosities left over from the Mečiar era than with fundamental disagreements over NATO policy.
Where are the doubters, the unsure, the uncommitted? Where, in the end, are NATO's supporters? Every day, the voices of anti-NATO radicals echo through the streets. On the walls of Bratislava's Old Town, slogans like "Adolf Clinton" have been daubed in angry capítals, many of them painted by neo-fascist youths who berate the west for using the methods of the very man they admire. Daily protest marches in Bratislava are sponsored not by moderate war objectors, but by Zmena, a nationalist newspaper which has been convicted in a Slovak court of making anti-Jewish statements. In a bizarre union, skinheads carry anti-war banners through the streets, and communists join in accusing western countries of wanting aim their bombs at all Slavic nations in an attempt to eliminate them.
There are many reasons why you might be against the bombing in Yugoslavia, few of which mean that you sympathise with skinheads and racists. Perhaps you object to the killing by NATO hands of civilians in trains on their way to work, or don't like how generations of Serbians will now associate Europe with trauma and tragedy rather than growth and success. Perhaps you have Serbian or Montegrean friends you see suffering as they reach for the phone each night after the radio announces another bombing raid. Maybe you believe that the air raids will be useless without the use of ground forces, and that all the blood will have been shed in vain.
This is the whole point of this democracy that Slovakia is supposed to be learning about, that people participate in public life. Serious events like the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and Slovakia's response to it, call for serious public debate to which everyone contributes - not just skinheads, nationalists and politicians on the make.
19. Apr 1999 at 0:00