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Letter to the Editor: Ignorance leads to misunderstandings

Dear Sir,

I was pleased by the reactions to my guest column "Two types of Slovaks divide country," (Vol. 3, No. 24, December 18 - January 14), from Michal Zóldy and Andrej Filip, published in the January and March editions of your newspaper respectively.

When I was preparing my article at the end of last year, I was very much aware that I was going to speak about something that would meet with very different reactions. Despite that realization, I hoped that my view of reality would provoke a wider discussion about an issue of great relevance in Slovakia. Therefore, I was very pleased to see that my opinions did not pass unnoticed.

My first impression of both responses to my letter was that the authors had not understood what I wanted to say and, therefore, had somehow missed the point.

What I wanted to say is that there really exists an obvious historical connection between the current Slovak political crisis and the process through which this nation has been built, and that a complete understanding of this connection is essential for a wider grasp of current realities in Slovakia.

In calling some Slovaks "primary" and "secondary", I was alluding to the undeniable historical fact that while some Slovaks called themselves Slovaks and spoke the Slovak language already before 1918, large parts of the population, mainly on the fringes of this country, only gradually adopted the common Slovak identity after Czechoslovakia came into being.

Mr. Zóldy, with his colorful ethnic background, is a perfect example of that process. Yet his vigorous backing of the Slovak nationalists' version of some episodes from our recent, as well as more distant history, looked like a public denial of his own roots which was suggestive, first of all, of a deep personal identity crisis. I am sure most of the Czechs, Austrians, Magyars and Germans who read his article were not very pleased by what he said.

It looks also that Mr. Filip clearly misunderstood my notion of "primary" and "secondary" Slovaks, interpreting this concept as a way of dividing this country's citizens into first and second-class categories, which, of course, is something completely different from what I intended to say. I can reassure both correspondents that I have never considered myself a second-class citizen in this country either, despite the fact that the current nationalist government has done a lot to make me feel so.

Mr. Zóldy's and Mr. Filip's letters clearly support the claims of many who say that, in general, Slovaks are poorly informed about their own history, and that many virtually have no idea about what life was like in "the next valley". Mr Filip's "discovery" of the fact that some Magyars live in villages near Nitra was a nice example of that.

After 1989, many people in Slovakia hoped and believed that communism would easily be replaced by freedom, democracy and peace. Many people said it would. But what we are witnessing now is a really frightening degree of instability and lawlessness, threatening the foundations on which this country and society is built. Mr Zoldy may well think that things in Slovakia are now more or less fine. But for those who are monitoring the situation here see quite a different picture. They point to numerous cases of human rights violations, increasingly undemocratic rule, the transformation of the state media into pro-government propaganda machines, massive corruption at the highest levels and immense economic injustices committed during the privatization process.

What is more, serious allegations have been made that the ruling political parties are financing their own activities partly with money stolen during privatization, and that the government is systematically using the counry's intelligence service against its own people. If these allegations turn out be true, then I fear it is really unlikely that we will see much peace in Slovakia in the foreseeable future.

Viliam Schichman, Prešov

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