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POLITICAL PARTY RETREATS FROM YOUTH CAMPAIGN MARKED BY VULGARITY AND CONTROVERSIAL ADVERTISING

Pot, sex and army stickers

THOUSANDS of partying young Slovaks visiting the country's largest music festival over the July 29-21 weekend in Trenčín accepted with rock-concert enthusiasm the stickers handed out at the gates. One depicted a turtle having sex with an army helmet, with a vulgar English caption; another the word 'sex' above an approving Nike-style swoosh-mark; another a cannabis leaf.
Many fixed the handouts on their clothes and bodies. It was not until they realised the stickers were the work of a political party, however, that the festival-goers began to murmur.
The youth wing of the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA) party is now in hot water from both Pohoda festival management and its own senior advisors over the sticker campaign. Much of the stir was caused by the 'Fuck the Army' turtle-and-helmet collage, which came as a serious embarrassment to Defence Minister Jozef Stank, who is running for national elections in September on the SDA ticket.


IVAN Štefunko of the SDA party's youth wing shows original (left) and toned-down campaign stickers.
photo: TASR

THOUSANDS of partying young Slovaks visiting the country's largest music festival over the July 29-21 weekend in Trenčín accepted with rock-concert enthusiasm the stickers handed out at the gates. One depicted a turtle having sex with an army helmet, with a vulgar English caption; another the word 'sex' above an approving Nike-style swoosh-mark; another a cannabis leaf.

Many fixed the handouts on their clothes and bodies. It was not until they realised the stickers were the work of a political party, however, that the festival-goers began to murmur.

The youth wing of the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA) party is now in hot water from both Pohoda festival management and its own senior advisors over the sticker campaign. Much of the stir was caused by the 'Fuck the Army' turtle-and-helmet collage, which came as a serious embarrassment to Defence Minister Jozef Stank, who is running for national elections in September on the SDA ticket.

Pohoda organiser Michal Kaščák's estimated that the festival had attracted over 20,000 people. Peter Škriečka, a member of the SDA youth initiative, said they had distributed around 15,000 stickers at the event.

"The party just used young people who like wearing [swear words] on their T-shirts without knowing a political party was being promoted," Kaščák said.

Many of the people The Slovak Spectator talked to at the festival also expressed dismay at the party's tactics.

"It seems funny at first sight, but once you realize it's meant seriously, it's sad, especially because the Defence Minister is from that party," said Michal Józsa, 21, a student of the Military Flight Academy in Košice.

"Without any further explanation this sticker feeds animosity towards the army," said Józsa, who says he aims for a career in the Slovak military.

"I wonder what the people producing such stickers would say if they were victims of floods and were saved by the army."

Stank said he felt the turtle sticker disgraced the army and was at odds with Slovakia's integration ambitions. The country hopes to receive an invitation to join Nato this fall, and army reform has been a major element of the its drive to enter the Alliance.

Peter Weiss, the SDA's election leader, said that the turtle sticker had been meant to communicate support for a more professional army, and to express the message in a form appreciated by young people.

He admitted, however, that the form chosen had not been ideal.

"The young SDA wing have their own campaign and choose their own methods. Their opinion prevailed," said Weiss of the sticker campaign, which he called "rebellious".

Young SDA leader Ivan Štefunko told The Slovak Spectator that the stickers had been consulted with Weiss and party leader Milan Ftáčnik beforehand. "They both liked the idea and laughed at it," he said.

Nevertheless, the controversy over the turtle stickers moved the young SDA to change the text after the Pohoda festival to a more moderate "Love the army, but a professional one".

Štefunko added that the "sex" sticker, written in large blue letters on a red background, had expressed the party's safe-sex policy, as part of which the SDA wants condom machines to be installed in all high schools and universities.

"A mistake occurred and I criticised them for it. It was supposed to say 'safe sex'," explained Weiss, blaming a printer for the mistake. Nevertheless, an image on the Young SDA's Internet page is identical with the sticker distributed, containing no mention of the word "safe".

Apart from an anti-fascist sticker depicting a human figure throwing a Nazi swastika in a dustbin, for many Pohoda visitors a sticker with the slogan "Decriminalise" written under a big green marijuana leaf was the most popular handout.

Kaščák dubbed the SDA campaign "populist and hypocritical", and said "I really had to laugh, because I find it ridiculous when ex-communists, who for 40 years had a problem with everything, suddenly do not have a problem with anything before the elections".

The SDA was formed this year by several former members of Slovakia's pre-1989 Communist Party.

Weiss said the campaign was aimed at first and second time voters.

"This has changed my idea about the SDA, and now I will likely not vote for them," said first time voter Józsa.

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