The summer crusades

FOR A NUMBER of years the Christian Democrats (KDH) have tried their best to spice-up the politically dry summertime season. Knowing that sex sells in one way or another with all voters, issues related to human sexuality have often been the target of choice of the KDH's PR practices.

The KDH launched this season with its criticism of Swedish authorities, who sentenced priest Ake Green to a month's imprisonment after he was found guilty of having offended homosexuals in a sermon by describing homosexuality as "abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumour in the body of society".

The KDH argues that action against Green goes against religious freedoms and the freedom of speech.

"In Europe, people are starting to be put behind bars for what they believe in," said KDH vice-chairman Vladimír Palko. Other KDH representatives have also spoken publicly about the Green affair.

This most recent case is no exception to the KDH's political strategy, but rather appears to be following a well-established pattern of using the summer holidays to gain easy points with hardcore fundamentalist constituency.

In August 2000, Ján Čarnogurský, then chairman of the KDH and Justice Minister, suggested that the police combat prostitution by bringing in prostitutes for questioning every night, until they decide to leave the streets.

Since prostitution itself is not a crime under Slovak legislation, Čarnogurský proposed that the women be interrogated only as witnesses.

"Prostitution is closely tied with other criminal activities. It's possible to repeatedly call prostitutes standing around in for interrogation until they retreat from heavily exposed parts of the city," said Čarnogurský at the time.

Only weeks later the KDH presented its not-too-progressive views on homosexuality.

"Homosexuals should receive medical treatment, it would serve them well," said Čarnogurský.

"As long as I'm Justice Minister, there will be no registered partnerships of homosexuals in Slovakia," he said.

Former Health Minister Alojz Rakús, at the time an MP for the KDH and head of the psychiatric ward at one of Bratislava's largest hospitals, gave Čarnogurský's homophobic bashing a quasi-scientific basis.

"In the past, when homosexuals were still being sent for treatment, I managed to cure two out of five patients - these were male homosexuals," Rakús said.

"Therapy was so successful that these homosexual individuals, who had previously been leading homosexual lives, eventually entered into heterosexual marriages and had children," he added.

Rakús specified that the success rate of therapy in cases of homosexuality was as high as 52 percent.

The KDH closed the summer of 2000 with a call for the elimination of pornographic magazines from visible places at newsstands.

The idea behind the initiative was not new, as public presentations of pornography were forbidden under existing legislation, but the KDH felt an urge to openly remind legislators and shop-owners that those provisions need to be adhered to more strictly.

In 2001, the summer entertainment had an early start - in late May a group of MPs acting on the KDH's initiative filed a motion with the country's Constitutional Court, asking it to rule that existing legislation enabling abortions contradicts Slovakia's law on basic rights.

The court has yet to rule on the matter.

A month later, the Christian Democrats presented their draft Declaration on the sovereignty of EU member states in cultural and ethical issues to the Slovak parliament.

"After entry into the EU we want to retain the right to decide about the protection of life, family, marriage, and health," said KDH vice-chairman Vladimír Palko in June 2001.

That summer the KDH also demanded that the Education Ministry put a stop to efforts to introduce yoga as a voluntary class in Slovak schools, claiming that the project is yet another attempt to liquidate Christianity and a sophisticated continuation of communist practices.

The ministry was then run by leftist Milan Ftáčnik.

In July 2002 the European Parliament adopted the Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The KDH reacted by claiming that the EP was trying to force current and future member countries of the EU to legalise abortions and make available abortive anti-conception alternatives.

The promotion of sexual education in the resolution reduces partnership to sex, according to the movement's statements.

A year ago, the fight over the abortion law between KDH and the New Citizen's Alliance dominated the domestic political scene.

All the above-mentioned proposals and initiatives have one thing in common - they never produce any substantial results.

The number of prostitutes in public places has not decreased and the police, fortunately, devote their energy to more meaningful tasks than endless interrogation. Erotic magazines are just as visible as they have always been.

True, there still are no registered partnerships of homosexuals. But then again, the chance that they could in fact be introduced never appeared too promising.

The situation with abortions, at least from a legal perspective, remains similarly unchanged.

KDH representatives must be well aware of the fact that their summer crusades produce little results in the context of real politics.

But at the same time they require little effort and are certain to receive much attention from both liberal and conservative media, especially in the summer months, when journalists are desperate for stories.

Even more importantly, the relative stability of the party's popular support, ranging from 7 to 10 percent, shows the KDH's policies appeal to some.

The two demographic groups that form the majority of KDH supporters are those over 60 years of age and people living in towns and villages under 2,000 inhabitants, according to a survey the Statistics Office released on June 18.

Slovaks will just have to prepare to listen to the same song summer after summer, year after year, as long as the KDH leadership remains satisfied with the modest support it currently has.

Should the KDH ever raise its sights, it will inevitably have to take the road travelled by other European Christian Democratic parties in the past decades - the road of greater tolerance and lesser fundamentalism.

By Lukáš Fila

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