After 60 years, the SNP remains divisive

THE 60th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) on August 29 provides an opportunity to look closely at how Slovakia views the anti-fascist movement.
At least four interpretations of the SNP prevail. Two argue that the uprising was negative, while two paint a positive picture. Each throws emphasis on different aspects of the uprising to prove a point.

THE 60th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP) on August 29 provides an opportunity to look closely at how Slovakia views the anti-fascist movement.

At least four interpretations of the SNP prevail. Two argue that the uprising was negative, while two paint a positive picture. Each throws emphasis on different aspects of the uprising to prove a point.

Those most opposed to the SNP, mainly hardcore nationalists, say the wartime Slovak state was the culmination of decades of Slovaks' struggle for self-determination. They believe the fascist state played a positive role in the nation's history, and fault the SNP for destabilising it.

"The independent Slovak state emerged in March 1939 at a very difficult time in history, and it was the unanimous will of the Slovak Diet," said Ján Slota, former head of the Slovak National Party and current mayor of Žilina, in an interview in the late 1990s.

"Despite the wickedness of Nazi Germany and fascist Hungary, the independent Slovak state managed to prosper economically as well as morally, in line with the Christian faith," he added.

Arguing that the fascist government was an embodiment of self-determination in support of national interests suggests that the SNP was an illegitimate effort carried out by anti-state groups fighting against the will of the people.

Another interpretation alleges the fascist government was itself preparing to turn against the Germans, and that the SNP was premature. They blame the uprising and consequent German intervention in Slovakia for hampering a clean break, which resulted not only in unnecessary suffering, but also a weaker Slovakia in the post-war period.

"In 1944 it was clear that Germany would lose the war," said former chairman and founder of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) Ján Čarnogurský in an interview eight years ago. Čarnogurský's father had served as a member of parliament during the war.

"All of Germany's allies were looking for a way to cut their ties. Some were more successful; some were less. Romania's leadership, for example, decided to join the Allies. The independent Slovak state had the same plans," he said.

"The illegal [anti-fascist] Slovak National Council (SNR) and the communists knew about these plans and agreed it would unite Slovakia with the Allies. The SNR ordered its guerrillas to refrain from doing anything to threaten this plan," Čarnogurský continued.

"But Soviet guerrillas did not feel obliged to obey the SNR's orders. So it happened that on August 28, 1944, they shot members of the German military mission, prompting the Germans to invade and disarm the eastern Slovak units. A German occupation destroyed hopes of siding with the Allies," he concluded.

Favourable opinions of the SNP build on the premise that the wartime Slovak Republic was a puppet-state of Hitler. In this light, the uprising represents the Slovaks' determination to fight fascism.

Proponents of this view stress that the uprising legitimised Slovakia after the war, enabling it to join the ranks of victorious powers and avoid harsh treatment as a defeated enemy.

The primary difference between the two interpretations in favour of the SNP mirror those found in the views opposing the uprising: the role of the communists, both during the uprising and after the war.

The pro-communist attitude claims that Russian and Slovak communists deserve the credit for the SNP. This view was promoted throughout the decades of communist oppression that followed the war.

"The preparations for the uprising were a long and complicated process in which the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) played an instrumental part," reads a KSS declaration issued on the occasion of the SNP's 60th anniversary.

The KSS says that Slovakia's recent democratic governments intentionally try to downplay the communist involvement.

"After the coup in 1989 the new political establishment doubted the progressive message of the SNP. We have watched these governments reject our role in the uprising and offend its participants."

The KSS statement accuses post-communist politicians of rewriting history by failing to acknowledge the merits of communist members of the uprising.

"The arrogance with which Slovakia's highest representatives turned a blind eye to the personal sacrifice of these people is very insensitive," says KSS boss Jozef Ševc.

Slovakia's current political leadership agrees with the KSS on one point. It sees the uprising as a beneficial and heroic contribution of considerable significance to the global fight against fascism.

But it also stresses that the uprising was in no way an exclusively communist undertaking. Current leaders point out that many of those who fought for freedom also suffered greatly under the communist regime.

A few days ago, the Statistics Office released the results of a study that looks into the opinions modern-day Slovaks have about the SNP.

The results show that interest in the uprising is declining. Just 8 percent of those surveyed said they were very interested in the SNP - the same number as 10 years ago.

Two other numbers paint a bleaker picture. Only 52 percent of Slovaks say they have some interest in the SNP, down 11 percent from 1994, and 40 percent say they don't care about the uprising at all.

Of those polled, 30 percent, feel the SNP was aimed against the existence of an independent Slovak state, while as many as 20 percent withheld an opinion. Of respondents the, 70 percent feel that a majority of Slovaks support the uprising count.

As many as 50 percent say the KSS played a decisive role in the uprising, while 16 percent do not know. The belief that the SNP guaranteed Slovakia an honourable place in the Allied coalition is shared by 76 percent. Only 13 percent disagree.

As time goes by, Slovakia is likely to come closer to a more unified interpretation of the events surrounding the SNP. However, it is unlikely that anyone will come closer to the truth, whose complexity often makes simple interpretations impossible.

By Lukáš Fila

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