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EDITORIAL

Break the silence, shatter the quiet

"There were many ways of not burdening one's conscience, of shunning responsibility, looking away, keeping mum. When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust then became known at the end of the war, all too many of us claimed that we had not known anything about it or even suspected anything."
- Richard von Weizsaecker

SOME say that nations are destined to repeat their mistakes if they do not find answers to nagging questions or learn from past mistakes. But "mistake" is far too weak, far too general and insufficient, to describe certain historical events.

"There were many ways of not burdening one's conscience, of shunning responsibility, looking away, keeping mum. When the unspeakable truth of the Holocaust then became known at the end of the war, all too many of us claimed that we had not known anything about it or even suspected anything."

- Richard von Weizsaecker


SOME say that nations are destined to repeat their mistakes if they do not find answers to nagging questions or learn from past mistakes. But "mistake" is far too weak, far too general and insufficient, to describe certain historical events.

While most of the civilized world involved itself in preparations marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Europe's most dreadful death factory - Auschwitz - Slovak political figures stayed reserved and made careful comments.

Slovak politicians know that the wartime Slovak state is a sensitive topic, and that touching upon this period in Slovakia's history can be rather awkward.

Certain members of the Jewish community in Slovakia suggest that Slovak politicians simply do not want to open their eyes to what was happening in the country between 1939 and 1945.

Jaroslav Franek of the Union of Jewish Communities (UZŽNO) says that Slovakia's co-responsibility in the Holocaust has become a taboo subject. He senses what he calls a lack of self-reflection among his Slovak countrymen.

The wartime Slovak state was a puppet government of Nazi Germany led by Jozef Tiso, a Roman Catholic priest. Under Tiso, the Jews were largely excluded from public life and became a persecuted minority based on the Nuremberg Decrees of 1935.

Slovakia, in fact, was the only Nazi collaboration state that covered the deportation costs of its own Jews. According to historian Ivan Kamenec, the Slovak wartime government paid 500 Deutsch marks per Jew exported, to cover their transportation and other costs.

In defence of Slovakia, some historians point out if Slovakia had disobeyed Nazi Germany in 1942 by refusing to deport Jews, the result would have been a direct invasion of Slovakia, bringing terror to the whole country.

Between 1942 and 1945, Slovaks deported 80 percent of the Slovak Jewish community to Germany. Only a handful survived.

Slovakia's problem, however, is not so much anti-Semitism as silence. No one - and especially not the country's top officials - wants to shatter the quiet that surrounds these dark years.

Apart from Jews, the Nazis also killed some 23,000 Roma at Auschwitz. Roma are one of the largest ethnic groups in Slovakia, but there has been little discussion about the Roma holocaust, which is yet another serious blemish on Europe's conscience.

The human rights watchdog group, The People Against Racism, took the opportunity of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to point out that offensive statements against a nation or race must be punished in Slovakia.

The call comes at a time when the country's Justice Ministry is revising the country's penal code, a process that is triggering fiery discussions in parliament.

The People Against Racism insists that the crime of defaming a race, nation or belief must have its place in the new penal code.

The Justice Ministry, led by Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) member Daniel Lipšic, does not see the necessity of keeping a provision in the penal code that criminalizes the act of denying the Holocaust's existence - the so-called "Auschwitz Lie" law.

The Auschwitz Lie law was applicable to all people who question, downplay or deny the Holocaust.

The ministry's attempt to decriminalize Holocaust denial has evoked sharp protest from Slovaks and representatives of the Jewish community.

Human rights organizations feel that there is an urgent need to punish all displays of Nazism, neo-Nazi movements and acts that downplay crimes of fascism. They warn that neo-Nazi groups are still active in Slovakia, despite police efforts to dispel them.

A country's maturity is reflected in how well it can promote free speech and expression among its citizens without letting those citizens defame other races and nations or violate the rights and freedoms of others. The question remains whether Slovakia is mature enough to omit certain paragraphs - like the Auschwitz Lie law - in its penal code.

By Beata Balogová

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