TWENTY to thirty years ago, there were officially no homosexuals in Slovakia. At least, that was how the Communist regime treated them. Homosexuals did not exist; they were simply a "product" of the Western world, which, according to party line, was spiralling into chaos and self-destruction.
In general, homosexuality remains taboo. For gays, it would be very difficult to live openly in most Slovak towns or villages.
A recent survey conducted by the MVK agency for the daily SME indicates that 50 percent of parents do not want a homosexual teaching their child. However, 35.9 percent of respondents have never met a homosexual and more than 28 percent stated that they do not care about the sexual orientation of the people they meet. Only 19 percent have met homosexuals on occasion.
Sociologists say that available statistics on homosexuals in Slovakia do not reflect the real situation of the gay community. Based on a recent survey conducted within the gay community, more than 46 percent of gays hide their orientation from their families. At least half of them hide their orientation from colleagues and neighbours, as well as physicians.
However, sociologists claim there is a general tolerance towards homosexuals in Slovakia.
A 2003 survey sponsored by the Institute for Public Affairs found that 79 percent of respondents said that gays and lesbians should have the same rights as others when it comes to pursuing their career.
"The SME survey confirms that this trend does not apply to all the professions," sociologist Zora Bútorová commented in the daily.
In fact, Slovakia remains conservative on most issues regarding homosexuals. The public discourse over gays and their coexistence with the majority is virtually nonexistent.
At a meeting of European Union foreign affairs ministers last November, Slovakia unilaterally declared that it would not recognize gay marriages conducted in other EU member countries. It means that Slovakia wants to have different laws in this area.
The main opponent of gay marriages and gay issues in general is the ruling party, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH).
Its former chairman, Ján Čarnogurský, has suggested in past that homosexuality is curable. "These people should be treated," he has said.
Former Health Minister Alojz Rakús rushed to support his former party fellow by saying that the rate of curability could be as high as 50 percent.
In July 2004, Interior Minister Vladimír Palko asked the Swedish Ambassador to Slovakia to protest the treatment of Ake Green, a Lutheran minister in Sweden punished for making anti-homosexual comments in his sermons.
Palko said that the case of Green was an example of how left-wing liberal groups tried to introduce tyranny and abuse the EU for their purpose.
Christian Democratic Movement MP Anna Záborská, who currently is the chairwoman of the European Parliamentary women's committee, said in 2003 that although her party was against discrimination of all kinds, she thought that it was "questionable whether [homosexuals] should fulfill all occupations", such as teachers.
At the time, Záborská said that her party saw homosexuality as a physiological defect, and although she added that gays and lesbians should not be discriminated against, she thought people who identified themselves with groups that take part in love parades could not be trusted to work with children.
Based on the SME survey, adults seem to be more close-minded than students themselves. Only about 23 percent of school-aged students said they would object to a homosexual teacher, compared to more than 45 percent of their parents.
Slovakia has anti-discrimination legislation that guarantees protection from any form of discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation. However, the Christian Democrats are challenging the antidiscrimination law in the Constitutional Court based on an affirmative action clause, which would allow the positive discrimination of certain groups.
Slovaks have not yet figured out what attitude to take towards the national gay community. Sociologists claim that people tend to be more negative in their attitudes towards gays than lesbians. Psychologist Paula Jójárt told the daily SME that homosexual men tend to more openly question heterosexual norms in society and this is why they are less tolerated.
In any case, as a member of the European Union, Slovakia can no longer ignore the existence of the gay community, even if it concerns only a very small percentage of society. Most importantly, Slovakia should keep in mind that the World Health Organization erased homosexuality from its list of diseases way back in 1992.
By Beata Balogová
16. May 2005 at 0:00