The journalist's dilemma: how to report Ján Slota

WHAT EXACTLY are you supposed to do if you are a journalist in a country which contains Ján Slota? Moreover, a country where Ján Slota represents the will of about 10 percent of the population, and is part of the ruling coalition.

WHAT EXACTLY are you supposed to do if you are a journalist in a country which contains Ján Slota? Moreover, a country where Ján Slota represents the will of about 10 percent of the population, and is part of the ruling coalition.

Ján Slota’s brief political profile reveals, apart from his repeated scandalous statements about Hungarians, Roma and other minorities, that he has said next-to-nothing else that anyone can remember.

He has contributed barely a single constructive thought to the nation’s political discourse. But the chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS) keeps talking.

Slota represents a traumatising experience for any decent journalist: reporting his outbursts is distasteful but, equally, ignoring the statements of a ruling coalition politician would be no better.

Media guidelines would suggest a highly pragmatic approach, telling readers what the person is saying and what are his actions; reporting their impact; and avoiding the labyrinth of reaction and counter-reaction from other politicians seeking to use Slota’s notoriety to obtain their own small morsel of the media-attention cake.

Before Prime Minister Robert Fico elevated Slota from the realms of political folklore to being a national political figure, the sole media attention Slota received was because of statements that frequently crossed the line not just of political but also human decency.

Now, just a couple weeks after the European Socialists, according to the Sme daily, discussed with Prime Minister Fico’s Smer party Slota’s earlier statements – a discussion which should have led to a tougher approach towards these verbal excesses - Slota has once again insulted Hungarian Foreign Affairs Minister Kinga Göncz.

While engaged in one of the favourite activities of the SNS, which is to plant huge Lorraine crosses all over Slovakia to remind anyone in danger of forgetting – for even a moment - that they are on Slovak territory, he compared Göncz to “[Sudeten Nazi leader Konrad] Henlein’s people and that moustachioed man from the pub in Munich,” i.e. Adolf Hitler.

The Hungarians and their turul, a mythical falcon, one of Hungary’s national symbols, have not escaped Slota’s odium either.

He referred to them as “These robbers, murderers, and those who erect these ugly, disgusting turuls, these Hungarian parrots.”

In doing so, Slota again made journalists record these statements, print them and disseminate them.

Columnists and commentators have been dealing with this frustration by calling on Robert Fico to mete out some serious political punishment for his coalition partner.

Yet, Robert Fico is in part responsible for the worsening of Slovak-Hungarian relations because it was he who resuscitated Slota and brought him back to power.

Sme quoted sociologist Pavel Haulík as saying that at least 35 percent of the population are in fact irritated by Slota’s statements.

Yet the statistics are not as rosy as they seem, since one would hope at least 90 percent of the population to feel deep irritation and annoyance when hearing some of the diatribes that Slota utters.

In fact, Göncz said that if the Slovak government did not address some of Hungary’s concerns, including Slota’s statements, in a fair way, she would seek to resolve matters through European Union institutions. This would mean that other nations and institutions would have to deal with the Slota phenomenon and recognise that he has nothing meaningful to contribute to the wider discourse.

But Slota’s mouth is not the only problem.

Because, the Pravda daily has reported, the flight which Slota took to get to the cross-erecting festivity at which he came out with his latest insults was paid for by a company which has been winning state orders worth millions of Slovak crowns.

And the approach of the Education Ministry, which is in the hands of Slota’s party, has been giving precious little reason for Hungarian teachers to harbour much trust in the ministry’s good intentions. While preparing a new edition of geography textbooks for 9-year olds, the ministry dropped the Hungarian names for place names, using Slovak names only.

Hungarian teachers have complained that the Slovak names break up the text and make it incomprehensible.

At the end of the book is a glossary with Slovak and Hungarian names, though the Slovak names are only presented in the nominative case.

Thinkers believe that the greatness of any nation is demonstrated in the way it treats its minorities, and in its ability to make those minorities feel honoured and at home.

Things like textbooks and the right to use their mother tongue matter to minorities and can hardly be classified as something that endangers the interests of the state.

Slota’s statements could cause much more harm than a couple of Hungarian names in a geography textbook.

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