THE WEBSITES of extremist movements promoting hatred on grounds of race, nationality or ethnicity have recently got some unexpected help in getting their messages across to wider Slovak society. Two recent incidents in which public officials made uncritical references to far-right websites have attracted criticism from anti-racism campaigners.
When the civic association Eurea asked the Public Officials' Protection Office, part of the Interior Ministry, to provide specific information about a recent incident that occurred between Ján Slota, the leader of the Slovak National Party, and police officer Ľudmila Nováková in the garage of the parliament building in May 2009, the association was quite surprised by the official answer they received.
Alexander Bachratý, an officer from the office, wrote in his reply to Eurea that the information the organisation was seeking had already been published and he provided a link to the website of Slovenská Pospolitosť, an ultra-rightwing extremist movement which was previously banned by the Interior Ministry.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Erik Tomáš told the Sme daily that disciplinary proceedings have already been launched.
“It was a mistake in the process of providing information and not within the competencies with which the office established,” Tomáš told Sme. “A new, professional, and lawful reply was sent immediately.”
According to Tomáš, employees of the Public Officials' Protection Office will now be required to go through training in the competencies of providing information.
Slovenská Pospolitosť was banned as a political party in 2006 and the Interior Ministry had also once disbanded it as a civic association. However, Slovakia’s Supreme Court cancelled the Interior Ministry’s decision, made in November 2008, for what the court called procedural failures. The ministry is now attempting to again disband Pospolitosť as a civic association.
According to the People against Racism NGO, the incident shows “which internet pages the employees of the ministry browse in their working time” and what their attitudes and willingness to deal with these issues in Slovakia are, Sme wrote.
A reporter from the Týždeň weekly, Eva Čobejová, started an ongoing dispute with the director of public broadcaster Slovak Television (STV), Štefan Nižňanský, when she criticised some statements he made in an interview for the Literárny Týždenník weekly earlier this year. In response to her critique, Nižňanský wrote and published an article in his own defence on the STV website.
“Based on my experience so-far with some media, I too ask myself the question how objective and true the information about some journalists which is published on the internet, for instance under the heading ‘Who Kicks for Whom’ is and why...” Nižňanský wrote on the STV website.
According to the Sme daily, the ‘Who Kicks for Whom’ reference is to a section of the ‘prop’ internet portal where information is published about journalists, sociologists, political scientists or other publicly-known persons and organisations which the website’s contributors “believe to be traitors influencing society in Slovakia” wrote Sme, adding that the homepage of the portal is “openly anti-Semitic and encourages racial hatred”.
The website has also been monitored by the police based on suspicions of violation of law, Sme wrote.
“An ordinary reader is easily influenced by the hidden background propaganda of the articles [on the website], without being aware of the ultra-rightwing background of the website,” Matej Pavlík from People against Racism told Sme.
According to Pavlík, the fact that Nižňanský referred to this website shows that these kinds of websites are reaching more and more often people “who evidently cannot evaluate the real relevance of the information and consider them to be objective”.
The director of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, Grigorij Mesežnikov, agrees that the incident within the Public Officials' Protection Office shows what kind of web pages state bureaucrats might visit, but he would classify it as unprofessional behaviour rather than radical tendencies within the state administration.
He said it was probably an easier way for the bureaucrats to provide information when they knew that the information requested had already been published.
“What happened is scandalous, but I don’t think it means that they are trying to push forward some extremist opinions,” Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. “Unfortunately, it contributed to increasing the status of these websites. This is completely unacceptable.”
But he said the case of the STV director is different.
“In the case of Nižňanský this can be something that helps to form his opinions about the media environment in Slovakia,” he said.
“The website he referred to should definitely not belong among the sources of information used by people with mainstream opinions.”