Surrealism or budding horror?

“THE OLD saying ‘reality is stranger than fiction’, which belonged to the surrealist phase of the aesthetization of life, has been surpassed,” heralded Jean Baudrillard, the French post-modernist thinker in the late 1980s.

“THE OLD saying ‘reality is stranger than fiction’, which belonged to the surrealist phase of the aesthetization of life, has been surpassed,” heralded Jean Baudrillard, the French post-modernist thinker in the late 1980s.

Slovak politics and some figures from public life have now entered the domain of the surreal and even moved beyond it. The country’s agriculture minister, in a time of economic crisis, being horse drawn around the country while throwing pearls of intellect to Slovak farmers in the form of a neo-Dadaist poem about the joys and pains of farming comes near to the surreal.

An Interior Ministry official, in response to a civic association’s query for information, recommending that the information can be retrieved from the website of an ultra-rightwing extremist movement that had once been banned by the ministry? Then, the director of public broadcaster Slovak Television – in a dispute over a magazine story – referencing another far-right website, which even with the best intentions could not be called anything other than racist, asking whether there isn’t some kernel of truth about some Slovak journalists who were ‘written up’ on the site?

The surreal hypo-tourism of Slovak Agriculture Minister Stanislav Becík, spiced up with his poetry, makes the observer wonder what will come next. The labour minister composing a hymn to sooth the existential worries of the unemployed or the education minister auditioning for a supporting role in a high school musical?

While Becík’s intermezzo has the potential to make people smile, public officials providing links to far-right websites is not only weird and unacceptable, it is also dangerous. It must be met with prompt and decisive condemnation, especially when we live in times when far-right movements are finding every crack to crawl out from - and public officials should be the last to throw them crumbs of legitimacy.

What happened at the Interior Ministry? The Eurea civic association requested the ministry’s Public Officials’ Protection Office to provide information about an incident between Ján Slota, the leader of the Slovak National Party, and a police officer in the garage of the parliament building in May 2009. In his official response, Alexander Bachratý referred the association to the website of Slovenská Pospolitosť – even providing the link and suggesting that the information was already published there.

It would be difficult and even unwise to search for Bachratý’s motives in adding the link to his response. Equally challenging is to fathom what judgement guided the director of the office to counter-sign this weird correspondence. Though the ministry quickly admitted it was a mistake and that its employees will now be trained in how to provide information, it remains quite worrying that the ministry is employing people who cannot see the slightest problem with offering such a reference.

As for Štefan Nižňanský, the director of STV, his ‘slip of the tongue’ brings some more challenging questions. In a dispute with a Týždeň weekly reporter, Nižňanský wrote a piece in his defence and posted it 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 published on the internet, for instance under the heading ‘Who Kicks for Whom’, is and why…,” Nižňanský wrote on the official STV website.

The Sme daily was quick to point out that the ‘Who Kicks for Whom’ reference is to a section of the ‘prop’ internet portal, one with a clearly anti-Semitic undertone where information is gathered in a rather questionable manner about journalists, sociologists, political scientists and other public figures and organisations which the website’s contributors “believe to be traitors influencing the society in Slovakia”.

Yet Nižňanský is not just a bewildered public official. He heads a media institution that should provide a public service, and is financed from the pockets of taxpayers. And if nothing else, why does the man who has the power, for example, to influence prime-time television news programmes, use such a website as a source for forming his opinions about journalists? It is needless to say that he should resign, but even more needless to add that in the current surreal atmosphere of Slovak politics, he will not.

Pointing out these excesses is not meant only to entertain the reader with the weirdness of this Slovak summer, but rather to suggest that each of these incidents tests the limit that separates the unacceptable from the acceptable. These are ‘slips of the tongue’ that surely some obscure ultra-right sect will interpret as a green light and ‘public appreciation’ of their efforts. Unless there is a decisive red stop sign we might just wake up one day and realize that the surrealism of the summer of ‘09 has been replaced with the horrors of a real nightmare.

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