Schools will be checked for symbols

THE SLOVAK National Party (SNS) has again managed to draw attention to one of its evergreen topics, by passing the Patriotism Act. It did so with the help of its ruling coalition partners, who supported the new legislation in parliament, and with silent consent of opposition MPs, most of whom despite their pronounced disagreement with the law did not raise their hands against it.

THE SLOVAK National Party (SNS) has again managed to draw attention to one of its evergreen topics, by passing the Patriotism Act. It did so with the help of its ruling coalition partners, who supported the new legislation in parliament, and with silent consent of opposition MPs, most of whom despite their pronounced disagreement with the law did not raise their hands against it.

Since then, patriotism has become one of the most frequently used words among Slovaks, as waves of protests against the law, and politicians’ squabbling about who’s a better patriot continue to roll across the country.

According to the law, drafted by SNS chairman Ján Slota and his right-hand man Rafael Rafaj, the beginning of each week at all Slovak schools and state offices, as well as sporting events organised by national sports associations and all sessions of local, regional and national parliaments, will start with the playing of the Slovak national anthem.

Other Slovak national symbols – the coat of arms, the national flag, the words of the national anthem and the preamble to the constitution – must be displayed in all classrooms at public schools. All state officials will also be obliged to swear an oath of fidelity to their homeland.

Although the act does not establish any sanctions for offenders, SNS-nominated Education Minister Ján Mikolaj was quick to announce that the State Inspectorate of Schools will check whether the required symbols are placed in classrooms and will be authorised to propose the dismissal of headmasters who disobey the law, the TASR newswire reported.

Protests



The final decision about whether the approved legislation will become reality is now in the hands of President Ivan Gašparovič, who can either sign it into law or return it to parliament. Therefore, protesters’ attention has turned to the presidential palace in Bratislava. The Initiative for Transparent Democracy held a protest gathering there on March 10, and is planning another big student protest for April 1, the day when the law will become effective if it receives the president’s signature. The initiative has also written an open letter to the president, which had been signed online by over 7,000 people by March 9, asking the president not to sign the law.

“The Patriotism Act clearly violates the right to freedom of opinion of the citizens of the Slovak Republic, since it directly dictates it in its forceful form,” the letter reads, going on to state that forced patriotism can only have a negative effect and makes no sense. The Roundtable of Hungarians in Slovakia and some opposition parties presented similar requests to the president.

Concerns about the possible effects of the law have also been voiced by school headmasters, who will be responsible for placing the national symbols in all classrooms. Many of them have claimed that they might not be able to do so without financial assistance from the state.


Making fun of the flag?



Criticism of the act also resonated in the media, including the internet television station tv.sme.sk, part of the website of the Sme daily. There, the daily’s foreign news reporter Tomáš Hudák made fun of the new law in his satirical programme, calling the Slovak flag a “weird three-coloured blanket”, the coat-of-arms a “portrait of a white antenna planted in three scoops of Smurf ice-cream” and the national anthem “a not very well-done poem about bad weather over the Tatras”.

SNS vice-chairperson Anna Belousovová said on March 5 in a debate on the private TV channel JOJ that she was very offended by this humour, calling Hudák “abnormal and perverted” and said she would file a criminal complaint against him.

“Who are these people who can dishonour the flag that people of this nation were dying for?” Belousovová said.

Hudák, who said that his viewer numbers had doubled thanks to Belousovová’s accusations, maintains that his jokes were harmless and that this is how the symbols look in the eyes of children. He stressed again that he disagrees with the law completely.

“The SNS is turning children into lab mice, following the idea that if we force a mouse to watch antelopes and listen to the sounds of the jungle every day, it will become a lion,” Hudák told The Slovak Spectator.


Patriotism cannot be taught



Historians agree that the struggle for self-definition of the Slovak nation, which also lies behind the support for laws like the Patriotism Act, springs from the fact that Slovaks are a small and young nation in central Europe, in what has been but also remains a remarkably turbulent multi-ethnic region. Milan Zemko from the History Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences stressed that the time of real national emancipation for Slovaks came only after the break-up of the Hungarian Kingdom in 1918, in the first common state with the Czechs, because previously Slovaks had been living through a time of tough Magyarisation policies.

“Slovaks, with the help of Czechs, created their own Slovak schooling system from kindergartens to universities, various cultural institutions worked freely, and the first generations of people with secondary and university education grew up,” Zemko told The Slovak Spectator. “The formation of the Slovak nation as a modern European nation was definitively completed in the interwar period.”

Roman Holec from the Slovak History Department of Comenius University’s Philosophy Faculty also pointed to this period.

“Although their own state brought Slovaks the fulfilment of their national interests, the whole spectrum of geopolitical, historical and literally subjective aspects forces Slovaks to again and again compare and define themselves against their more powerful and more ‘historic’ neighbours – that is, in a positive manner to the Czechs and in a negative manner to the Hungarians,” Holec told The Slovak Spectator, adding that often these tendencies are not productive, but rather show an inferiority complex and awareness of one’s clumsiness, which urges the need to compensate for them with malevolence or power gestures.

But both historians agree that patriotism cannot be taught, as it is a natural feeling that should be encouraged by good deeds and creating a positive environment for life in the country – and not enforced on people by a law.

“The act is an incarnation of a naive belief that inner feelings and emotions can be ordered from outside, by using political power and legislative norms,” Holec said. “The law formalises something that should be cultivated and formed naturally and what should be the inner affair of every individual. It strongly evokes in me the methods the totalitarian regimes used for working with youth.”

Zemko also agrees that pride in one’s motherland cannot be conditioned by any law, and particularly not the Patriotism Act passed by parliament.

“Slovaks tend to be ‘serial complainers’ but that doesn’t mean they are not able to appreciate and value the things in their country that are worthy of positive feelings,” Zemko said. “They can be proud of successful people and of remarkable accomplishments, and thus also of their country.”

See full versions of interviews with historians Milan Zemko and Roman Holec.

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