MEDIA COVERAGE about the problems of minorities living in Slovakia usually centres on issues concerning Hungarians and Roma, traditional minorities who have lived side by side with Slovaks for many years. More recently arrived minorities are often overlooked.
The Week of New Minorities, which took place between May 17 and May 23 in Bratislava, was aimed at giving some visibility to these new minorities and to show the positive impact they have on Slovak society. The multi-genre festival was organised by the Milan Šimečka Foundation (NMŠ) in cooperation with the British Council in Bratislava. NMŠ has been organising this festival since 2006 to extend an opportunity for the majority population and the newer minorities to interact and to provide a forum for the recent immigrants to tell their stories about why they decided to come to live in Slovakia.
“We believe that thanks to the festival the public’s interest in the lives of minority residents will be higher and negative feelings towards foreigners – connected with prejudices and stereotypes that immigrants still must face in our society – will be overcome,” the organisers wrote on their website.
Michael Roberts, the British Ambassador to Slovakia, said in his speech opening the festival that newer minorities in Slovakia are old minorities in the UK. And despite the long tradition of many immigrants residing in the territory of his country, he said both newer and older groups of minorities still arouse political controversy in the UK.
“When a minority ceases to become a challenge, it becomes an opportunity,” said Roberts, adding that celebrating the Week of New Minorities in Slovakia could contribute to reaching the point where minorities will be looked upon as bringing opportunity and enrichment to society.
The week was kicked off in Bratislava’s Meteorit Theatre on May 17 with one of the week’s many highlights. Under the title ‘Poems from Another World’ the organisers presented an evening featuring the poetry of British author Daljit Nagra, of Punjabi origin, and Paolo Zhang, a Chinese author living in Slovakia who both read their works at the event. The poetry readings were in their original language, followed by translations into Slovak read by well-known Slovak actor Robert Roth. A discussion about feelings among minority residents and reflection about what it really means to belong to a minority followed the poetry reading.
Daljit Nagra was born in London to Punjabi parents who were among the wave of Indian immigrants to England in the 1950s and 1960s. His poetry, written in English, has earned much recognition on the British literary scene, having won several prestigious literature prizes including the Forward Poetry Prize in 2004. Nagra is still regarded as a shooting star in the English literary skies. In Bratislava, he – and his poetry – spoke about the tensions that occur in the life of a man born into an immigrant family while being assimilated into the British environment.
“The second and third generations are sufficiently integrated,” he said about the position of minorities in Britain. “It’s also proved by the fact that as artists we can freely write about the good and the bad of our communities. We feel we have already achieved the state when we’re also ready to show our bad qualities and make fun of them.”
The poetry readings were followed by a concert of Persian music named World Music Mosaics – Persian Inspirations. Other parts of the festival programme throughout the week included concerts, film screenings, literary evenings, discussion groups, workshops and informal gatherings.
24. May 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani