Marching for tolerance

POLITICIANS were not the only ones campaigning hard as the general election approached. Civic organisations and activists also found the pre-election period to be an excellent opportunity to raise their voices and be heard. One example was cartoonist Martin “Shooty” Šútovec who raised enough money in a public appeal to put up billboards across Slovakia featuring his anti-government cartoons. The Tolerance March is another example.

POLITICIANS were not the only ones campaigning hard as the general election approached. Civic organisations and activists also found the pre-election period to be an excellent opportunity to raise their voices and be heard. One example was cartoonist Martin “Shooty” Šútovec who raised enough money in a public appeal to put up billboards across Slovakia featuring his anti-government cartoons. The Tolerance March is another example.

The march took place on June 8 in Bratislava, its stated purpose being “to promote a civilised and tolerant society governed by mutual understanding and respect for others”. Additionally, the organisers wanted to express solidarity with the victims of the devastating floods that have hit large parts of Slovakia. The march was organised jointly by the Forum Institute for Minority Research and its programme director Kálmán Petőcz, formerly an ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, the Diákhálózat Student Network, the UNESCO Chair for Human Rights, and the Human Movement.

“We have gathered here to express our common desire for a normal, decent and just society, because what we have does not seem sufficiently normal, decent and just, particularly now during the election campaign,” Petőcz said to the crowd gathered in Bratislava’s Medická záhrada (Medical Garden) before the march.

According to Petőcz, there are people in Slovakia, including some public officials, who either openly or covertly spread non-democratic doctrines of racial supremacy and national exclusiveness. Petőcz concluded, “March participants, including many civic leaders as well as representatives of a wide variety of Slovak organisations, are here to say to the contrary – that diversity should be respected and equality must be promoted. We have come here to say that we are all people, we are all citizens, we are all at home here, that we are all part of the basic fabric of the state in that we all contribute to the spiritual and material wealth of our common state.”

The march route was chosen with an eye toward symbolism. It began near the statue of Sándor Petőfi, a great Hungarian poet during the time of the 1848 revolution in Hungary then headed towards the newly-erected statue of Milan Rastislav Štefánik, one of the founders of the Czechoslovak Republic.

The route continued along Poľná, Karadžičova and Dostojevského streets, past the walls of an old cemetery adjacent to the garden, in which lie many graves from the turn of the 19th and 20th century where many citizens of the then-multilingual Bratislava are buried under tombstones with names in various languages, including Hungarian.

“From the 1848 Hungarian revolution to the foundation of the Czechoslovak Republic,” Petőcz said, referring to the symbolic nature of the march. “The time between the two events evokes so many emotions on both sides of the Danube. We want to get past this time and focus on the future but the past should not be forgotten either. We need to learn from the past, but we can do that only if we listen to each other.”

The marchers carried banners in Slovak, Hungarian, German and Polish, with slogans such as ‘Promote Slovak-Hungarian Understanding’, and ‘Respect Others’.

The organisers also promoted fundraising in cooperation with the NGO People in Peril to bring relief to areas in Slovakia and Hungary recently inundated by floods and suffering from landslides.

Though the organisers claimed the march backed no political party or movement some electoral rhetoric did creep into the speeches. But overall, the message of the march was one of tolerance, a message that the organisers hope will spread across the country after the election on June 12.


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