ONE OF the deepest-rooted beliefs Slovaks hold about themselves is that they are a nation of doves (holubičí národ). Never mind that Slovakia’s participation in the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II proved that the country is capable of aggression towards its neighbours, that it sent tens of thousands of its own citizens to Nazi death camps, or that the 1944 uprising against the fascist state, the anniversary of which we celebrated just days ago, showed that Slovaks can put up violent resistance against oppressive regimes. The myth survived. But it certainly suffered another blow this week, when Ľubomír Harman took his arsenal of weapons and went on a shooting spree in the Bratislava suburb of Devínska Nová Ves, killing seven people and wounding many others.
Foreigners, on the other hand, often believe Slovaks to be a nation of extreme racists. Whenever the country makes world headlines, the reason seems to be a conflict with Roma – there were the policemen who tormented young Roma at a Košice police station, the walls built to separate white Slovaks from Roma settlements, and now the shooting, in which ethnicity could potentially have played a part.
Never mind that not all members of the dead family were Roma, that this incident did not take part in a Roma-dominated neighbourhood, or that after killing his neighbours Harman began firing randomly at other people. With many foreigners, the impression that this was a racially motivated act will stick.
So what is the true character of Slovaks? There is no answer. Just as there are no universal truths about Roma, there are no universal truths about Slovaks. The one thing that should be universal is the hope that there are enough doves, and no more Ľubomír Harmans living among us.
6. Sep 2010 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila