EXPOSURE to diversity still makes many Slovaks uncomfortable. The concept of otherness remains a challenge for those who differ from the majority but also for those in the majority who refuse to accept that sameness and uniformity are an illusion fed to them by people who want to exercise exclusive control over others’ lives.
It is still not always easy and natural in Slovakia to speak a language different from what the majority understands and expects to hear, to nourish cultural traditions dissimilar from those valued by the majority, to have a skin colour darker than what is predominantly seen, or to accept something other than the male-female partnerships traditionally recognised by the country’s laws.
This is why people of a different nationality, culture, skin colour or sexual orientation always carefully watch the responses of the majority to festivals that celebrate diversity. For example, the way a society responds to a gay pride parade can transmit clear signals to many others about how mature and ready a society is to accept and interact with this idea of otherness.
Last year Slovakia made its first attempt to ‘host’ a Rainbow Pride event designed to celebrate people’s authentic identities, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The event’s parade had to be called off not because of a lack of participants, but because of the aggressive behaviour of hundreds of skinheads assembled in side streets along the planned route. The organisers clearly stated that the participants in last year’s parade were not given adequate police protection.
Perhaps if there had been more top Slovak politicians showing their support for Rainbow Pride and for the ideals of diversity, then the police would have had more incentive to carefully watch for those shaven-headed provocateurs seeking a chance to disseminate hate against anyone displaying a sign of having a more open mind.
Those who expect that this year’s Rainbow Pride event will find much more fiery support among Slovak politicians might find they are wrong. Among those who will certainly be there, however, are many diplomats from countries that walk miles ahead of Slovakia in recognising and nourishing diversity.
“We, as members of the international community, stand both literally and figuratively with parade participants as they peacefully assemble to stand up for their human rights, and raise awareness of the LGBT community in Slovakia,” states an open letter prepared by ambassadors and diplomats, urging that everyone, including LGBT people, should enjoy the rights and freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The diplomats state that they celebrate the contributions made by LGBT communities in their home societies and “salute the efforts of the Slovak authorities in ensuring LGBT rights are protected here”.
Some Slovaks still fail to understand that LGBT persons and those who support their rights are not coming together to have a joyous, early-summer party but are marching to draw attention to the fact that they are here and expect that Slovak society will progress as well in its ability to see and hear them. Seeing and hearing those at Rainbow Pride would be a good start towards finding acceptable legislative measures to protect their rights and sanction their partnerships.
And these citizens do deserve dignified attention instead of narrow-minded responses from politicians who live in dark, imaginary caves where in the gloom even the shadows of people have the same shapes and colours.
Many in the majority say they do not mind “them” – as long as they do not ask for more than just tolerance. As well, the discourse is often punctuated by talking about “their” issues which might marginally concern “us” because we are declaring “our” openness to universal human rights and thus cannot ignore “them”. But then too many politicians find that there are more urgent social issues to address at this moment – and it seems this will be their mantra for some time to come.
Some say Slovakia is not yet ready to accept the idea of otherness, but might be ready in a decade or two, pointing to other countries which indeed did need to walk a long way to eventually reach more open societies. But others rightly say politicians in Slovakia could provide some encouragement that can help society make that walk a bit faster and with more confidence – so that another generation does not grow up only living in the shadows, not even thinking about adding their own colours to the rainbow.
6. Jun 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová