WHEN in 2009 Radovan Karadzić, nicknamed the Butcher of Bosnia, was awaiting trial at the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague on charges of crimes against humanity and genocide, Slovenské Pohľady, a magazine published by Matica Slovenská, a cultural organisation which is partly funded by the state, published his poems.
Foreign Affairs Minister Miroslav Lajčák, who also back then served on the same post in the first government of Robert Fico, condemned the publication of Karadzić’s poetry by Slovak periodicals as the poems appeared in two more publications.
Under Slovakia’s controversial Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar, Matica Slovenská obtained the printing house Neografia for a symbolic 1 Slovak crown, the then currency, and according to reports of the Sme daily from 2010, used the “gift” for printing hard-core porn as well as the memoires of controversial Slovak politicians linked to the wartime Nazi regime in Slovakia.
These are only titbits from the stormy past of Matica Slovenská, which critics say should have been dissolved long ago, since it no longer fulfils its original role: protecting and spreading Slovak culture in a country which at the time of the organisation’s founding in 1863 was ruled from Budapest.
It’s true that some Matica Slovenská figures still use rhetoric dating from those olden days and might still warn about ‘those Hungarians’ when trying to get attention with nationalist sentiments, but few Slovaks would actually be able to describe how Matica enriches their lives.
It is much easier to note the opposite: how much the organisation has taken from the public. In the past 15 years Matica collected Sk23 million (€770,000) from the public as part of the so-called ‘National Treasure’, but representatives of this ‘heritage protector’ now openly suggest that the money might be gone for good.
Over the years, Slovaks have been contributing money, gold and jewellery, to the purse of Matica only to see the organisation deposit the money with a questionable mutual fund in a time when the organisation was run by a questionable leader, Jozef Markuš. That fund eventually went bankrupt and cost the group some €1 million.
Now, the re-elected chairman of Matica, Marián Tkáč, has filed a criminal complaint against ‘a criminal group’ in association with the disappearance of the ‘National Treasure’, the SITA newswire reported.
Tkáč likewise brings interesting baggage, as his name appeared in the documents of the communist-era secret police (ŠtB), and while his opponents tried to change Matica’s election rules to prevent ŠtB collaborators from running, the general assembly failed to pass the new rule in a public vote.
Tkáč was re-elected just recently on October 18, giving the public yet another reason to question whether Slovakia actually needs this organisation, which has already abused the public’s trust.
One would think that especially in times of economic constraints, when Slovakia’s debt in the second quarter climbed to 58 percent of the GDP, or almost €42 billion, the state would try to shake off such organisations, which basically live on the ashes of former glory and which now have a reputation for attracting far-right extremists.
Much like in 2012, the state gave Matica €1,494,000 from the state budget in 2013. While this money seems trivial when compared to sums lost through botched public procurements and corruption, those funds could have been put to much better use, for example, in the education of Roma children.
But obviously, Prime Minister Robert Fico trusts the organisation, since he delivered a speech to mark the 150th anniversary of its establishment and, perhaps being enchanted by its spirit, made a few controversial statements of his own, which apparently resonated well with his audience but not with other communities who would also like to feel at home in Slovakia: “We did not establish our independent state in the first place for minorities, although we do respect them, but mainly for the Slovak state-forming nation”, adding that he has detected what he called a “strange tendency to put forward the problems of minorities” to the disadvantage of the Slovak nation “as though Slovak men and women do not live in Slovakia at all”.
“Who except for Matica is giving this nation such traditional values,” asked Tkáč in an interview with the Pravda daily on October 21, adding that patriotism is something so precious and valuable that if not nurtured “we will go wild, and Matica is here to nurture that”.
If the ‘traditional values’ are the ones which resonated during Fico’s anniversary speech, then perhaps it is better that these are returned to the wild.