LET truth and love win over lies and hate. People in Slovakia will once again hear this slogan during events marking the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17. It is as relevant today as it was 24 years ago and has been placed in stark contrast after an extremist leader who referred to one of Slovakia’s largest minorities as parasites qualified for the second-round run-off in the regional governor’s race in Banská Bystrica.
The election success of Marian Kotleba, who founded and led a far-right political party which was later banned by the Interior Ministry before continuing as a civic organisation, is worrying even if eventually the Smer incumbent, Vladimír Maňka, will defeat him in the second round.
Ethnic Hungarians living in southern-western Štúrovo or the nearly entirely Slovak residents of northern Trstená should be equally concerned about the political career of Kotleba. He has been detained and charged repeatedly for crimes including racial defamation, as people from Košice or those in his home region Banská Bystrica well know.
What should worry the country even more is the fact that Kotleba, full of sentiments for the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state and its president Jozef Tiso, succeeded in the region that was home to the Slovak National Uprising, the greatest citizen driven anti-Nazi insurrection.
Those who run the country with little opposition and members of that opposition hide behind a mountain of alibis for why they had little to do with Kotleba’s success at the ballot-box. If they fail to take seriously the extremist boots now standing on the region’s second-place podium, they may soon see those boots marching straight into the national parliament, legitimising the very worst of what Slovak politics have to offer.
The sad reality is that politicians who call themselves democrats have been helping to legitimise the sort of discourse which, though in a softer form, hints at ideas similar to Kotleba’s – including the idea that certain groups of citizens in this country are parasites. Their line of rhetoric goes something like this: these people must first learn discipline and give something to this country before they can exercise their rights. Kotleba, just as those people who have been fed this processed soft-racism over the past year, would just as easily call himself a “decent citizen” who is only demanding “order” and a clean-up. Such talk recalls the darkest periods of Slovakia’s history.
And so comes the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, a time to recall when people had hope for the light that was coming through the cracks. The light in those cracks eventually sent the old regime and most of its ghosts to their graves. But now there are some who seek to resurrect old ghosts.
There are those who might argue, “Hey, it’s only some 26,000 people who voted for Kotleba.” The obvious response is “Hey, the fact that this is good enough for second place means that hundreds of thousands of others stayed at home, choosing not to exercise their right to vote in real elections, not some communist charade.” To act in such a way is to be ungrateful for perhaps the greatest gift delivered by November 17, 1989.
One can always come up with a reason for not casting a ballot. The most understandable of these is a genuine fatigue with politics after seeing the ready-made power-hungry wannabes showing up in the days before each vote – talking the talk and then declining to walk the walk. But silence from the majority risks having a dangerous few turn society back to a time when people who complained about the regime in dark corners of pubs or the privacy of their living rooms had to worry that some neighbour had his ears pressed to the wall, ready to report them to the authorities.
Looking past the politicians who seek to capitalise on anniversaries for their own agenda, such days serve an important purpose. They offer an occasion to remind people about the precious things that came with the changes of 24 years ago. They offer a chance to reflect on the opportunities that our children now have, and serve as a clear reference point for how fragile these things we now take for granted really are.
They also should serve as a reminder of how easily these delicate things in life can be damaged when boots march right through them.
18. Nov 2013 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová