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EDITORIAL

The day after

MARIAN Kotleba is like an unwanted guest who entered the house through the window that someone left open. Even if he has been around for a while with his racist and nationalist baggage, the residents have failed to show him the door even as his presence was incompatible with the house rules. Now as 71,000 people have asked him to stay and govern Banská Bystrica Region, no one can ignore him anymore.

MARIAN Kotleba is like an unwanted guest who entered the house through the window that someone left open. Even if he has been around for a while with his racist and nationalist baggage, the residents have failed to show him the door even as his presence was incompatible with the house rules. Now as 71,000 people have asked him to stay and govern Banská Bystrica Region, no one can ignore him anymore.

Kotleba, with his history of racist statements and acts and his belief that Slovakia is for Slovaks only, is the worst thing that could have happened to Slovakia in a time when extremist views are making it into mainstream politics in several parts of Europe. But it did happen that someone with a history of leading an openly neo-Nazi group made it into a high public office and now the country has to deal with it.

Prime Minister Robert Fico, the leader of the Smer party, which has almost unchecked political power in the country, started dealing with Kotleba in his own ‘special’ way. He blamed his rivals in the right-wing parties, first for failing to send a strong enough candidate to the first round to defeat Kotleba then and there, and later for not endorsing the Smer candidate and incumbent Vladimír Maňka, who lost to Kotleba in the second round.

At the same time, Fico himself was busy after the first round campaigning against an ethnic Hungarian candidate in Trnava Region, as though the prospect of József Berényi, supported by the Party of Hungarian Community, climbing into the governor’s seat was the most important thing the leader of the country needed to address.

“If Most-Híd and SMK tell us that they are participating in this election to elect in Trnava, a Slovak town, a Hungarian governor, I answer: Let us join Slovaks in Slovak political parties and let us elect Tibor Mikuš,” Fico said, as quoted by the SITA newswire, hinting at some of the old nationalist mantras.

Those Slovak politicians who over the past two decades abused the public forum to unite ethnic Slovaks against their fellow citizens who happen to be of a different ethnicity, have laid the ground for Kotleba’s success. It was the nationalist discourse which hinted that it is okay to create first-category and second-category citizens, while the softer nationalists ‘tolerated’ those pushed to the ‘lower category’. Kotleba does not even pretend to tolerate. He calls some of them parasites and gathers with his followers at the grave of the president of the wartime Slovak state, guilty of unjustifiable crimes against humanity.

By now, there are probably very few Slovaks who do not know the name of Kotleba; not all of them may understand what he stands for, and that it would mean the end of democracy in Slovakia if he even partially achieves what he has preached during his infamous rallies.

Mainstream politicians should clearly hear the frustration with the way they have been running the country, leaving existential issues for large groups of their electorate unanswered. They now hear the populist totalitarian talk that promises instant solutions, which are also entirely incompatible with the principles that lured people in 1989 to the town squares as they brought down the communist regime.

Irena Bihariová, the head of the NGO People Against Racism, has rightly pointed out that expressions of extremism have evolved from the 1990s, with the extremists “cultivating their image” so that it appeals to the broader public. Yet, soft racism is not less dangerous than its most primitive forms. In fact, it is frequently the opposite.

Slovakia will now have to learn to live with Kotleba. The media will have to figure out how to cover a governor with all the extremist baggage. Politicians will have to figure out how to respond to the challenge he posed and how to boost the immunity of those who might be vulnerable to the contagious Kotleba talk. Perhaps this is the point where they will finally start to tend to what needs doing in their own garden.

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