THE REFUSAL to co-finance EU-funded projects to modernise schools, a supportive letter to Ukraine’s president along with a call on Ukraine not to join the EU, and regional government jobs for buddies. These are snapshots of life with right-wing extremist Marian Kotleba as governor of Banská Bystrica Region.
Though only three months have passed since Kotleba defeated the ruling Smer party candidate Vladimír Maňka in the second-round run-off of the regional elections, it is already clear that the bill of the extremist’s rule will be much higher than just a bunch of disillusioned voters and frustrated human-right activists. It appears to be a bill the whole nation will have to cover.
Kotleba’s twisted world view have infiltrated the bloodstream of Banská Bystrica Region, which is unavoidably causing damage.
Before Kotleba was elected, people with disdain for everything the leader of People’s Party-Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) stands for could have ignored him. Perhaps this indifference partly led to the situation where more than 71,000 people in Banská Bystrica Region saw him as an acceptable political alternative. Now, his decisions are affecting even those who would have never voted for the man who routinely calls one of the country’s largest minority groups “parasites”, and regularly celebrates the anniversary of the establishment of the wartime Nazi-allied Slovak state.
To the great surprise of the needy schools, Kotleba has waged a war against EU funding through classrooms. Among the victims are children at schools that submitted projects for modernisation of education but received a response that their regional government would not contribute the small percentage of co-financing to collect major money from the EU to pay for upgrades. These projects are mainly covered from EU structural funds within the operational programme Education - Modern School. The Education Ministry estimated the overall costs of the projects in Banská Bystrica Region at €5.5 million, and the regional government’s share was to be a paltry €273,000.
The director of one of the affected schools told the SITA newswire under the condition of anonymity that the school intended to purchase teaching aids, work tables, data-projectors, notebooks and interactive boards. Schools in Slovakia are certainly not awash in money, and schools in Banská Bystrica Region are doubtlessly no better off in terms of technical equipment than schools in the rest of the country.
Furthermore, education is one of those crucial areas that require instant attention if the country does not want to continue harming its future generations by failing to tune the system in a way that nurtures talent and appreciates teachers. It is unsettling enough that the ĽSNS leader can actually impact any school in any way. According to the Education Ministry, this decision affects as many as 22 schools.
A spokesman for the regional government denied any damage, explaining that only three of the 22 schools that live on the region’s budget do not have their co-financing secured, while also insisting if the regional government co-financed their projects it would violate budgetary laws.
In light of Kotleba’s bold statements targeting the EU, most recently made in his letter of support to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, suggesting that opening up to the EU will not bring anything good to the Ukrainians, one is doubtful of this explanation.
“The Union has with its limitations a big share in liquidating everything good that has been in the region,” said Kotleba, according to the Pravda daily, at a regional council session, hinting that the goal is to lower dependence on the EU.
The party publication of ĽSNS ‘Our Slovakia’ in January 2013, for example, reads: “Our independence and the Slovak crown are gone. The blue-yellow occupational rags are blowing on our institutions”.
EU-scepticism, to call Kotleba’s sentiments by a euphemism, is but one way in which the country will continue struggling as long as he is leading a regional government. He has already given jobs to some of his buddies and his political ambitions far exceed the boundaries of Banská Bystrica. The fact that currently Kotleba is not marching through the street celebrating opressive regimes while wearing uniforms adapted from 1940s fascists does not mean that he has changed or modified any of his radical views. It only means that he has understood that on his way to the national parliament he has to wrap his hateful rhetoric in new clothes, just like many who are there now have already been doing.
17. Feb 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová