Closing the door to extremism

SOME right-wing extremists, once making it into office on the wave of people’s frustration, at least pretend to be working towards more than their petty agenda. Marian Kotleba does not even bother.

SOME right-wing extremists, once making it into office on the wave of people’s frustration, at least pretend to be working towards more than their petty agenda. Marian Kotleba does not even bother.

The recent issue of ‘Our Region’, the self-proclaimed official newspaper of Banská Bystrica Region, offers a snapshot of the vision Kotleba has for Slovakia. All who have not yet taken Kotleba (who defeated the ruling Smer party candidate Vladimír Maňka in the second-round run-off of the regional elections) seriously should take a closer look at this local rag, which has been transformed into a pamphlet for Kotleba’s People’s Party-Our Slovakia (ĽSNS). The paper, all paid for from the regional coffers, has taken to praising the wartime Nazi-allied Slovak state, not to mention trampling on decency and democratic values.

For example, the issue published on April 7 features a piece on Kotleba and the head of his ĽSNS, Martin Beluský, donating a washing machine and a dryer to a family who gave birth to triplets on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the wartime Slovak state – an entity which in fact paid Nazi Germany to deport its own Jews to concentration camps.

The unsettling story did take a slightly positive turn thanks to deputies of the regional council who had the courage to say ‘no’ to Kotleba and overrode his earlier veto of the budget and cut him off from funding to finance the controversial paper. One of the councillors, Jaroslav Demian, had a clear message for Kotleba: “Promoting perverse opinions about the wartime Slovak state is unacceptable”.

Several councillors demonstratively left the special regional session in protest to Kotleba’s defence of the wartime state, which obviously did little to influence the extremist-turned-governor as he commented that the air in the room had improved. Kotleba identifies himself with the paper and the claims it made about the Nazi-allied state, which his buddies see as the cradle of Slovak independence even as that cradle is now giving birth to a political nightmare.

Slovakia’s ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová suggested that “if the monthly approves of or apologises for the regime based on fascist ideology, such as the Slovak state of 1939-1945, there might be the suspicion of a crime” according to the SITA newswire.

It is unlikely that anyone will face any penal consequences for the content of the monthly, and the only way to stop Kotleba (beyond a ‘no’ from the councillors) is a future ‘no’ from the voters, who are the only ones who can send him back to where he came from – organising meetings and marches with a bunch of uninformed and frustrated individuals.

Being a regional councillor in Banská Bystrica Region, assuming one opposes Kotleba’s views, is not an enviable job at the moment. But recent developments show that this job is quite important. For now it is the councillors who can keep Kotleba from simply turning the regional government into his personal kingdom of jackboots, shaved heads and racist rhetoric.

Of course, Kotleba should not have been elected and things should never have gotten to this point in the first place. As governor he has choked off co-financing for EU-funded projects to modernise schools, sent a letter of support to Ukraine’s former president Viktor Yanukovych during the Euro-Maidan protests in Kiev in January and passed out regional government jobs to his buddies.

His ambitions obviously do not end there and he is, after all, just a few months into his term. Undoubtedly, he will try to increasingly integrate his extremist party into mainstream politics and will not be particularly picky about the tools he uses to do so.

Kotleba poses a challenge to councillors who have to deal with him on a regular basis, journalists who have to cover him while balancing the desire to make sure they don’t help him disseminate his twisted worldview, and potential voters who might be wary of all the empty promises given by those more politically correct than extremists like Kotleba, but who do equally little to address the real roots of voter frustration. Slovakia as a whole would do well to learn all the lessons it can from its time with Kotleba as a governor. Otherwise, we may be dealing with somebody like him on an everyday basis, and not only at the regional level.

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