CELEBRATIONS of the 70th anniversary of the major anti-fascist resistance staged by Slovaks during the World War II are taking place amid a wave of nationalism and a resurgent far-right in Europe. Slovaks have not been exempt as the country’s answer to the likes of Farage, LePen or Jobbik - is Marian Kotleba, governor of Banská Bystrica Region since November 2013.
The Slovak National Uprising (SNP) was one of the key moments in Slovakia’s WWII history, when some in the Nazi-allied Slovak state stood up against the oppressing regime. Events similar to the SNP took place in a number of European countries (including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, France and others) between June and September 1944. By rising up against the occupiers, Slovaks tried to show the world that most of the nation supported the Allies, unlike the official government of the country back then, said Marek Syrný, a historian at the SNP Museum in Banská Bystrica.
“The importance of the uprising can be seen mainly in the fact that a significant part of the Slovak society stood up against the regime,” Martina Fiamová, a historian from the Institute of History of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, told The Slovak Spectator.
As such, the SNP remains an important symbol of resistance against fascism to this day.
It thus came as a sort of historical paradox when Slovakia’s best-known far-right extremist, Marian Kotleba, was elected the governor of Banská Bystrica Region, which was at the centre of the SNP.
Kotleba embodies a twisted interpretation of history that praises the wartime Slovak state and denies the importance of the SNP. He has repeatedly stated that the SNP brought an end to the independent Slovak state and therefore finds it a negative development in the country’s history.
Denying the importance of the SNP is often driven by the very same groups that have indulged in this kind of rhetoric towards the SNP since it took place in the autumn of 1944, Syrný told The Slovak Spectator.
“It was already then that the government propaganda led by its Nazi example, presented the SNP as a non-Slovak action, that is, an action of political groups who did not agree with the idea of an independent, strongly national, conservative and Germany-oriented Slovak state,” Syrný said, specifying that the propaganda targeted mainly Czechs, Jews, communists, protestants and so on.
After the war, this view of the SNP was elaborated on by some Slovak politicians and historians in exile, who were focusing mainly on what they called the Bolshevik character of the uprising. From their perspective, the SNP was organised and led by communists.
After the 1989 collapse of the communist regime, there was suddenly space for any interpretation of these not too distant historical events, Syrný noted. Many of the nationalist exiles, with a number of historians among them, returned to Slovakia and their opinions have resonated with part of the Slovak public who started to perceive the SNP as a Czechoslovakist or a Bolshevik event.
“The fact that part of the public is currently leaning on this populist interpretation of the uprising is connected with their previous negative experiences with the communist regime,” Syrný said, adding that this is even strengthened by the political radicalism which appears in times of economic crisis and political marasmus, and which criticises everything that is official - including the prevailing interpretation of the SNP.
Kotleba and his Ľudová Strana - Naše Slovensko (ĽSNS) represent that stream in Slovak politics. In November 2013, albeit with an extremely low voter turnout, this rhetoric resonated with voters in Banská Bystrica Region and Kotleba was elected into the post of the regional governor.
Kotleba and his ilk
Syrný agrees that it is paradoxical that a far-right representative has won the regional election in Banská Bystrica, the centre of the SNP, but he does not believe this has much to do with people’s opinions about the SNP. Rather, the election of Kotleba was an act of frustration and resistance, since the traditional political parties have been unable to solve many of the people’s problems.
“It is a rather natural phenomenon given the economic, political and moral problems of Slovak society,” Syrný said.
Fiamová spoke along the same lines, stressing that the fact that Kotleba is the governor in Banská Bystrica has nothing to do with the tradition of the SNP.
“I believe his success could become reality in other places in Slovakia too,” Fiamová told The Slovak Spectator.
The regional councillors have been trying hard to make it clear that their opinions have nothing to do with those of Marian Kotleba, who presides over the regional council. Most recently, to protest Kotleba’s view of the SNP, members of the Banská Bystrica regional council, which Kotleba presides over, signed a joint statement on August 8, to express their support for the legacy of the anti-fascist uprising.
“Just like [the fighters for freedom] we feel aversion towards fascism, towards totalitarianism as such, and to the servants of the regime that brought so much horror and evil to the world,” the statement, drafted by independent councillor Ľubomír Motyčka, reads.
Motyčka claims that Banská Bystrica and central Slovakia have understood the election of Kotleba as a mistake and “today the situation is different”, he told the Sme daily.
Learning about the SNP
Observers agree that it is also through education and the wide availability of information about history that people learn to avoid falling for politically twisted versions of historical events.
However, historians are not very positive about the knowledge Slovaks have about their history in general, and about the SNP in particular.
“The older generation has more information, but they are influenced (and spoiled) by the previous propaganda under the communist regime,” Syrný said. Meanwhile, the younger generation receives only minimal information about the SNP and about Slovakia’s history in general. Unless one is a history enthusiast, they have no chance to learn much about the SNP in school, according to Syrný. The media coverage of this topic might only act as a limited remedy.
“After 1989, unfortunately, no bigger film resonating with the audience has been made about the history of this time or about the SNP, which is a big handicap for Slovakia when compared with Poland or the Czech Republic,” Syrný said.
Even though the SNP as a research topic still offers much to be explored, there is enough and quite easily accessible information about the uprising, Fiamová said.
“I rather see the problem in the general attitude of the public towards history as such,” she said.
25. Aug 2014 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani