THIS YEAR Slovakia marked the 75th anniversary of the darkest period in the country’s history – the founding of the wartime Slovak state, an entity which, among other crimes it committed on its own citizens, paid Nazi Germany to deport Slovak Jews to concentration camps. Much has been said and written about March 14, the day when the Nazi-puppet state emerged back in 1939, about learning the lessons of history so that they are not repeated and so forth – but apparently not enough.
The wartime Slovak state caused irreparable harm not only to its own citizens, with Jews and Roma among the most horribly affected, but also anybody the regime labelled as an enemy.
It inflicted deep-rooted trauma on the nation, which could not be cured even with the most intense psycho-therapy session.
Recovering from such trauma takes much more than a formal apology. It requires meaningful repetition of facts cleansed of any inkling of the myth that justified the existence of a regime which enacted a set of anti-Jewish laws on September 9, 1941. Some historians have concluded that those laws were stricter than the official anti-Semitic measures implemented in Nazi Germany itself at the time.
As the country was getting set to mark September 9, the Memorial Day for Victims of the Holocaust and Racial Violence, a high-ranking Catholic priest decided it was the perfect time to deliver a sermon with passages suggesting that Jews were deported to concentration camps from all over Europe because they were hated and they had caused that hatred themselves.
The priest paradoxically spoke to a crowd in Čadca, which gathered for the mass in the local square to mark the 70th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising (SNP), a key event in the country’s World War II history, when some brave Slovaks rebelled against the Nazi-allied state.
The priest also continued saying that “now there is a threat that the Roma will follow”, suggesting that it might happen because the Roma are abusing the system and good people.
In one form or another, these words reflect the way some Slovaks view their fellow citizens, the Roma. When a public figure makes such statements he or she deepens the latent conviction that victims actually deserve their fate or in some way contributed to their own misery. In most places this is called hate speech.
When it comes to reflections on the wartime Slovak state, this hate speech by the Čadca priest is not the sole example of such things coming from the Catholic Church in Slovakia (incidentally the wartime Slovak leader Jozef Tiso was himself a priest). Former Trnava Archbishop Ján Sokol infamously told the TA3 news channel in late 2006 that the wartime Slovak state had brought benefits.
“I respect President Tiso; I respect him very much, as I remember when I was a child we were very poor, but during his times we had a high standard of living,” Sokol said.
The time has long since passed for the Catholic Church in Slovakia to make particular efforts to strongly and unambiguously condemn any such anti-Semitic or racist expressions. Apparently hitherto reserved and general statements are not sending out strong enough signals to believers and clergy alike.
If the Church lived up to its own declared mission, it could do a miraculous job in aiding reconciliation, bringing the minorities and majority closer while inspiring love for one’s neighbour.
Much like politicians, some priests make for poor historians and whenever they toy with interpreting history they seem not only to damage the credibility of their institution, but also to deepen the prevailing feeling that it is an institution resistant to progress.
Limiting progress would be bad enough, but such talk goes much further in that it pushes things back the other way. It in fact deepens the conviction of their followers that they live in a hostile world where neighbours might be enemies who are posing a permanent threat to the values the church stands for.
In actuality, speeches like the one given in Čadca are the greatest threat to these values.
15. Sep 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová