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THE OTHER SLOVAKIA

Blog: Slniečkars from all Slovakia, unite!

“How do you translate slniečkar in English?” I ask my Slovak colleague. “Ha! I don’t know what it exactly means in Slovak either.”

The glimpse into current life in Bratislava via the local cafe culture is a good example of how the city can present itself in an intelligent and self-confident way.(Source: Sme)

I come across slniečkar on Facebook posts or comments as a term used to describe a kind of naïve person who supports multiculturalism and wants a friendlier approach to immigrants,” he replies. “I think it has been adapted from the Czech sluníčkář,” he says adding that Czechs love inventing words.

The Czech version of Wikipedia dedicates a rather long article to the word sluníčkář. It apparently gained fame in 2013 when it was used by journalists in connection to the story of two young Czech women who were kidnapped in Pakistan while on holiday (they have since been released).  The term has been “analysed” by sociologists, political analysts and even the director of the Czech Language Institute of the Czech Academy of Science had a say on its definition. Sluníčkář is an “open, multicultural, enthusiastic, positive and a bit naïve person”. Used with a negative connotation it has quickly conquered online media be it social or the comments section of the mainstream ones. Sluníčkáři have thus joined the so-called “Pražská kaviareň (intellectuals and artists who meet and discuss current affairs in cafes) on the list of the “enemies“ of the Czech President Miloš Zeman and his supporters.

To the south of the Morava River, in Slovakia, one well known supporter of cultural and ethnic diversity (and organiser of events aimed at helping foreigners and Slovaks to better know each other), Laco Oravec recently posted on his Facebook profile that he is proud of his slniečkarstvo and liberal media have launched a kind of debate on whether Bratislavská kaviareň exists and what it exactly means. It followed a blog post from last year of then leader of the Siet‘ party Radoslav Procházka who criticized those who would welcome more refugees to Slovakia calling them Bratislavská kaviareň in a pejorative sense, although some of those sipping their cup of coffee in public might have cast their ballots in his favour in March’s general elections.

But last week when a once popular presidential candidate bade farewell to his political career hinting he would like to take up a job abroad, the New York Times published an article about how the cafe culture is flourishing in Bratislava again. Spending time in a cafe conversing with others had had a long tradition among Bratislava’s inhabitants before WWII at a time when everybody spoke two-three languages in a truly multicultural city which was not afraid of “the others”.

The New York Times quotes a local actor Ludwig Bagin who concludes that: “cafe culture strongly reflects the happiness of people, the quality of life and the mood of the society. It’s a part of a philosophy — people have started to enjoy life a little more.” That’s one of the reasons why communists (and their current supporters in disguise) have hated it so much. That’s why they are full of slniečkars. This glimpse into current life in Bratislava via the local cafe culture is a very good example of how the city can present itself in an intelligent and self-confident way without rožky, fujara and megalomaniac events to praise “historical“ figures or to inflate Slovakia’s importance in Europe.

I am writing this text a year after a BBC World Service journalist woke me up on a rainy August morning with a request for help covering Slovakia’s stance on the migration crisis after the Interior Minister’s spokesperson Ivan Netík stated that this country will accept only Christian refugees because Muslims will not integrate here. It was only a few days after the failed referendum in Gabčikovo – a village with a large ethnic Hungarian population – where locals expressed their opposition to temporarily accommodating there asylum-seekers who want to live in Austria and have to wait until Austrian authorities process their applications.

Read also: Read also:Gabčíkovo voters oppose migrant camp

On a hot August Sunday I sat under a tree in the yard of the school where locals cast their ballots wondering how on earth somebody speaking far from perfect Slovak can proudly declare to me in a vox pop that “immigrants should learn the official language of this country“, which is Slovak by the way. Foreign journalists flocked to Slovakia afterwards and it was challenging for me, a foreigner in this country, to work with them on covering the topic of Slovakia‘s stance on migration crisis day by day as 9 out of 10 statements whether from officials or ordinary people were full of xenophobic slogans and my fellow journalists usually turned to me shaking their heads or asking me for an explanation.

When thousands of Czech scientists, doctors, teachers, artists and ordinary people signed a nationwide appeal for tolerance and a rational approach to the migration crisis and Slovaks remained quiet with the exception of sociologist Fedor Gal and sinologist Martin Slobodník, my already-full glass, spilled. I wrote to all the Slovaks involved in human rights protection, civil society and academia whom I have interviewed over the years as a journalist or whom I have known from my private life asking where they are and why they are silent allowing the public space to be filled with so much negativity and hate speech. Nobody replied. At that moment I was very disappointed and felt extremely alone.

Months later some of the recipients told me that they also felt alone and did not reply because they did not know what to say. Fortunately in the past year more of them have found the courage to speak out when they do not like something and not to be afraid of being labelled slniečkar or join Bratislavská kaviareň. And I still haven’t found the English word for slniečkar…

Anca Dragu is a journalist with Radio Slovakia International, which is available in Bratislava in English on 98.9 FM at 6:30pm and 8:30pm and at www.rsi.sk. The opinions expressed in this blog are her own.

 

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