President Andrej Kiska opened 2017 with a televised address highlighting the importance of decency and humanity - particularly on the internet.
In his almost 20-minute speech broadcast on the public-service channel at noon on January 1, which is also the holiday marking the founding of the Slovak republic in 1993, the president pointed to a recent survey which has shown that most Slovaks have had experience with hateful behaviour on the internet but they rarely stand up against it.
Kiska suggested one of the defining features of 2017 will be how people act online. The past year has shown that we are willing to tolerate things on the internet that we would not tolerate at home, at work, or among friends, the president said.
Spreading fear is a sin
Kiska summed up 2016 "as if feelings of security, stability, and safety were disappearing,” but went on to encourage Slovakia’s citizens not to let “feelings of fear to be overcome by anger and hate”. He called for people to show respect to each other and to different opinions.
“Sending people to gas, even if it is just on the internet, is simply unacceptable,” President Kiska said. He also refused the generalisations that every Roma is be a parasite and every Muslim a potential terrorist, labelling such statements “stupid and untrue”.
He called on people to show that decency is not driven by fear and that decency does not mean weakness.
“Because spreading fear among people is a sin,” he said.
Kiska thus openly stood up against hate- and fear-mongering. Many of the remarks in his speech could also be read as a reaction not just to anonymous voices on the internet but also to concrete statements made by Prime Minister Robert Fico throughout 2016, who for instance repeatedly mentioned that Slovakia needs to “prevent the creation of a compact Muslim community”.
“I want to ask you to apply similar requirements to politicians too,” Kiska said as he called for decency and humanity, and added that in 2016, hostility crossed new limits.
Decency is not political correctness
Kiska also reacted to the public discussion from the end of the year about political correctness and said that we should not let “decency, humanity, tolerance, and culturedness be labelled some political correctness”.
The president believes 2017 will be an important year for Slovakia, “one that could be called also the year of truth”, and one that will show whether we only talk about good intentions or actually do something to make them materialise.
In this respect he mentioned the expected reform of the schooling system, changes in health care, the fight against corruption, and the challenges standing before the whole of the EU. It will also be a year “in which we will see whether the main response to the problems of socially vulnerable Roma citizens will be only repression”.
This again contrasts with the statements of Prime Minister Robert Fico from the congress of the ruling Smer party in December, where he said “enough with tolerance” when addressing excluded Roma settlements.
Security as priority?
Security as the main priority of society was another issue that Kiska highlighted in his New Year’s address.
“I would find it useful if you asked every politician who will scare you with some kind of threat this year, if and how he promotes the modernisation and actual improvement of our security forces,” Kiska suggested.
2. Jan 2017 at 11:07 | Michaela Terenzani