RTVS' hunt for the greatest Slovak turns controversial

The public-service TV broadcaster features three personalities in its trailers, one of them being the head of WWII fascist Slovak state, Jozef Tiso.

RTVS head, Jaroslav Rezník, also defended Tiso at the press conference. RTVS head, Jaroslav Rezník, also defended Tiso at the press conference. (Source: TASR)

The public-service TV broadcaster RTVS presents its new project The Greatest Slovak with a question: War-time criminal, or hero?

In one of the three trailers, we see a photo of Jozef Tiso, president of the World-War-II Slovak state, who was later executed for crimes against humanity and is responsible for the deportation of Jews to concentration camps, the Sme daily wrote on October 23.

The Greatest Slovak will be a nationwide inquiry of the TV broadcaster asking who has been the most important Slovak personage. The voting will come in two rounds.

What the project is about

From November 1, people will be able to vote through text messages, opting for whomever they prefer. Beginning next year, an RTVS gala evening will reveal a hundred names that appear the most frequently in the inquiry.

Then, RTVS will shoot documentaries on the first ten of them, which will then be broadcast for several months. The name of the greatest Slovak will be announced by TV after another vote, on May 1, 2019.

Controversial “celebrity”

When presenting its project, RTVS showed three trailers: apart from Jozef Tiso, empress Maria Theresa and communist reformer of the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubček, have been featured. If TV broadcasts these videos in the upcoming months, it is questionable whether this will not incite viewers whom to vote for, according to Sme.

Defending the concept

“We are aware of the fact that in our society, Tiso’s name resonates strongly,” RTVS’ programme director Marek Ťapák said at a press conference. “This person will probably appear in the inquiry; we don’t want to avert our eyes, and we don’t want to push him into the foreground, either,” he argued when asked why RTVS chose Tiso for the trailer.

“I hope it will not slip to Tiso,” director of the project, Peter Núñez – who previously prepared the successful show Zem Spieva (Land Sings) for RTVS – said. “Personally, I am a cross-breed who grew up in a small town, and now I live in Bratislava. I believe we are a developed society that has no prejudices. Just as I saw a hundred documentaries about Hitler, I believe we can also bear a documentary about Tiso.“

Documentaries about ten personalities will be broadcast together with a discussion. Each of them will get one defender who will try to stress their positive features. Experts that discuss the importance of the due personage will be invited as well.

The two RTVS gala evenings introducing the first hundred outstanding Slovaks and then the winner will be hosted by Adela Vinczeová. She told a press conference, as quoted by Sme: “No need to screen each other who should decide on the relevance of personalities. We should be able to tolerate various historical personages, so that we can better handle our chaotic times.”

The project’s initiators then name personalities they would pick themselves: M.R. Štefánik, Ľudovít Štúr, Anton Srholec, Juro Jánošík and athlete Matej Tóth. Slovaks can also vote for living personalities.

Imported format

RTVS brought the programme from abroad. In 2002, BBC chose The Greatest Briton and had an inquiry that followed the same course. Winston Churchill won, followed by 19th century railway designer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and Princess Diane.

The Czech version from 2015 was comical: a mock fictitious genial personality, called Jára Cimrman, almost won originally; then, TV got scared, changed rules and excluded fictitious characters. Ultimately, King Charles IV won.

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