Byzantine theologians or a Communist president? Searching for the Greatest Slovak

Many nominations evoked criticism. But a TV show is not a sociological survey, experts say.

(Source: Vladimír Šimíček, Sme)

War-time criminal or hero? asked the trailer of the TV show broadcasted by public broadcaster RTVS in reference to Jozef Tiso, president of the infamous fascist Slovak state during World War II.

That was the first time the new TV show The Greatest Slovak, based on the BBC format 100 Greatest Britons, attracted public attention and criticism - even before being broadcasted. Eventually, RTVS decided to withdraw the trailer, and Tiso was excluded from the popular vote (like Adolf Hitler in Germany).

Read also:The Greatest Slovak: Who made it to the top 10? Read more 

In early January, the Slovak public learnt who scored in the top 100 and who will be part of the survey among the top 10 - and the criticism continues.

“The poll is not a sociological survey, neither is it a picture representing the preferences of people living in this country,” sociologist of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Zuzana Kusá, explained for The Slovak Spectator.

Does the Greatest Slovak need to be Slovak?

Read also:Priest, former dissident Srholec died Read more 

The survey is a picture of citizens who were attracted to and mobilised by the poll, Kusá said. With the ranking of personalities connected with Catholic Church (Anton Srholec, deceased priest and Salesian, who was imprisoned in the Communist era for his belief, scored in the top 10 and Róbert Bezák, former Trnava archbishop, ranked 47th ) we can assume that the mobilisation in this group was more active.

About 24,000 votes decided on the ranking of the 100 personalities, while it was possible to send more votes from one telephone number.

“Figures emotionally close to people scored in the top 10 as well as those historically institutionalised, like Štúr, Štefánik, Hlinka and the apostles,” Kusá said.

Read also:Marking Maria Theresa Read more 

Many observers criticised the fact that the Saints Cyril and Methodius, Byzantine Christian theologians and Christian missionaries, made it to the Top 10, and Maria Theresa, emperor of Austrian-Hungarian empire coronated in Bratislava, ranked 22nd.

Historian of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and guarantor of the show, Dušan Kováč, explains that the short name of the show is not exact, and the show is meant to be about figures connected with Slovakia regardless of their nationality.

Jánošík – legend or theft?

Slovak legendary hero Juraj Jánošík (the Slovak counterpart of Robin Hood) also scored in the Top 10 and can thus be named the Greatest Slovak in a few months' time. Many speculate whether the highway robber should be nominated among the greatest Slovaks. However, there might be a difference on whether people voted for Jánošík as a legend or Jánošík as an actual historical figure.

Read also:Jánošík - Slovakia's legendary hero Read more 

“In Slovakia, Jánošík is more a legend than a historical figure. He lives thanks to legends, narratives, novels and film. He is different from the real Jánošík,” Kováč explained for The Slovak Spectator, adding that even among historians, few really know the “real one”.

According to Kusá, there was some uncertainty in the 1990s, coming from the fear that he was a thief who embodied the idea of egalitarianism, which did not ring right at times when the word “equality” was discredited by the Communist regime and considered an obstacle with capitalist renovation.

“I hoped we had already been through this,” she said.

No women in the top 10

Another criticism of the show is the small number of women in the ranking. Overall, only one woman made it to the top 10 and there are only 10 women on the whole chart.

Marika Gombitová, Slovak singer, often called the queen of Slovak popular music, scored in the Top 10. A few days after the results came out, she officially rejected participating in the poll, stating that she appreciates the nomination, but there are surely other Slovak figures who deserve it more.

Read also:Heydrich’s assassin Gabčík gets memorial in native village Read more 

RTVS took time to discuss her decision with BBC. Eventually, the public-service broadcaster complied with her request and she was replaced by Jozef Gabčík, who originally came in eleventh. He was a Slovak soldier who was part of Operation Antropoid, an assassination attempt on Reich protector Reinhard Heydrich. Gabčík died at the age of 30. He committed suicide after hopeless battles with the Nazis in Prague.

“We can change the present days, not the history,” commented Kusá on the low number of woman in the chart, adding that we should endeavour for balanced representation of women and men in today’s public politics but when it comes to personalities who entered history of hundreds or thousands years, it is hard in a country like Slovakia.

Socialist nostalgia

Communist politician Alexander Dubček, who triggered the Prague Spring in 1968 alongside former communist Czechoslovak president Gustáv Husák, made it to the Top 10. Husák appeared among the ten greatest villain in the Greatest Czech vote 14 years ago.

Read also:Timeline: From the Prague Spring to occupation and normalisation Read more 

While Dubček’s name resonates more positively among the Slovak public, as a politician who wanted “socialism with a human face”, Husák’s nomination raised some eyebrows. Kováč talks about people's ignorance of history.

“I assume that many who voted had no idea about his role in the Communist coup in February 1948 and his unfortunate role in the so-called normalisation after August 1968,” Kováč opined, adding that Slovak society has poor knowledge of its own history.

Sociologist Kusá also believes that in people's minds the name Husák is linked with the era of the state's economic prosperity, when people had no worries that the company where they worked would go bankrupt, or about their own difficulties in paying back their mortgages.

Masaryk missing

Kusá also opined that Husák's nomination is an opportunity for an impartial introduction of him and his contribution, since the public-service TV will now prepare a documentary about each of the Top 10 candidates. If this is how the TV show is meant to be, then it would also be fine to have Vladimír Mečiar and Jozef Tiso in the Top 10.

But if the show is meant as a quest for a figure who did the most for the Slovak nation, the controversial politician Vladimír Mečiar (ranked 15th) should not be in the ranking at all, Kováč opined. He also has issues with the appearance of current coalition politicians, like former PM Robert Fico (Smer) in 35th position, and Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko (SNS) in the 58th position.

On the other hand, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first Czechoslovak president is missing, a person who helped Slovaks break free from oppression in the 19th century Hungarian kingdom, create Slovak borders and made Bratislava part of Slovakia.

What the survey really does is offers a picture of how Slovak society views its history and present, Kováč said.

“This picture is not negative. It is pleasing to have so many figures from the field of science and culture in the survey,” Kováč summed up.

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