Greta Thunberg followers in Slovakia say local is important

Slovaks still do not fully understand the threats of climate change. Students from Fridays For Future are trying to change this.

(Source: Archive of S.Bulla)

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Every Friday, small groups of students gather in central spots in their respective towns to do what one Swedish teenager started: to ring the alarm about climate change. What does the Fridays For Future movement look like in Slovakia?

“We have been inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, just like other Fridays For Future movements around the globe,” said Emma Zajačková on behalf of the movement in Slovakia. “The strikes are meant to show people in high places that they need to act as soon as possible and assert changes in the current political system that should be more concerned about the environment we all live in.”

Related articlePupils also skip school to strike for climate in Slovakia Read more 

When the 15-year-old Greta Thunberg first sat on the steps of the Swedish parliament’s building in August 2018, she might not have hoped for the global attention she had attracted. Yet as soon as November 2018, the first strike she inspired took place in 270 cities worldwide. Students protested in the streets, calling for a greener future.

The movement, which has become known as Fridays For Future, also helped Slovakia’s young people find a voice, who are increasingly aware that they too play a part in the global crisis.

“Millions of youngsters have decided to join the movement around the world. It’s only natural that it has resonated in Slovakia as well,” Radka Slebodníková, one of the protest organisers in Košice, told The Slovak Spectator. “We are glad to see that protests are taking place not only in Bratislava but in other cities too.”

Júlia Belákova from Žilina shares her feelings. She highlighted the importance of the local gatherings.

“The situation we face needs to get better in our city and in our country, just as it needs to change around the world,” she said.

Not just students join

The first strike in Slovakia took place in four Slovak cities on March 15, 2019. An estimated 1,500 people participated in the first strike in Bratislava and hundreds more came to Slovakia’s second biggest city, Košice in eastern Slovakia, and in Žilina and Liptovský Mikuláš in the north. The movement has been growing ever since. The next protest is scheduled to take place in Slovakia on February 28, 2020 the Friday before the national elections.

“Besides students and youngsters, we often see adults and older people joining the strikes. Mothers who are concerned for the future and well-being of their children, often come and protest with us,” Zajačková said.

“The situation we face needs to get better in our city and in our country, just as it needs to change around the world.”

Júlia Beláková

Fridays For Future in Slovakia is trying to mobilise everyone who cares about the environment and climate change, but their primary focus is not to grow. Many towns decided to cooperate and organise the strikes together. For example, Banská Bystrica and Zvolen worked on the last protest together, and Bratislava works closely with Trnava.

“Our protests are a little different from the ones that take place in other cities,” explained the protest organisers from Trnava. Their beginnings were very unofficial and were only meant to be symbolic. During the first protest, they sat on Hlavná Street for 30 minutes to express their solidarity with other climate strikes happening worldwide.

“Ever since that Friday, we’ve been coming to Hlavná every week. We sit there and we've also organised one big gathering that was joined by many students in our city,” they told The Slovak Spectator.

How the protests are organised

In all cities, the organisation of the protests relies on volunteers from the local high schools. The preparations usually take weeks, sometimes even months. They need to find a suitable date for the strike to happen and then agree on its theme. Students mostly use social media such as Facebook and Instagram to promote the event, but they often inform local radio stations and news as well.

“We use social media as our main marketing tool, because it’s the easiest way of addressing our generation,” explained Slebodníková from Košice. “We want our society to start listening to scientists and experts and take steps to ensure change.”

Discussion and expert speakers’ talks usually accompany the strikes. The idea is to educate the public about the most alarming issues.

The Trnava organisers also participate in other ecological activities, such as the initiatives SaUvedom, Živo, Extension Rebellion and Ecovengers. Fridays For Future Košice covers more than just the protests too. With a true hands-on approach, they regularly collect waste, plastic, and plant trees.

Awareness still lagging

Most of the students participating in the movement feel a strong urge to spread awareness of environmental issues.

“Many people in Slovakia feel powerless when confronted with climate change, but its consequences will impact all of us,” said Zajačková, pointing out the importance of public strikes. According to her, the understanding of climate change and its consequences is still lagging among people in Slovakia.

While in other countries teachers protest with their students and the strikes are often joined by whole schools and universities, many teachers and headmasters in Slovakia don’t allow their students to participate, because they have to write a test or they need to attend a sport’s day, Zajačková claimed.

“They do not realise that without change, education and sports lose their meaning, and we will have to face existential problems,” she said.

In that sense, Zajačková points to a larger problem that she sees in schools in Slovakia.

“Climate change is a global problem that started in the past, continues in the present and we will feel its impact in the future,” she said. “That’s why I believe that we should learn about this at school. Our education system has still many holes that need to be filled.”

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