Dr Dusan Deak (Univerzita sv. Cyrila a Metoda v Trnave, Slovakia), part of the MYPLACE Project team provides this blog on the ethnic dimensions of political unrest in Slovakia.
For more information on the MYPLACE project visit the project’s website: HERE
(Thanks to Mirka for inspiration, Matej and Rado for comments and Martin for constant encouragement to blog.)
Nowadays we witness a political and social polarization of otherwise rather politically disinterested and socially rather individualistic Slovak folks. The optimistic medial exclamations made by politicians and some of the analysts that in the last elections Slovaks ruled out their support for political extremism based on social hatred, historical myths or even latent racism seem to have undervalued the accumulation of current socio-political frustration, which is perhaps best termed as after ‘89 frustration. Its content is, however, rather a complex matter of country reset in terms of power, economy and social relations.
By the beginning of 2012 the Slovaks took to the streets after a long time of public passivity and lethargy. After more than a decade the capital, but also other Slovak cities, saw the massive yet rather peacefully articulated anger (just bananas thrown, mind you!) over the situation in the country. The text called Gorilla (http://www.euractiv.com/justice/slovak-politics-rocked-gorilla-c-news-510173), named after the nickname of one of its protagonists, that leaked to the public from the circles of Slovak Intelligence Service was the last nail to the coffin of people’s patience, of which the main principle was “we all know that but what we can do about it?”. Whether the Gorilla revelation was authentic or just a fabricated material is rather unimportant in context to what happened after its publication on the internet (teams of lawyers surely know and that political circles knew about the text much before its publication has been already admitted by some of the politicians). The information Gorilla contained clearly spelled out how Slovak top politicians handled what still had remained a state property after the neoliberal privatization with Komsomol zeal of early 90’s; how they in fact privatized public interests; or how the threefold division of power could be reinvented in terms of a correct person at a correct space. Finally, and most importantly for the public, it displayed the direct connections of the current political circles to the country’s top financial groups. Concurrent Occupy movements came in hand indeed, but the specific regional flavor (understand region here perhaps as wide as Comecon countries), that the leaders of the latter groups could possibly be along the family lines connected to the last generation of the high rank agents of communist regime, was hard to overlook. Moreover this flavor was spiced by the suppressed feeling of incapability to digest the question of how the liberation from the earlier regime, which in fact empowers those connected to the regime, could ever happen. The public exclamations of politicians about the democracy were thereby contextualized and re-experienced. The fact that democracy is in our countries is still, to many extents, more a matter of belief than a matter of practice; an after ‘89 label for all that we do politically – since we do not build the communist future anymore – got embodied in public anger of Gorilla marches.
Yet, many people did not perhaps fully realize that the massive public movement, which, at least for a month Gorilla was, would not even happen were we not granted public freedom and freedom of decision to change what troubles the people. Afterwards, the pre-term elections came close and relocated the public anger. Let’s leave the speculations on the Gorilla as the clever political trick for some other blog, it certainly helped to give a push off to the exemplary incapable coalition of right wing parties. The new, this time rhetorically leftist but in matters of practice typically post-communist, government to took the reins of power. What seemed to be forgotten for the moment as the new government brought the new forms of public hopes, the issues, could not resolve what is hardly forgettable, an enduring frustration. Indeed, the painful realization that the world is not black and white, that the West might be the best, but that what is the best hardly comes without a price being paid. This realization somewhat seems to condition the life in the post-communist Slovakia (as perhaps in other post-communist countries too), especially in times when put face to face with the economic situation of the people. The latter might not be that catastrophic, yet the dream of welfare that only some (see those Gorillas of the early and present regime!…the crowd would shout) were able to reach, lingers.
Complexity of the presently widespread Slovak frustration gets channeled to a preference for easy solutions. It is of course difficult for common men to fight against the corruption in politics in other way than not being corrupt herself/himself. It is almost impossible to challenge the white collared owners of the state-men, or publicly prove that the right to govern via representatives has been twisted – to the right to approve with either version of political action backed by the well reasoned economic means and conditions. And well, it is indeed very difficult to get justice, if justice seems to be a matter of negotiation between the agents of the socio-economic shifts from past to present supervised by judges whose service in several cases goes back to the earlier regime. Conversely, it is much easier to direct the frustration to those, whose behavior may not conform to the so-called common living standards because of variety of reasons with deeper roots than just those currently visible. It is easier to target the poor with all the catastrophic social conditions they live in along with petty theft, dirt, violence and all kinds of addictions. It is profitable to use their already socially ostracized position in order to display the reason for the articulated contrast. Finally it is the easiest to project the frustration in the collective terms of ethnicity.
When the state stops being interested in public matters to such an extent as we witness in Slovakia, with the silent reasoning that it won’t do what the communists were doing, and when it creates the feeling among its citizens that it does not sufficiently act in the matters of public safety. When it fails to set the conditions for good social relations, when its power is not seen when people are robbed, troubled and time to time killed. When the legal bodies do not act or seem to act corruptly, and when political potentates discuss the state disfunctionality only as their agenda for grasping the power, then, unfortunately, people resort to other means of power and extreme solutions get support. This is perhaps the situation what we are witnessing in present day Slovakia.
In some locations people build walls in order to protect their properties from the petty criminals. In other location people sold the land with the houses and peoples living there (however their possession of land was illegal) to an extremist who then called up to his sympathizers to come, take axes, spades and help him in clearing off the “dirt” from his rightly purchased land. The representatives of the state, however, do not offer the clear solutions (let alone action) when they are needed and seem to periodically promise the solution only when it concerns their own profit and preservation of their own power. Thus the feelings of insecurity arise and the belief that the policy of hard restriction and control is the only correct way from the present day problems prevails. The frustration from being cheated by the powerful has turned to anger to those who live on the edge of 21st century living standards. Of course, the explanation of the latter’s present situation is not to be sought only by pointing to majority. Yet, at the current moment it is worth heeding that those who offer easy solutions (of axes and spades) start to enjoy wider popularity. The recent calls for the so called decent social life, which is argued on the example of socially irresponsible and non-adjustable Romas, channel the complex and long-term frustration to a single and ethnically defined group. Thus the overall and complex post-communist frustration gets “ethnicized”. The corruption affairs, the incapability of the state-men to explain the economic background of their power, their disinterest in the commoner, all of this is overlooked by the people, who are overwhelmed by the inability of the state to react to social tensions and gradually turn to support of easy, but certainly temporary, explanation of the matters.
On 13th October – a birth anniversary of Josef Tiso, president of the war Slovak state, satellite of Nazi Germany – there was a March for a Decent Life in Bratislava (http://bratislava.sme.sk/c/6567301/policia-vytlacila-v-bratislave-ludskopravnych-aktivistov-z-ulice.html). People again got to streets even if not in such great numbers as earlier this year. Many of those who called for the decent life were members of various extremist (neo-nazi) organizations. The organizers articulated their wish for decent life in terms that they do not support the „unsubstantiated racism“ (hereby declaring that there perhaps is substantiated racism; thanks to Silvia Ruppeldtova for this point) and ask only for the action against those who disrupt the social order set by the laws of the country. That the demonstration of the extremists has not been questioned by state-men and regional administrative body, displays, yet again, that political play is more important than the public demonstrations of those, who if allowed, would not hesitate to use the violent means. Even more shocking is that some members of the party that credits itself with “bringing the Slovakia to Europe and its standards” (two Dzurinda’s governments), but which heavily lost public support due to the Gorilla case, openly gather their political capital by supporting the claims for decency, hence silently the rise of extremism. Even if they may say that they speak about decency only in civic terms and defend the rights of truly decent citizens it is not that difficult to see the connection to the current movement that sees it rather differently. The internet discussions are already heated and full of hatred. Bratislava’s demonstration was the third public embodiment of the calls for the solution to “Roma problem”. Decency in ethnic terms is nowadays getting wider public support, because indeed, the problems do exist. No doubt. But whether they are the problems of social relationships, poverty, or the corruption of the leaders, what puts them on the one platform is that they live on without decisive attempts to get them solved. But directing the anger to just to one single ethnic group, when we know that the current frustration has much greater contours and that the current situation of Romas is the result of historically framed and politically mishandled process of never ending ostracization, shows nothing more than helpless folk acting publicly on its own easy terms. It is a similar societal frustration to that, which in different historical contexts and under different political management led to open articulations of the crooked logic of ethnicization of socio-political problems. Today an increasing number of people ask for a decent life, of which the decent neighborhood relations is surely just a minor part, and many of them, including politicians, are overlooking those who, while claiming to defend the right of decent citizens, are decently hiding the crooked cross.