Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Slovak Authorities Force Fealty To The State

Listen to the pledge or else.  That sums up proposed legislation aimed at stirring up patriotic fervor in the central European state of Slovakia.  However, many in Slovakia, used to such arm-twisting under decades of now discredited communism, don't like the idea of patriotism by diktat.  Some 1,000 students and teachers protested outside of the presidential palace on Wednesday to appeal to President Ivan Gasparovic not to sign the legislation, already passed by parliament, into law.  The protest comes amid percolating tensions between ethnic Slovaks and the country's main ethnic minority, Hungarians

The legislation would also require schoolrooms to be festooned with Slovak flags, the coat of arms, the text of the preamble to the constitution, as well as the lyrics to the national anthem.

The legislation was crafted by the junior party of the ruling coalition, the Slovak National Party, and its leader Jan Slota.

As the Informant informed back in 2006, here's the low down on Slota.

One is Jan Slota, the leader of the Slovak National Party, and part of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Robert Fico.

Slota has a gift for the gab of the extremist sort. He has said he would kick the Hungarians out of Slovakia across the Danube River back to their original home.

Talk like that has stirred up not the most neighborly feelings between these... neighbors, whose ties go back hundreds of years, when Slovaks lived up the Magyar yoke and bad blood simmers just below the surface.

Slovakia is home to an estimated 500,000 ethnic Hungarians, who comprise one-10th of the country's population.

Just how ugly things have gotten between Slovaks and Hungarians was brought home when Slovak skinheads brutally beat up a Hungarian woman who they overheard speaking her native tongue on her mobile phone. The inclusion of Slota in the Slovak government has many a commentator and bureaucrat in Brussels all a flitter.

It's also come with a price for Prime Minister Fico and his "Smer" or "Direction" Party. Smer was recently given the boot by their comrades among the European democratic socialist parties.

That's the first time any Socialist-associated party has been blacklisted by the group.

Analysts say the current patriotic law is Slota's way to attract support ahead of parliamentary polls on June 12.

Slota's cabinet members are in deep doodoo with several ensnared in corruption scandals and with opinion polls showing the party's support in the single-digits.

But as the demo on March 10 illustrates, it is backfiring a bit. 

"I am ashamed of this law,"  Filip Vytrisal, 19, a university student told the German DPA news agency. "It is not only stupid, but it will have the opposite effect."

"It is an insult to sing the anthem under a diktat," said primary- school teacher Jarmila Mandlova, 58.

A sign of the times, protesters have employed the latest high-tech gadgetry, with thousands signing a petition and joining groups on the social-networking website Facebook. 

In an interview on March 9, Slota said that the anthem's 19th-century lyrics - interpreted by some as rallying the Slovak nation against its historical enemies - are still relevant today.

"The lyrics say 'Wake up, brothers, they will disappear,'" he said. "Yes, they should vanish, all those spoilers and enemies of the Slovak nation."

This is not the first time Slovakia has raised eyebrows in Europe with its legislative efforts.

Last year, Slovakia enacted a law -- again the brainchild of the National Party -- giving the Slovak language precedence in public -- on billboards, in official declarations and on monuments.

The law slaps fines of up to 5,000 euros (7,000 dollars) on the use of minority languages in government and other public services.

Der Spiegel had a great piece on the controversy here

Hungarians in Slovakia viewed the law as aimed at them.

The bad blood between Slovaks and Hungarians reached a boiling point last August when Hungarian President Laszlo Solyom canceled a private visit to Slovakia. 

He was due to visit the border town of Komarno to attend the unveiling of a statue of Stephen.

Who is Stephen you ask?

He's a medieval king of Hungary.

Fico spelled out at the time what was wrong with the statue and the visit of Solyom.  

"Komarno lies in Slovakia's territory, it's not a Hungarian town," Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico told reporters earlier Friday, adding that Solyom would be welcome at any other time, but that coming on August 21 was "mere provocation".

Solyom was due to visit on August 21.

That wasn't the best date for it happens to be the day in 1968 when what then was Czechoslovakia was occupied by Warsaw Pact troops -- including Hungary's -- to crush the "Prague Spring" reform drive by the country's communist leadership.

History always seem to be bubbling just beneath the surface in fractured Europe.
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