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Slovak Crossoroads                                                         20 Dec. 1996

By Pavel Kollar

The present Slovak quarrels have deep roots, not only from 19th century but also from earlier times. There remained many unsolved or bad solved problems in different themes from these past times. It seems that Slovak incline to compromises when some clear-cut decisions are necessary. The excuse could be that sometimes they were forced in such a situation by outer circumstances, but there were also situations for which this excuse is not on place. There are times and situations when uniquely and clear decisions are necessary, with swing and without compromises and without waiting for some chance which will do the job instead of them. I'll try to throw some light on several themes of quarrels in Slovak history which let their imprints in the present state of mind.

The Nation
1000 years ago, after the death of the first founder of County, his inheritors started the heredity quarrels which exhausted the nation so much that this weakened the defence power, enabling Hungarians to penetrate into Danube valley. Since that time they were forced to make compromises with them, emotionally they dislike them and most likely they would be glad to see Hungarian depart from their territories, but consciously they are accepting them because the reality is different from desires, so, what remains is a show tolerance. When there came to breaks in this tolerance, Slovaks were those who emigrated from their country. In the newest Slovak independent state some leaders started to build their policy on this theme. What they succeeded with this was not some political gain against the disgusted and annoying neighbour but only a manifestation of own tradition: to be divided between tolerance and remorse. So, today there are nationalists who consider themselves really Slovaks and Slovak 'betrayers' or 'liberals' or 'pro-Hungarian' Slovaks, the rest which do not accept the arguments of the first. And this 'division' is significant.

The First Religion
Slovaks accepted Christendom at the turn of the millennium, 1000 years ago but during the schism they turned to Catholicism with the result that today they want to be Catholics and Orthodox also, to be loyal to both because they cannot decide who were the first missionaries, the Cyril and Method from Constantinople or some missionaries from Rome ... And they still quarrel about this.

The Mediaeval Religion
For Slovakia it can be applied the slogan that Slovakia is an "Ireland of East" when it goes about the relation between Catholics and Protestants. After Ireland, Slovakia is probable the country in which religious tolerance is not a matter of course. This intolerance took many forms in the course of history, from simple hatred and small discriminations to physical conflicts. The fire came much more from Catholic majority then from Protestant minority. The result was emigration of Protestants to more remote areas(south of A-H Monarchy) or to North America. Even in the latest times(under communists) the mixed marriages were usually prevented by catholic parents. Today this is not more a social theme in the sense that it could divide the nation because there remained too little Protestants in the traditionally Protestant areas of Western Slovakia so the quarrels are sporadic and on local level, for ex. in the recent election of major of Bratislava.

The Language
Regional dialects differ in not so small degree and as a matter of course this became a good theme for quarrel. In the l9th century some Slovak intellectuals started with some kind of Slovak enlightenment and tried to formalize a written language. There were two trials in this direction, the first written language was short living and possibly incomplete, the second was more profound but also a theme of quarrels. This second proposal made by Stur(evangelist intellectual) was based on mid-Slovak dialect(Catholic areas) so he came in conflict with his own religious community, what some Catholics used as their advantage and started to support Stur. So, there was born the Slovak high-language, the 'Sturovcina' which survived until nowadays, but so the quarrels and emotions, although suppressed. The opposition to this language in those times failed because hadn't created an alternative, so all remained on the critic. Some initiators of Slovak enlightenment movement proposed Czech(or Czechized Slovak) to be the Slovak high language but this proposal did not find support by Slovak nationalists. The dividing line remained until nowadays, Slovak Protestants being labelled by Slovak Catholics as Czechs or pro-Czechs, Hungarians, liberals, betrayers and similar. But I am not sure whether the Slovak nation as whole became happier with the choice of sturovcina because with language there came also the manners, mentality and way of thinking. The cultural differences between Western Slovakia and Mid-Slovakia were ever significant. The Mid-Slovaks understood their language victory as right to command the issues also in Western Slovakia what resulted in emigration from Western Slovak areas(to Czechs for ex.) and a transformation of one part of Slovaks into Hungarian nation. Besides this sturovcina deserves many remarks from pure linguistical standpoints. The implications of these past conflicts on present are that the liberalism was completely banned from Slovak culture, being labelled as 'hungarism' or 'czechism'. These labels have great weight in Slovak mentality even today, as one can see from the present 'division' in Slovak nation. This can be one explanation for emigration of intellectuals to Czechs and to other countries.

The Regionalisms
Regional cultures played ever a role as causes of national quarrels. People hang on their origin also when in some other area, promoting own customs as best of all. Differences in cultural patterns influenced also economic wealth of specific regions and through this also the emigration. Regional rivalry played in the past and so today an important role when the theme was choice of national leaders. The more East is the place of origin of some leader the greater the chance to be a national leader. Until recent times, there were no greater attempts to disintegration on this issue. Communists mixed people of different regions in intention to smooth the differences and to cut the cultural roots of people. This egalitarianism was payed by empovering of rich regions(mostly in Western Slovakia) and destroying the cultural base of these regions. The new regional cultures created by communists were less effective than those which they replaced. The final result was a cultural regression in all fields. After changes in 1989, and especially after 1992 when Meciar came to power, these regionalisms gained on importance again.

Populism as Compared to Educated Culture
There were periods in Slovak history when no-education was considered as greater value then education. In the value system of the Slovak folk, education in times of A-H Monarchy was equalled with betraying of the nation, it was labelled as hungarism, liberalism, etc. Educated people, who spoke more languages were simply banned from Slovak nation if they in the same time cooperated with others. The educated or those who had intention to be this were forced to turn their backs to Slovak nation and to look for habitat in other nations. So, the education became a dividing line in one moment of Slovak history. Today, it is possible not more but its consequences remained. To Slovak mentality belongs even today that one who is a bit more educated than the one can easily turn to object of mistrust of the second.

Populism and Slovak statehood
The first Slovak state 1939-45 was a mastermind of populists. The only educated whom the Slovaks trusted were the priests, and among them only to so called loyal priests, and these were mostly Catholics. The first Slovak who promoted the 'national enlightenment' or 'national consciousness' was a Catholic priest and the first Slovak political party was found by him. The first Slovak president was also a priest. After the WWII, communists also played on the card of populism. The only difference was that they eliminated the influence of church in state affairs directly but the social origin of communist leaders and their target social groups were just those who were most near to the populism of previous period. That they rehabilitated some opponents of Stur to some degree was only a tactical move, a cooky for good relations with Czechs and as a symbol of communist internationalism. So, the popular influence on the governing of the state has tradition in Slovak society and this is observable also today and it is still a division line in society.

Panslavism and pro-Russianism Contra Western Orientation
This division line is too old and traces back to first religion. The dispute about the nationality of the first Christian missionaries remained open nowadays. The fact of being Slav in the issue of nationality and being Western Christian in religion seems to be creating a confusion and disorientation even among enlightened groups of Slovaks. One Slovak, an evangelistic priest, devised the idea of Pan-Slavism, what in some Slovak souls created some above-national emotions but these emotions soon came in contradiction with religious emotions which were on another side. Estimating the idea of panslavism from pure national standpoint one can say that its promoters were right, promoting only that what another, those more west side, did do that time and this more successfully. The idea of panslavism was a reaction on development of nationalism in other parts of Europe. But this idea remained only idea because the local cultures were stronger than elsewhere, how those of with same religion so the ones with different religion. The result was that Slav nation, according the images of German or France nation for ex. was never created, but the idea remained only as a topple-stone or a thing about which one can quarrel and create divisions especially in one nation in which secularism and religiosity are not cler divided. And those who accepted the promoters of this idea in this national field, banned them for their liberalism in other cultural fields. Slovak nationalism and panslavism sometimes also mix into one another. So, for ex. heart-touching anthem-type song 'Hej Slovaci'(the author of which is Slovak and which stems from times when Slovak national identity was really under the threat) was later renamed into 'Hej Sloveni' by somebody and lost its popularity among some Slovaks, but under this name served as national anthem in Tito's Yugoslavia and this in times when the relations between Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia and other Slav countries were at lowest level. It seems that this oscillation between these two orientations is either under influence of events in the environment or under the influence of domestic populist politicians playing on this card. The communists played on these feelings only so much how much they needed support from masses or to make pleasure for 'a big brother' but I think one part of the public was disappointed with its practical results so that the Eastern European integration decayed very easily. The present Slovak governors are playing on this card again, and this in the time when possible Russia does not want to use it as triumph(they are playing on it inderectly, through geopolitics). They only show their poor ability in adapting a policy to the reality.

The Political Ideologies
In comparison to other nations without communist past in their history, the ideological quarrels in Slovakia today looks like exaggerated and emphasised because there remained some uncleared themes from the past, these themes being resolved by other nations with continual development in the past, so that they are not more agenda. To understand these quarrels, one must separately treat the specific elements of political ideologies: the national(in the sense of relations between nations, what is national identity), the religious(in the sense of how much religious elements influence the political thinking), the political(in the sense of governing of institutions: approaches to governing - democracy or dictatorship - and basic value systems from which the governors derive their goals) and the economic(in the sense of production and consumption of material values and the relations on this bases, the role of the money as regulating means for governors). The first Slovak political party was created on national agenda and was created by clergies. So, this indicates that politics and religion went hand on hand in governing the state, there was never clear separation between secular approach and religious approach in governing. Between the two wars there appeared the democratic ideas but many Slovaks considered them as Czech influences into Slovak affairs. Liberalism was never accepted as Slovak ideology but as alien. Communists who came right after the religiously oriented politicians also mixed religion and secular means although this time new religion, the atheism. The highest governing body of the state was ideological and political institution in one. General impression is that the traditional European democratic values, christianism, socialism and liberalism were ever in shadow of nationalism, fascism or communism. Differentiation between these groups of ideologies happened in other parts of Europe much earlier, but seems in Slovakia this is happening only nowadays. The question is why Slovaks remained behind the developments in other parts of continent. My answer is that the cause could be a very specific interpretation of religion by Slovak clergy which was very dogmatic, rigid and not adapted to changing circumstances. The present Slovak politicians have freedom of choice but seem not very imaginative to distinguish the specific elements of political ideologies and take clear stands to these elements. Instead, the existing political groups are expressing their ideas in confusing terms and mixing elements and levels what makes the decision making of voters very hard. This is the reason why the electorate seems to be without roots and without orientation and easily manipulable by populists.

The state religion during the communism was atheism and there was not separated from politics. Atheism was one and undivided, but they succeeded to create a 'schism' in traditional church. The majority of clergy supported communists and obeyed their instructions and signed the document called "Pacem-internis"(or so) which meant recognition the atheism and its moral codex(which was in sharp opposition to Church's classical teaching) as leading ideology of the nation. Clergies which remain loyal to classic views became dissidents and were in minority. The present Slovak government is very busy with religious affairs but it is only a tactical move to create an image in the public. They try to involve churches in policy at least as show but their political ideology is that of the past times, the atheistic materialism. There are still no clear cut lines between politics and religion.

Political Programs
While ideologies as idea-base for gathering party members and standpoints of political parties to their own integrating base, political programs are governing strategies for solution of concrete problems, offered by political parties to citizens as the base of voting decisions of letters. Political programs can reflect the ideological base, but in practice the deviations are common. One political party, in order to gain votes often seizes into ideological base or program elements of other party. This can help to party but it can confuse voters, especially when there are mixed elements or levels of decision making. The present problems with political programs in Slovakia are right these ones. The programs overlap one another and the result is that on votes are not the contents of the programs, but much more their promoters, the personalities. In such a case the governors govern over the public instead of being publics servants. This is in general the peculiarity of the present democracy, in some countries more, in others less. In Slovakia it seems the elections are more personal struggles for power by different personalities than a choice of suitable problem-solving strategy by citizens. The parties whose programs are based on classic European political ideologies are in minority. Among them only the Christians succeeded to gather some base and influence, others are either vaguely defined - the social democrats for ex. - or simple does not exist, the liberals. The party which is still gaining the majority is a personality-defined party, with base in the structures of ex-communist party. The old loyalties still remained powerful so preventing the transformation of the political scene.

Rich - Poor
Communists in days when they run the propaganda for gaining power created an imagine about Slovak nation as poor(rich were only non-Slovaks), uneducated, undeveloped, etc. It is true that Slovakia was ever the less developed part of Czechoslovak state but this state was before the WWII one of leading industrial nations and belonged to the most developed nations of the world. The question is whether this position had been achieved with a very poor Slovak part, which consisted one third of Czechoslovakia. Communists needed this contrast to emphasis their(otherwise miserable ) success and to capitalize this for long time in future. So according them, they made Slovaks rich, educated, developed, etc. And they could be right with their arguments if there wouldn't be the other alternative which functioned in other nations so good that brought communism to fall. Really a good part of production capital in prewar Slovakia was owned by non-Slovaks but this was the case in other countries also. But Slovak communists used this fact to create negative attitudes not only against aliens but also against capitalism and democracy and they played on this card also when they started to import some elements from capitalism and implanting them in their own system. The black images about capitalism, richness and democracy are present even today and populist politicians are using them to gain supporters for their programs. These politicians are successful because what they inherited from communists was a real misery performance of one government for 45 years in power and they know that poor will vote left not the 'citizens'. The only what they changed is the comparison base: they now point to democracies as rich and identifying themselves with them, ascribing the misery to communism as though those communists were some other people, not they by themselves, now in another political party. Basically they are making the same what they made 40 years ago. So, rich-poor is also a division line today and there are no signs to break this circle. And the impression is that the left oriented politicians do prefer the poor because it proved to be very certain base for gaining votes.

This entity became a theme thanks Hungarian ecologic policy. During the communism in Slovakia, ecology was not a political theme. But it looks like as Slovak politicians were not enough sensitive to this theme, mostly simple copying others without contact to really problems. In the only great ecological case, the Gabcikovo, they were not very skilful to distinguish principal and exceptional decisions, neither to make difference between economy, ecology and political image, what the other side made better.

As conclusion I would say that the problem is not so much in the fact that Slovakia today has these problems which are in other countries(of West EU) already solved. These are relics of the past. Differences in democracy in SK and in Western Countries are still significant. But the impression is that others in similar situations were more decisive. Western Germany, Italy and others took serious efforts to change many attitudes. Somebody can make a remark that these changes were initiated by foreign pressure, what is true, but there were also forces from inside. Slovakia today has to cope with two big inherited problems from the past: the extreme right-wing attitudes and the same left wing oriented attitudes, both of them coupled with authoritarianism. In now day West Europe these two value subsystems are less present in the value system in comparison to Slovakia. National elements are unnecessarily present in political propaganda of popular parties. These elements are used not to solve some problems but much more to manipulate the public. One cannot blame Slovaks for their Slovakism. Every nation has its "ism". The greater problem is using nationalism coupled with other cultural and political elements and blackmailing the public in the style "if you won't be nationalist you will perish" and forcing people to be nationalists so that other national minority groups are demonized, and coupling this demon to opposition with the aim to eliminate them from the political scene. One part of religious values is near to atheism and the confrontations on this line are rather significant. Of something lesser intensity are those on line Catholic-Protestant. Some politicians are still appealing on this base so making the fronts even tougher. The group-national feelings, which are present in every nation to some degree, for ex. Western nations or Latin nations, some pan-Latinism exists in EU also, but appealing and soliciting on them is considered as manipulation and bad propaganda, not as policy. But it seems that some Slovak politicians did not grasp this. The pan-Slavism, which is today manifested mainly as pro-Russianism, is still kept alive also when the other side do not pay great attention to it. Would creators of this idea be alive today, they would probably give up the idea in favour of some pan-Europism, for reason that the reality is different today in comparison to reality of those times. All integrating factors have some point on which they can turn to their opposite. This already happened in Est EU. In the field of regionalisms the tendency of cultural domination of central Slovak region over the other two is still present, which is unnecessary and contra productive, the intention is stronger integration, the result could be total disintegration. Better solution is some loose integration which will take in account the needs of inhabitants, not the governing easiness for politicians. In this context the greater freedom for regional languages can contribute to integrity and lessen the rivalry in competition for leading posts in the nation. Populism is a way of communication, a tendency of presenting complex issues in a simple imagines understandable by broad public easily. It is useful as communication mean until it does not turns to manipulation, in telling half truths. From time to time, this tendency appears also in other countries as a wave of public feeling towards some problem, initiated by different groups in their competition for some gains, but political programs and legislative are not influenced by it and thanks media the issues are cleared in short time. In Slovakia, after 1989, one part of politicians turned to this way of communication with success. To cope with competition, they used themes and problems which in reality did not deserve attention they gave them. These were the issues with Hungarian national minority, with Jews and democracy, to mention only the two most used. In the first case a group was demonized and in the second the ideology. The result was a xenophobia, confusion and mixed feelings by public and a raise of populists to governors, pushing democrats to opposition and aiming to eliminate them completely from the political scene. In this point Slovakia is less stabile then the rest of Europe, also the post-communist Europe. The ideological base of political parties is letting impression that the communist spread or disintegrated in more leftist parties but under different names which appel just on popular values(social benefits and equal income distribution) letting aside the question how to create this income. The opposition, with its income creating programs is demonized, attaching it capitalism, wealth unequalness, westernism and similar. The public do not trust to opposition for fear that, under present conditions, it could be charged with the costs of recovering. This is so because those who had to be charged with these costs are just those who today can decide to avoid this. There are democratic parties based on democratic values and without ex-communists, but their obstacle is that their personalities are not known, that they are poor financially and that they are using democratic methods in communication with the public which do not react on these appeals and which is not used to be solicited on democratic way. The greatest obstacle of democratic parties is their poor access to mass medias which are monopolized by ex-communists. They have better programs in relation to what is necessary for recovery of economy and to satisfy the needs of the greatest part of the population but this population is not used to this type of communication. Besides this opposition is demonized that it makes allowances to some undesired minorities. But it has also weak points: Not clear differences among programs and little face to face contacts with the public. Political programs are not formulated in clear decision alternatives for public but are containing many vague statements. This tactic is used by almost all undemocratic parties and this is the explanation for their success. This is the point on which the broad public reacts positively. If democrats will use the same methods, then they won't be democrats any more. So, democrats are here in handicapped position and they will have to make great effort to persuade the broad public. They have to explain practical consequences of different programs and which groups will be touched by these consequences. In controversy rich - poor all populist parties suggest equal wealth distribution, letting the impression that the democrats want polarization of society until its disintegration and that the charges for creating a wealthy class will fall on the back of poor. In practice happened that just these parties, using a corrupt privatisation process, allowed creation an "overnight wealthy" class whose investments into this richness were practically zero. In comparison to western owners they have common only the name of their social role, the way how they acquired their wealth is completely different. They understood privatization as a purpose for itself and the way of privatization as grabbing of state ownership. Democrats failed to tell the public that the aim of privatization was to increase the efficiency of governing, to increase the productivity and living standard and that the only just way to accomplish it was to give the whole present property to those who were owners before nationalization by communists. The present government won't achieve any its stated goal so, this is a chance for democrats. Until now they didn't use this theme in full extent. In the field of ecology the present government haven't said too much. But the ecology is a theme because communist type industrialization destroyed many ecological elements. The democrats also in this field haven't shown too much initiative. Rules of political competition are the theme for itself. In developed democracies a coalition is not understood as domination of one party over another. As unfair competition is considered also the practice of promising something that is not achievable, equally how will be this considered by public. Competitors and voters can make difference what is manipulation and what serious policy. Today no serious party will use public feelings to make policy and capital from them. But all these issues are still problems in Slovakia and it will last long time until their solution. Free press, and besides this good, is much more desire than reality in SK. Press is an important social mechanism for clearing what is a social problem and what not. If such a mechanism did not function then disfunction of the whole system is an obvious consequence. But in SK the leading political garniture seems didn't understand the role of this mechanism.

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                                     ©Copyright 2001 Pavel Kollar