National Identity Bill Divides Slovakia





If nationalists in Slovakia have their way, schoolchildren will soon be forced, each Monday at 8 a.m., to listen to the national anthem blaring out from loudspeakers across this small Central European nation.

At a rally to commemorate the Slovak wartime state (1939-1945), people demonstrated in support of the patriotism bill in Bratislava, with portraits of the codificator of the Slovak language, Ludovit Stur, left, and the president of the Nazi-backed wartime Slovak state, Josef Tiso.

As part of a patriotism bill that some school principals have derided as Pyongyang-on-the-Danube, state schools will also be required to hang the Slovak flag in every classroom, along with the text of that national anthem and the national symbols — three hills and a double cross signifying the Christian heritage....

Since the Berlin Wall fell and unfroze the Communist clamp on the multiple ethnicities and tangled histories of each country in Eastern Europe, history has been reborn.

Rarely is it as malleable as in a young nation like Slovakia, which is heavily Roman Catholic, was a Nazi puppet state in World War II and has been long in the shadow of a larger, neighboring Slavic rival — the Czechs.

Add to that a general tendency across a unifying Europe — the European Union now numbers 27 states, and just under 500 million people — to emphasize regional, religious, linguistic and other badges of identity, and the Slovak bill easily stirs tempers among citizens more accustomed to settling disputes in a bar....

Rafael Rafaj, the author of the bill and a member of the Slovak National Party, which is a junior partner in the government coalition, argued that the legislation was a legitimate attempt to assert self-esteem in a tiny country that spent most of its history subsumed by larger states. For centuries, Hungary ruled, and crowned its kings in Bratislava, more commonly known then as Poszony, or by its Austrian name, Pressburg. From 1918, Slovakia was the poorer segment of the former Czechoslovakia....

Martin Simecka, a leading intellectual, expressed cohttp://hnn.us/blog_entry.php?blog_id=41ncern that national myth-makers were glossing over uncomfortable truths. In particular, he said he feared that some nationalists were seeking to let off the hook the Nazi-backed Slovak puppet state of 1939-1945, which abetted the deportation of 50,000 Jews and which a small minority of Slovaks view as a time of vaunted independence. The education minister, a member of the Slovak National Party, has been promoting a new history text book that some critics complain glorifies the past.

“We had fascism in this country in World War II, and no one should play with that,” Mr. Simecka said. “My fear is that the patriotism bill is targeted at ethnic minorities.”...




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