Commentary: Slovakia's Fascist governor and racist beauty queen
Racist calls for the isolation, deportation and even the shooting of Romani people, as well as fake reports of fabulously high amounts of welfare being drawn by them, are turning up in both public and virtual spaces in Slovakia more and more frequently. The center of this Fascist ideology, inciting a war by "decent citizens" on "social parasites", has become the Bánská Bystrica Region ever since the election of ultra-nationalist Marián Kotleba as governor there, but other parts of the country are not immune.
The question of when incitement of ethnic hatred crosses the line and becomes criminal has been recently addressed by the Slovak media and in private conversations with a heretofore unseen intensity. The impetus has been several openly racist declarations by public figures and the aggressive way in which the electoral leader of the People's Party Our Slovakia (Lidová strana Naše Slovensko - LSNS) Marián Kotleba and his party colleagues have seized power in Bánská Bystrica and the surrounding area, where according to available information an extraordinarily tense situation predominates.
The governor, who is traveling around "his" region together with dozens of shaven-headed bodyguards as he disseminates xenophobic ideas, is feared not just by local Romani people, who are the first to feel his wrath, but also by many regional councilors, school directors, mayors and heads of other institutions. For the time being, however, the most recent "bomb" of anti-Romani sentiment has exploded directly in the Slovak capital.
The person responsible for this latest incident is a former finalist in the Miss Universe beauty pageant, 28-year-old Kristína Kormúthová who, thanks to her beautiful eyes and exuberant charms, made it from commenting on tree-frogs on television to becoming a sports anchor with the public broadcasting channel. The charming beauty's career is now over because of a statement she posted to the Facebook social networking site.
Kormúthová was immediately fired for publishing the following: "You wake up at 4:30 AM thinking the roof is falling in our your head, and its a prematurely-born, stinking gypsy stealing a drainpipe from your house, it's so Slovak. What can't we hunters shoot 'it' like the pest it is? Don't tell me I'm a racist or I'll bite something off of him!!!"
The TV personality then publicly apologized for her statement, but in her numerous interviews with the tabloid media, she gave embarrassing excuses for it, saying her father is seriously ill and her family situation is not an easy one. Her interviews soon inspired internet Fascists to begin defending her.
Racist turns of phrase like "shooting Gypsies", "drive the black vermin out of Slovakia" or "forbid the Roma from reproducing" are common in their online discussions. The administrators of these websites, of course, evidently see nothing wrong with them, because in the vast majority of cases they never even notice them.
"Everyone is just dealing with the details," the recently-dismissed, downcast and remorseful Kormúthová said later with tears in her eyes to the Slovak daily "Plus 1 deň" before bitterly attacking the rapper Rytmus for having said that "Hitler would be proud of her". Her excuses culminated in her claiming to have written the Slovak word for "gypsy" without diacritical marks, which meant it was actually jargon for "liar" or "thief".
The victims of this rising Slovak xenophobia are not necessarily all Romani. Last month a scandal was caused when Dárius Rusnák, a former captain of the Czechoslovak hockey team that won the world championship in 1985 and currently head of the Slovak President's public relations office, allegedly insulted two women in a restaurant in the center of Bratislava just because they were speaking Hungarian together, reportedly driving them from the premises.
"My sister and I were having coffee and speaking Hungarian," the 31-year-old woman told the Hungarian-language newspaper "Uj szo", which is published in Slovakia. She claims a man at the next table began to curse them vulgarly and said that if they didn't start speaking Slovak they should "get out".
Rusnák is now being investigated by police on charges of disturbing the peace and denies that any such lapse in his behavior occurred. Such conflicts are doubtless worthy of condemnation and document the tense atmosphere that is governing our neighbors to the east of the Czech Republic (as indeed it is here), but they pale in comparison to the openly Fascist power plays introduced by Slovakia's most famous and powerful Fascist in his role as governor, namely, Marián Kotleba in the Bánská Bystrica Region.
Vojtěch Berger, Czech Radio's correspondent in Slovakia, reported from Bánská Bystrica last month that "The atmosphere in Bánská Bystrica has intensified. You can tell this from the following signs - a school director who was previously willing to talk to you about problems with financing projects from EU funds and co-financing from the region suddenly hangs up the phone because you have merely mentioned the name of Marián Kotleba. Before doing so, he says he needs Kotleba's people's agreement before he makes any kind of statement."
Members of the regional council, according to Berger, tell him off the record that Kotleba is hard to get along with and is creating many obstructions. Many people are afraid they might lose their regional subsidies if they disagree with the governor.
"Something is rotten there, and it will become even worse if it's not publicly discussed. He's only been in office less than three months, and it's too soon to tell, but the future doesn't exactly look good," the reporter said, adding that immediately after taking office, Kotleba began hiring all his own people to lead the Regional Authority. We don't have to look very far for proof that his philosophy exceeds all imaginable limits of democratic politics and morality.
All one has to do is open up the website of the LSNS and read its program, or its "10 Commandments", which were formulated as the party's program prior to the EP elections. "We will remove Slovakia from the terrorist NATO pact and make it possible for those interested to acquire volunteer military training," this publicly available document reads.
"We will establish a militia and give an opportunity to volunteers from the ranks of decent people to actively contribute toward protecting their own persons and property and that of their loved ones. We will expand the right to use a weapon when protecting one's property. We will reduce the age of criminal liability to 12 and correct the criminal justice and prison system so that every parasite and politician will think twice about whether to rob and steal or whether to work," the Slovak Fascists say in order to tempt the voters, continuing with: "We will base our social policy on merit and get rid of the advantages for gypsy spongers (and not just them) compared to decent people. The parasites who refuse to work will get nothing at all - no benefits, no houses, no welfare."
Despite the fact that this openly racist ideology and xenophobia has become the target of sharp criticism by civic activists and journalists in Slovakia, these formulations evidently do not bother the police or public prosecutor. This is the case even though the establishment of armed militias and anti-Romani patrols risks exacerbating an already tense situation, and even though there is the threat that, under the pretext of maintaining order, Kotleba's skinhead supporters will perpetrate crimes in the Romani settlements, as they have already attempted more than once.
Kotleba, who never misses a single opportunity to insult Romani people and call them liars and thieves, committed a daylight robbery himself about a month ago for which he deserved sharp criticism: He used the Bánská Bystrica Regional Authority's monthly journal, "Náš kraj" ("Our Region"), financed by the taxpayers, as an advertising platform during the elections for adoration of his person, his political party and his ideology, praising the anniversary of the WWII-era Fascist Slovak state on March 14 as a reminder of "the fulfilled dream of the nation" and its then-clerical fascist leader, Josef Tiso. In the monthly which Kotleba so illegally took over, we can read that the LSNS head, on the day of the 75th anniversary of those glorious events, "liberated the Regional Authority from the hands of the European Union and returned it to the Slovaks" by removing "the EU flag of occupation" and "showing an example of freedom of opinion that is worth following."
This one-sided lauding of Kotleba and his Fascist opinions can seem unintentionally comical - five of the eight photographs in the issue are large ones of Kotleba, and besides him there are only images of Jesus Christ, a nativity scene in Bánská Bystrica, and the girls who staff a particular restaurant (and that's only because they made Kotleba some venison fricassee with dumplings) featured in this "promotional/information material of the Bánská Bystrica Region" as the subtitle of this stolen periodical reads, 240 000 copies of which were distributed to the voters. As we laugh, however, we are also crying.
The theft of this publication, which is paid for by all citizens, and its exploitation as a political advertisement for these Fascist opinions has been sharply criticized by journalists, political scientists, and the members of the regional council. However, that is apparently all that can be done about it.
Surprisingly, no court has been able to determine any wrongdoing on the part of the governor. The author of one article about how the revered governor and LSNS chair provided support to a young family with triplets quoted Kotleba as saying the following: "The system is upside-down, because when a gypsy woman has three children in a row, she gets parental benefits in full, but that is discriminatory against decent families with triplets, who have to get by on just half that amount."
Citizens of the Bánská Bystrica Region were also able read about the golden era of the Fascist WWII-era Slovak state - the standard of living rose, industry prospered, high-quality goods were produced, and the country had a strong currency. Unemployment was successfully defeated and more than 1 000 kilometers of highways were built.
The editors even contacted 94-year-old Vilma Makytová, who experienced the government of President Tiso, and who enthusiastically confirmed that those days were literally paradise. The day of the creation of the Slovak State, 14 March, is then referred to in the piece as "a day of joy for decent people", as Kotleba's Fascists proudly call themselves.
These "decent" people, as part of their fight to improve employment (which has brought no results so far), shout slogans about improving the security and social situations "in communities with larger numbers of asocial parasites." This Fascist undergrowth is mushrooming dangerously here.
Michal Havran, an independent commentator in Slovakia, says frustrated voters with nicknames like "Dr Josef Mengele" frequently gather on Kotleba's Facebook profile to discuss the most appropriate way to exterminate a particular ethnic group. "Incitement of racial hatred is not an opinion, it's a crime," he writes, "the police and public prosecutor don't have to wait for any other inspiration here."
Kotleba is also posting members of his party to high positions wholesale. His party has taken over the entire Board of Directors and Supervisory Board of the Regional Highway Administration, as a result of which the administration has announced that it intends to pursue its road repair projects without using the latest technology, but only using shovels and pickaxes - to be wielded, of course, by the "socially inadaptable".
A well-known nationalist, Kotleba's "combat buddy" Róbert Martiňák, who has been convicted eight times of either disorderly conduct or theft, has now been appointed as one of the new officials of the Regional Highway Administration's internal control department. "This tattooed Nazi will be controlling what specifically? Whether everyone is being shipped to the camps?" Havran asks rhetorically in one of his pieces.
"In any other European country he couldn't even he hired as an usher," Havran writes. "The inhabitants of Bánská Bystrica have become the hostages of the neo-Nazis - but once again, they voted for him themselves."
Despite this alarming wave of xenophobia and racism in Slovakia, there are still enough courageous people who know how to call a spade a spade and are not afraid to fight back against Kotleba and the nationalist extremists, which means not everything is a bed of roses for them. Local mayor Lubica Kolková publicly spoke out against the participation of Governor Kotleba and his entourage during the National Celebrations at Devín Castle this spring on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ludovít Štúr [leader of the 19th century Slovak National Revival].
In her speech on that occasion, Mayor Kolková said she could not welcome people who disseminate hatred, intolerance and ire. All we can do is hope that the neo-Nazi mores of Governor Kotleba will constitute a sufficiently scary warning to the Slovaks of what happens when they underestimate the power of the ballot box and the growing influence of racism and xenophobia.
This isn't just about Slovakia - both here in the Czech Republic and in Hungary, new Kotlebas in various guises are starting to multiply like skinhead rabbits. It is high time that all people who are rational, tolerant, and unspoiled by Fascism find a common language and definitively stand up to this Fascist danger before it's too late.
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