Slovakia: Fascist Marian Kotleba in runoff for regional governor
A surprise result in recent elections for regional governor and regional council representatives in Slovakia is the success of right-wing extremist Marian Kotleba, who is an organizer of marches and other actions targeting Romani people. Kotleba made it into the second round of direct elections for regional governor and council chair in the Banská Bystrica Region, coming in second out of 11 candidates.
Kotleba also won the most votes of any candidate running for a seat on the regional council. However, the runoff is expected to be won handily by the current regional governor, Vladimír Maňka, who almost won the first round of voting outright.
In Saturday's regional elections in Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico's Social Democrats (Směr-SD) dominated as expected. Three of the eight chairs of the self-administering regions were elected in the first round, all supported by his party.
As is by now traditional, right-wingers succeeded only in Bratislava Region. The turnout confirmed that Slovaks do not take a great interest in the regional elections.
Roughly one-fifth of eligible voters went to the polls Saturday. This past spring Fico suggested the number of self-administering regions in Slovakia should be reduced from eight to three as there were when the country was part of Czechoslovakia.
Message for the politicians
Shortly after the first-round results came in, Kotleba declared himself the leader of the right wing. He won a total of 26 251 votes and even received support from outside the city of Banská Bystrica, where he lives.
Altogether a total of 4 098 voters in Banská Bystrica voted for him as governor. He also became the most successful candidate to run for a seat on the regional parliament or council, winning 6 397 votes in that race.
Kotleba was the front-runner in 20 municipalities. "Kotleba is just the most recent message the voters are sending to the politicians," a financial manager in Banská Bystrica, who did not vote for him and preferred to remain anonymous, told news server Sme.sk.
A high school teacher in Banská Bystrica was quoted as saying "voters in Banská Bystrica must have lost their minds." A colleague of his was quoted as saying he doesn't see it that way and that he will vote for Kotleba in the second round: "I'd vote for anyone against Maňka."
Frustration and anger
Stanislav Mičev, the director of the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica who is also an historian, considers the success of the ultra-right to be an unhealthy sign. "People just won't learn. Kotleba won't overcome anything in this region, but this is just the start. These results do reflect the catastrophic economic situation, but they are about a moral crisis in particular," he said.
Psychologist Štefan Kováč, a former deputy to the Czechoslovak Federal Assembly, believes Kotleba was elected by angry, confused, demotivated, dissatisfied and frustrated voters. "They see Kotleba as a new Jánošík [Robin Hood]. Just because someone goes to college doesn't mean they won't vote for Kotleba, even though most of his voters probably only have lower levels of education and come from small towns and rural environments. If a college student comes from Závadka nad Hronom, then he brings his entire case history with him," Kováč said.
"We don't need Fascists in Slovakia. I believe people will rise up," Romani vajda [chief] Ludvík Gunár of Krásnohorské Podhradie told the daily Sme.sk.
Gunár is not concerned that there might be a rise in attacks against Romani people or in extremism even though Kotleba won his votes through a particularly open anti-Romani campaign. The Romani leader insists that what has helped the extremists the most in the regional elections was the fire at Krásna Hôrka castle and the unemployment in the region.
"For two years that has been [Kotleba's] strongest theme. He claims he will take hold of the Romani problem and solve it. People believed him," Gunár said.
A fire in a meadow two years ago, caused by Romani children throwing burning matches away, spread to that castle. Gunár said he believes these recent elections have been a fiasco for Romani residents.
Proud to be extreme
Marian Kotleba has been a leader of right-wing extremists in Slovakia since approximately 2003, when he started making public appearances as the leader of the Slovenská pospolitost (Slovak Solidarity) party, which he headed until 2006. He resigned after the Slovak Supreme Court dissolved the party and then lost when running on the candidate list of the Slovak People's Party (Slovenská lidová strana), winning only 0.16 % of the vote.
The former high school computer science teacher then went into business for a while. He and his brother opened a store called "KKK Anglická móda" (KKK English Fashion) where they sold brands favored by right wing extremists - KKK of course stands for the American racist Ku Klux Klan movement.
Kotleba began focusing on politics once more after 2009, when his friends took over the "Friends of Wine Party" (Strana přátel vína), transforming it into the People's Party "Our Slovakia" (Lidová strana - Naše Slovensko). His greatest success before this past weekend had been in the regional elections of 2009, when 10 % of the electorate voted for him as governor.
Kotleba enjoys taking pride in his extremism, as demonstrated by the name he chose for his shop and by his wearing of uniforms that greatly resemble the uniform of the Hlinka Guard, a wartime Fascist organization in Slovakia. He regularly organizes marches against Romani settlements and has been charged by police for making statements about "gypsy parasites".
In 2006 Kotleba was charged with promoting Fascism. A year ago he purchased some land near a Romani settlement in Krásná Hůrka beneath the burned-out castle.
Seven illegally constructed houses occupied by Romani families are on that land. Kotleba has repeatedly threatened to have the houses razed to the ground with bulldozers and has been known to wear a pistol, even bringing it to a court appearance once.
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