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Slovak President addresses anti-Romani sentiment in New Year's Day speech

2.1.2017 9:28

Not all Romani people are parasites and not all Muslims are potential terrorists, Slovak President Andrej Kiska pointed out in his New Year's address yesterday. Kiska highlighted that people are now willing to tolerate the hatred, nonsense and vulgarities spreading on the Internet and online social networks.

"We live at a time when many people are puzzled. It is as of our feelings of safety, security and stability have faded. It is quite normal that we are afraid of many things, but we cannot afford to let our feelings of fear become those of anger and hatred," said the president.

The President invited all those who are "decent" to not be afraid to speak out against these developments:  "Let us show that decency is not based in fear. Let us show that decency is not a weakness. Fairness must be heard again. Let's show the power of our graciousness to each other in everyday life and on the Internet and online social networks."

"This will be an important year in which we learn whether the state's main or only answer to the problems of socially excluded Romani citizens will be repression or a show of force. In some places we do need more order, but we also need a plan, especially for the children, to gradually lift them out of ignorance and poverty. There are enough regional, small-scale examples where things are already working better. Now we have to scale them up," Kiska in his New Year's Day speech, which news server Romea.cz publishes in full translation below.

New Year's Speech by the President of the Slovak Republic Andrej Kiska

A pleasant festive afternoon to all of you, dear fellow citizens.

Traditionally at this time of year, the President joins the well-wishers with his own wishes for the New Year, which is a great honor and really a pleasant task.

This means I am now entering into your families, your homes, possibly even at your festive table - or somewhere where services continue to be performed in hospitals, police stations, our emergency responders, firefighters, social institutions and other places.

To all of you: Please accept for the new year my most sincere wishes for the friendship, love and understanding that make us human beings, people who can make it through even the most difficult moments, each of us individually and all of us together.

I wish you all health and inner strength for everyday life, but there will be more tests that we need, each of us, to overcome. I hope that you, at every moment in this new year, keep your faith in humanity. The hope that we can accomplish things, and a belief in love that you give to those around you and receive in return.

Please give that love to those people, our fellow citizens, whom fate has decided to not give as much as most of us. Because in the end, it is always the ability to give that makes us happiest, and after we are gone, the giving will manifest itself, as a clue to our having been in this world.

I wish you, your loved ones, your friends, all the citizens of the Slovak Republic not just good health, but also the power to change things for the better for your family, for your community and city, and for our common homem Slovakia. Please receive my congratulations to all of you on today's public holiday, the anniversary of the establishment of our independent Slovak Republic.

Traditionally, in this New Year's televised speech, the president talks to the country about what has particularly pleased us most, what we are more concerned about, what encourages us, what sickens us, what we have inherited from the previous year, both at home and abroad - and what we are likely to deal with in the new year.

Today I will make an exception and start a little differently. It is true that the events of last year, both at home and globally, were intense ones, practically all year long - in fact, until the very last days. Last year opened questions that we will not be able to circumvent or talk away, but that we will have to answer at home, in Europe, and in the wider world.

I want to talk about something that will affect all of us, namely, the future of the country that we jointly manage and develop, this Slovakia of ours, before we chat about or decide on any further issues.

Shortly before the end of last year a survey on the behavior of young people online was published. A significantly large majority of respondents acknowledged that the Internet faces the problem of hate speech, insults and vulgarity, and more than two-thirds indicated that they consider it a serious social problem. When asked what they would do about it, however, more than 70 percent answered: "I accept it - I will do nothing, it would be pointless - I don't pay attention to it."

Each of us who is active on the Internet and online social networks comprehends this attitude, but what we are really saying here? We are saying that what the majority of us would not accept among our friends, or at home, or even publicly in the street among strangers, or at work - what the vast majority of us would not want our children to behave like - is something that on the Internet and online social networks we will just resign ourselves to and shrug off.

We live at a time when many people are puzzled. It is as of our feelings of safety, security and stability have faded. It is quite normal that we are afraid of many things, but we cannot afford to let our feelings of fear become those of anger and hatred. It is perfectly normal and we have every reason to be angry, even about many events and things around us, about other people, about politicians, but we must not vent our indignation through aggression.

If we stop respecting each other, we will break not just our democracy, but our capacity for civil coexistence, our society as a whole. Let's respect each other and our different opinions. It is important to remember that everyone protects our common cultural boundaries and the rules of our coexistence. Calling for people to be sent to the gas chambers, even if only through the Internet, is simply unacceptable. Inciting anger and hatred against entire groups of people, nationalities, nations, religions, or calling them inferior must become intolerable and unacceptable to any decent person - even if just on the Internet. Wishing death to anybody, including our political opponents - although "only" on the Internet - is simply unacceptable. Stating that each Romani person is a parasite and that every Muslim is a potential terrorist is false and silly. We must not tolerate these or other disseminations of anger and rage. Each evil, every misfortune caused by people, begins with a word. Words have tremendous power, and the word "hate" has always been at the beginning of the greatest tragedies of humanity.

The border of what is acceptable is stealthily moving. What used to hide in a corner here a decade or two ago has gradually shifted onto the Internet and online social networks, and from there it's just a short way for it to enter real life. Let's turn this trend around. Let's redraw our boundaries clearly - and follow them. Let us show that decency is not based in fear. Let us show that decency is not a weakness. Fairness must be heard again. Let's show the power of our graciousness to each other in everyday life and on the Internet and online social networks.

Disseminating anger among our fellow human beings is a sin.

I want to ask that these same requirements also apply to our politicians. I think their animosity during this last year also crossed new boundaries. In the absence of rational arguments, personal insults and vulgarity are increasingly being used. Let's not let cultivation, decency, humanity and tolerance be labeled "political correctness". There is nothing better than tolerance, trust, and wisdom, we must keep our political and societal debates to the point, polite, and tolerant, without anger on the tongue and red eyes.

In a few days we will mark exactly one year since the entire country parted with Father Srholec, many of us with emotion. Such an extraordinary person does not occur frequently in any generation, in any nation. I have repeatedly gone back to what he said when I asked him, years ago, what our country needs most. With confidence, conviction, and a smile, he said one word: Sophistication.

Coming from him, that was visionary. He felt, he saw, that once again we are living at a time when the personal fairness and humanist values of each one of us, the sophistication of society, is more important than the differences in our political views, or differences in religious matters, or personal likes and preferences. I am sure that as long as we keep these values, we will make the right decisions and we can handle all difficulties and obstacles.

We have before us an important - a very important - year. We might consider this the year of truth, where we can either talk about our good intentions, or we can move things with action.

Slovakia begins 2017 in very good condition. The question is whether we can position Slovakia and some of its results, especially economic growth and falling unemployment, so as to better utilize state services gradually and yield a higher quality of life. This will be the year of truth, because otherwise we will see a merciless reflection in the mirror.

This will be an important year, in which it will be seen whether we will launch an ambitious plan to reform our education system, whether parents and teachers will get support, whether the Government will support it, including politicians both in Government and in the opposition. What we have prepared with our leading experts is a good plan - and I am very much interceding to ask for a big political agreement about education reform. Step by step, we must adapt our entire education syctem to the new era that has begun and that our children will have to deal with.

This year will be the year of truth, and the current Government and Minister of Health can mandate at this time who should catch up with the projects that previous governments have neglected over the years. All these changes are ones we have been able to describe in the language people want to hear. They want to know at what point, at what time, and to what precise extent the national law - wherever they live - will entitle them to quality health care from their insurance.

This will be an important year in which we learn whether the state's main or only answer to the problems of socially excluded Romani citizens will be repression or a show of force. In some places we do need more order, but we also need a plan, especially for the children, to gradually lift them out of ignorance and poverty. There are enough regional, small-scale examples where things are already working better. Now we have to scale them up.

It will be an important year in which we will largely see whether we can restore more reasons for optimism to some of our regions. In some places a new road will not help, and technological start-ups are never going to emerge from them - but people are still living there, and we all want such places to have prospects so people will continue wanting to live there.

This will be an important year for our security. Are we able to talk about our intentions and plans just when the terrorists attack somewhere, or will our safety be a priority of paramount importance? Europe must do more to contribute to its own security - and that means we must do more. I would find it helpful if you would all ask any politician who haunts you this year with some kind of threat how he or she plans to pursue the modernization and real improvement of our security forces, or whether that is even an intention.

It will be an important year because in one area an untenable situation has lasted too long in our country. A large proportion of people in Slovakia considers the Government's refusal to really establish equality before the law and fight corruption to be a serious problem. Part of the leadership of our country, however, pretends that nothing of the sort is happening. They don't want to pass judgment. However, I think this is a profound contradiction - huge political rancor and recriminations arise from it - and it is unhealthy. Policymakers should rethink a reconstruction of their responsibilities so they can remove these shackles from our country. These shackles are a burden to the atmosphere of our daily life.

This year will also be important for Europe and for the European Union, which Slovakia has chaired for the last six months. I am glad to say that we handled our EU Presidency with honor and performed at a high level. Please note that although the last half-year was full of events and heavy subjects, the debates in the European Union were kind and peaceful. This is the tone that we Slovaks should adopt and it would suit all over Europe - and it can be a significant contribution to restoring confidence, to making Europe more cohesive, more ready, more secure and more strong.

Dear fellow citizens, we, too, in Slovakia, can change the world for the better, and we can change our country and our home for the better. We can change our country when each of us repays her with a normal piece of honest work, and when each of us depends on the country in which we live.

I wish our beautiful county of Slovakia will maintain its sophistication this year, that decorum will be heard, and that we will succeed in doing a normal piece of honest work. We must ensure that next year we can say:  "In 2017, things started to change for the better".

I wish you and your families health and love.

Happy New Year 2017.

ryz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Andrej Kiska, President, Speech, Slovakia



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