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Slovakia in the spotlight

What with the England – Slovakia football match last Saturday and Brian Micklethwait’s visit to Bratislava, it has been an unusual period of publicity for the small country wedged between its better known Central European neighbours – the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary.

In his post What EU means to Slovakia Brian waxed lyrical about the sophistication of the Slovak high-school students and their ability to transcend the limitations of their environment. They managed to turn Brian’s perception of himself up-side down:

For the Slovaks, the Internet is the world. Suddenly I felt like a provincial oik, from a huge but basically non-central kind of place like Yorkshire or Texas, in the presence of the world’s true sophisticates.

Then we get the news of racist abuse aimed at two black players in the England team during the European Championship in Slovakia last Saturday1. Emile Heskey, along with Ashley Cole, says he was subjected to the worst racist abuse he has experienced in his career.

“We heard the racist stuff because it just wasn’t in one section of the stadium, it was virtually the whole ground… To hear it in this day and age is shocking and you would have thought that people might have moved on from that sort of thing by now.”

Quite. So what is Slovakia really like? A country of which we know little and care even less, it hasn’t yet found any symbolic associations that gets small, and big, nations through the day – Switzerland has cheese and cuckoo clocks, Scotland has whisky and tartan, Czech Republic has beer and Prague, Russia has vodka and chaos etc.
The truth is that Slovakia is neither a hidden gem of sophistication a là Brian’s post nor a den of primitive and dangerous louts. It is a country suffering from the effects of long-term isolation under communism and a history of neglect and bashing by its bigger and ‘superior’ neighbours. The symptoms are standard and predictable – a severe inferiority complex coupled with an outrageously inflated sense of importance. So, a single conversation can contain scathing criticism of all things Slovak, from politics to your next door neighbours, as well as a vociferous defence of the Slovak ways as the best, never admitting that there may be something better outside your immediate world and interpreting behaviour of the outside world as if Slovakia was its focal concern. The result of such an autistic worldview is usually a breeding ground for conspiracy theories…

Makes sense, if you ask me. The racist abuse hurled at the England players is based on the same fear of the unknown, fear of the ‘different’ that could undermine one’s ill-fitting but comfortable understanding of the world, like a tight but well-worn shoe. In Slovakia this fear goes hand in hand with the desperate need to feel superior to someone and so any reason, however ‘out-dated’ or primitive, will do.

But while I may have some understanding for the Slovak struggle for identity, I do have a problem with the Slovak media and its approach to the incident. I haven’t had a chance to find out what ‘ordinary people’ think but no doubt Brian will be happy to share his first-hand experience, given half the chance.

In what is to be the first ever fisking of Slovak news, I will quote from an article by Pravda, a mainstream newspaper in Slovakia:

“This type of abuse will probably never stop. I have experienced racism since I played in the under 21s” said Heskey calmly to the British media.

Calmly, my foot. And even so, how does Heskey’s ‘calm’ make the behaviour of the crowd less primitive?!

However, Beckham was not hiding his disgust of the Slovak fans’ behaviour in the stadium Slovan in Bratislava: “Problems with our fans is one thing but the most significant moment was the racist behaviour towards our players. We tried to ignore it but it simply wasn’t possible to screen it out completely.”

As if Beckham’s glossing over the England football fans, who indeed were causing trouble, and his insistence that the behaviour of the Slovak fans was worse, disqualifies him as biased and renders his judgement irrelevant. How subtle!

And finally:

A classic definition was attempted by the England coach Eriksson: “This should not be possible in the year 2002. It was horrendous and shouldn’t have happened.”

Yes, bring on the sarcasm and screw unbiased and unloaded reporting!

It is the reaction of those whose identity and sense of worth is built on emotional rather than rational grounds and Slovakia certainly does not have the monopoly on this phenomenon, which can be found in any society. The difference is in the significance and effectiveness of the historical straws at which the society in question can clutch. Hence the well-known obsession of the English with World War II, the anti-German banter being a source of instant and cheap superiority to any English football hooligan.

To be fair, this kind of knee-jerk reaction is not confined to the simple or provincial mindsets, it is rife amongst the ‘sophisticated’ western socialist commentators, journalists, politicians, intellectuals etc., obviously, its manifestations far more ‘civilised’ than the racist booing of the Slovak football crowd.

The socialist beliefs and rhetoric of the ‘chattering classes’ act as a psychological salve, soothing their champagne-soaked consciences as well as making them feel virtuous about defending the poor of this world. Overflowing with ‘noble’ sentiment and love of the humankind, they truly hate us – the heartless capitalists thriving on child labour, the cold-hearted free marketeers spurning the warm cocoon of the state love, the beastly gun-wielding hawks supporting military action against our enemies, so obviously evil and warped for we disagree with them! The old “Workers of the world unite!” has been replaced with “Do not think, emote!” And to hell with those who make them confront the results and consequences of their idiotarian mental processes. There is always room for a new definition of the ‘class enemy’!

1 = I am not concerned about the force used by the Slovak police against violent England football fans set on making trouble since that is the only way to deal with them. Also, I do not think shooting of two England fans outside a bar in Bratislava demonstrates anything but more stringent, albeit not entirely PC, attitudes towards security. They were shot by private security guards…

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6 comments to Slovakia in the spotlight

  • When I think of Slovakia I think of Peter Bondra, Pavol Demitra, Zigmund Palffy and (he of the cool URL) Miroslav Satan.

  • Ziggy

    is not just slovakia good lady. after living in west for many years in uk, usa and spain, i go back to poland for one long year. is almost impossible to have sentient conversation with people here. everything wrong is because of jews or bankers or russians or americans or blacks. blacks? yes i hear even this! who the fuck sees a black person in poland for christ sake! only blackface person here is one who just come out of coal mine! heven forbid problems in poland is because of poles! soon contract is over and i move back to usa. not soon enough! i could not wait to come back and now cannot wait to get the hell out!

  • Yes, it’s not just Slovakia and I wouldn’t want to single the good people out. I know how you feel – frustrated, angry, despondent because nothing you say registers with them. They cling to their theories and explanations blaming everyone else but themselves.

    Don’t be too hard on them though, this insistence on conspiracy theories has very little to do with their rational faculties. Imagine, all those years under communism you had the big bad government to blame, quite rightly, and suddenly you are faced with a very different and unknown reality. If and when you mess up, you have to face the consequences of your actions. That is hard for anyone…and so you invent all sorts of reasons why things are not going well, evade the root causes of your problems and blame the rest of the world for your failures and inadequacies. It is an emotional need that makes them believe those ridiculous ‘conspiracy’ theories…

    Although I have some understanding for the people of Central and Eastern Europe (which is not limitless, however), I also know that without confronting the new reality, there will be no true progress. I have no idea how long it will take and what it will take to achieve it. Of course, there have been many positive changes and life there bears most of the signs of properity. Western goods, luxuries, travel, information, technology, services etc,. However, I find that there is something missing in people’s understanding of reality. And so you can get educated, intelligent people talking about Jews, or bankers, or some US shadowy organisation, or whoever sounds most evil, trying to run, control, destroy, undermine their wonderful country.

  • My most enduring image of Bratislava (aside from the dismal ‘Square of Slovak National Uprising’ with those comical statues) is the even more dismal vista of the commie-built suburb of Petrzalka, as seen from the castle hill. Ever seen The Matrix? Remember that scene when Neo first wakes up in the tank full of goo and sees an endless field of towers studded with goo-filled tanks? That’s kind of what Petrzalka looks like on a cloudy day.

    Ah Slovakia – two-storey trains, beer on sale at 6am from the railway station ‘bufet’, streets made of mud, but such beautiful forests in the southern reaches of the Malé Karpaty, such pliant and accessible women, such world-class central-heating. And all three together make for such a pleasurable afternoon.

  • molly

    Unfortunatly you can find the same shite much closer to home. I was in Scotland yesterday and in this pub was forced to listen to this nonsence from a couple SNP gits about how the real reason for the Faslane base was to give the ‘London Government’ backed up by the US Navy (!) a toehold in Scotland if independence ever came and how it would be like Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in post independence Scotland. Stupidity knows no borders.