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We suffered under Hungarians, we suffered under Czechs


or the Czech Republic and Slovakia are losing their geographical prominence

(or what to fo with the nation and patriotism in the 21st century?
 


HRÍB: The topic is "We suffered under Hungarians, we suffered under Czechs". It is out of question in this part of the world not to have had bad experiences between the nations. The question is, whether it is possible to be a patriot and "forget" the wrongs we mutually inflicted.

FELDEK: The word mutually is very important here. If we assume the legend about us being a peaceful nation is true, that we are only wronged upon and don't wrong ourselves, it would not be precise. We still are an imperialist nation. If we were not so small, we would have shown everybody how much imperialism we are capable of. After all, some time ago we had a common state with the Moravians that was feared by the Czechs, Austrians and Poles. And the Moravians who are discussing with us today can confirm this.

HRÍB: Is it possible to abstract from these experiences, which we as a Central European nation have, and grudge nothing to the neighboring nations?

ZAJAC: Let's put this question differently. I would like to return to some terms. We know what are historical nationalism and the 19th century nationalism. From historical point of view, the term nationalism is neutral, connected with the newly emerging modern political nations. We know what happened to this term in the 20th century and we also know that this term is negatively biased nowadays. You actually cannot apply this term in a positive way.

I guess the reason for creating the word "patriotism" was to fill the blank space in terminology of the collective national identity. This makes it a bit awkward a term. On the other hand, it is very useful because it helps us, who work with Slovak culture; it prevented us from having to rid ourselves of terms like Slovak, Slovak culture, Slovak literature, and so on. It would be unnatural to us, because those are terms we've been using all our lives; they constitute the world we live in.

I have a third observation. I use distinction between nationalism and patriotism, to separate the negative perception of the former and the positive perception of love to country and culture of the latter. It can also mean a lot of different things. For example, the perception of the fact, that a nationalist views the collective body as something indistinguishable; he always says we Slovaks, you Hungarians, Czechs a does not see the differences between individual Slovaks. The basic motive here is the differentiation between hatred and a kind of elementary fondness.

There is another general and legitimate attitude. It needs to be mentioned. It is the cosmopolitan attitude. This word, cosmopolitan, is quite negatively biased especially from the fifties, when a lot of talk was going on about cosmopolitism. However, originally from the historical and cultural perspective it means nothing else but cosmopolitanism, a kind of worldliness. I identify with me as a person, but then I identify myself with many different levels and the national level does not necessarily need to have much significance for me. I can feel more like a European than Slovak, or more the inhabitant of the global world than Slovak. I think that this is a legitimate attitude as well. The term patriotism is very useful for me because of the reasons I mentioned before. One of the reasons for this maybe the fact that I, as well as Ľubomír Feldek, have a lot to do with Slovak culture.

The second question mentions mutual wrongs that historically exist, and it wouldn't make sense to deny them. I think that similarly it wouldn't make sense in any way to attempt to obliterate these wrongs and at all costs talk about good relationships. Notion of creating a common history of, for example, the French and German, Slovak and Hungarian has been brought up. If this kind of common history was created, it would be irrelevant to attempt creating individual national histories. A natural space in the historic periods needs to be left for the conflicts and all the different opinions to be named and analyzed; for the reader, kid, or pupil to be able to see the conflicts that took place in the past, why they happened and above all why they needn't be the same today. Thus, I think there is a possibility to be a patriot and at the same time to be aware of the mutual wrongs that happened in the past.

KUSÝ: Patriotism and nationalism can be distinguished, but it is very difficult, because patriotism has been much decried; the situation is even worse with nationalism. Patriotism is decried by the fact that from the appearance of national consciousness, patriotism was connected with a country and its regime. It was bound to power, the Czechoslovak patriotism to T. G. Masaryk. Republic was the patriotism. It was always related to officials; patriotism as the national coat of arms (the symbol there)... Patriotism in history very often developed into nationalism.

HRÍB: Let's return to the topic "We suffered under Hungarians, we suffered under Czechs". Is the problem of distinguishing ourselves against the Czechs or Hungarians still topical nowadays?

FELDEK: Definitely not against the Czechs, I think. Furthermore, recently positive statements about the Czechs appeared. Sometimes they were pursuing various purposes, especially statements from politicians like Slota. However, they appeared. I repeat once again that the legend about the peaceful nation is just a legend and in some ways we are capable of imperialism. I'll joke for a bit—this is where we differ from the Czechs, because they are a nation incapable of imperialism, and this is where they lag far behind us. If we were in their position at the formation of Czechoslovakia, if we were the dominant nation, in other words the biggest one, we would have done the same thing the French, Spanish, or English did, as any other imperialist nation. We would have established the Slovak language as the compulsory and official language on the whole territory of Czechoslovakia. The Czechs didn't do it. What message does that put through? It is a nation that lacks the imperialist tastes; they lack this cell and thank God for it. The Czechs came to Slovakia and instead of introducing Czech language, they sent Czech teachers to teach Slovak to Slovaks. And now, because we're close to the date October 28, it's time to thank them for it.


The conflict between Czechs and Slovaks was culturally artificial

HRÍB: Do you think that what was present in 1991, 1992, and 1993 has already faded?

FELDEK: That was Foam of the Daze, but the positive aspects were much baser and deeper. The nationalist jests were superficial, they've faded and the basic stays.

HRÍB: And what about the Hungarians?

FELDEK: It's more complicated with the Hungarians, because we had with them two fundamental problems about the language and territory, which we didn't have with the Czechs. It is an explosive substance in relation to a nation or a state. When this collective feeling emerges, it discloses an instinct we inherited from animals and the language problems only added to it. It cannot be concealed that this problem with the Hungarians existed.

HRÍB: Has it been changing since the nineties?

FELDEK: No freedom of speech restricted the appearance of nationalism. It was forbidden. There are two sides to every coin. Foam of the Daze appeared with the freedom of speech between the Slovaks and Hungarians. I firmly believe that the fundaments of this relationship are set correctly. The Foam of the Daze is but purposeful abuse of reminiscences by the politicians; on their part it's surely not any patriotic or nationalist feelings. It's only calculations with the quotas, parliament quorum, and manipulating certain voter groups. This aspect will never change and will always appear on both the Hungarian and Slovak side, because politicians are the same everywhere.

HRÍB: Peter, do you think that positive attitude is predominant towards the Czechs?

ZAJAC: In Central Europe the relationship between a bigger and a smaller nation is always asymmetrical. We keep on demanding some kind of "justice" from the bigger, and we behave to the smaller the way the bigger treats us. In other words, I think that Czech, Polish, Slovak or Hungarian nationalism does exist. Smaller against the bigger, Czechs against Germans, Poles against the Germans as well, or the Russians... They demand some kind of egalitarianism and justice; to the smaller ones the nationalism consists in the fact that you would like to stomp the smaller into the ground. This is the way it works in Central Europe. Concerning the relationship of Czechs and Slovaks, the conflict that came about in 1991 and 1992 was culturally artificial, because it didn't have any support in history; Czechs and Slovaks never had any territorial disputes. The borders have been always set; there were never any bitter wars or bitter wrongs done. The problematic issues of 1991 and 1992 had never any historical background and have faded out.

HRÍB: So you think that a topic like "We suffered under Czechs" is no longer in the Slovak consciousness.

ZAJAC: Firstly, I think we didn't suffer under Czechs; secondly such a feeling doesn't even exist. Maybe it lurks somewhere, let's be open about this—it surely isn't strong enough to be used as a card in the political poker game; which is quite to the contrary with the Slovak-Hungarian relationship, which was marked with various historically real conflicts. This relationship is burdened since 19th century by the idea of the uniform Hungarian nation, and also by the attempt to assimilate Slovaks through "Hungarization" of Upper Hungary (i.e. Slovakia) in 1867; further by the still prevailing feeling of the Trianon betrayal; furthermore the conflicts in 1938 and 1945. The wheel of misfortune keeps spinning, and politically, you can any time push the button, pick a problem and find out that it still works. The people in Slovakia and Hungary just simply emotionally burst out with very strong emotional reactions. The politicians are aware of this, and misuse this lurking potential. I wrote and you quoted me that patriotism is a permanent nourishing of a relationship. If the Slovak-Hungarian is not nourished steadily, it has a tendency to degenerate. I have never been in favor of the separation of Czechoslovakia, the way today for example Václav Havel says that after all it's been a good decision and it all worked out positively and today the relations are better than ever before, whilst forgetting that when we were in a common country, our relationship had a different quality from the one we have in the countries separated.
I've always had a historical fear which source is my feeling as a historian that there never was any dynasty in Central Europe that would have actually moved from power. Czech Republic and Slovakia will pay a high price for the separation; they are actually losing geographical prominence in Central Europe and their position to the Poles and Hungarians. I want to point out that in Czechoslovakia the Hungarians were 4% of the total population, while in Slovakia they make up 10% of the population.

HRÍB: Do you think that the topic "we suffered under Hungarians, we suffered under Czechs" is valid only in relation to Hungarians?

ZAJAC: As for the Hungarians, people feel it that way, and that is why it can be politically abused.

HRÍB: Miroslav, do you think that the attitude of the Slovaks to the Czechs has changed over the years?

KUSÝ: If we talk about the nations, the attitude is constant, the relationships are good. It's always been the politicians' cause to abuse the situation. I remember vividly, when I was a small boy we used to live in a mixed neighborhood. The relationships changed from day to day. As soon as the Slovak state was declared, it began to reflect in our street. Mr. Bohuška, who had a shop with colonial goods and everybody went there, suddenly "became" Czech. You never pointed at people with such labels. This thing appeared in the Balkans—who is Serbian, who is Croatian...

HRÍB: What is the relationship of Czechs and Slovaks today?

KUSÝ: It's good. You can see it even in High Tatras, where invectives like "look, it's the Czechs" stopped. Let me return to my childhood. My neighbor Mr. Ovša—a street sweeper, put his army boots and uniform on, and started on Saturday showing off and pointing at Czechs, at Germans, and at Jews. He was the one to set the "pace", because he had a uniform.

HRÍB: What do you think would have been the answers in a poll to the question "which nation is closest to us" in 1991 and today? Do you think it was and would be the Czechs?

KUSÝ: I think the Czechs have always been closest to us.


Nation Hungarica

FELDEK: It was like that before the founding of Czechoslovakia. Even after the dissolution of Czechoslovakia the relationship is constantly good.

HRÍB: How has the Slovak-Hungarian relationship changed since 1990?

KUSÝ: We have been without major conflicts for most of the thousand years, but that was Nation Hungarica and crystallization of nations in the form we talk about now did not exist. When Hungarians started to be nationally conscious, Slovaks did as well. Only the last fifty years were problematic. It all began with the Austro-Hungarian compromise, then with German as the official language in Austria, Hungarian language and successful effort of the Hungarians to enforce their language in similar way the Austrians did. However, this process was very mild when compared to what was going on in 1945–48. Hungarization was not a violent process. It began complicating the relationship, but we didn't get involved in any bloody conflicts. It was not a matter of life and death, which it became later.

ZAJAC: The Czecho-Slovak consciousness has been nourished continuously since 1918. The relationship between the Czechs and Slovaks has always been good throughout history, the only exception being the language separation when it came to an intellectual conflict. However, in the history of Slovakia nobody has thoroughly studied the role of Slovakia and Upper Hungary in Hungary. No one formulated the Slovak participation in the fate of Hungary, not even in Czechoslovakia. Now we're in a situation, where we have pressing Hungarian-Slovak conflicts that can be evoked easily. We have not worked out a notion of common history, which would contain a lot of positive moments; we are unfamiliar with Austrian or Hungarian patriotism. The people then were ethnic minorities, but they identified with their Hungarian motherland and Austrian motherland and thus perceived the world. If you look into a primary school or high school history book, you'll find nothing of this inside.

HRÍB: Are Slovaks able to accept Hungarians more than before?

ZAJAC: It is positive that this issue has been brought up after the fall of communism, which is always better than suppressing a problem, because such problems tend to "explode". I think that today this problem doesn't "explode" as violently as it did in 1991 and 1992, when the emotions were very strong.

KUSÝ: Eight years of Dzurinda's government have showed that it's politically possible to cooperate with Hungarians or with their representatives, and that it can be effective.

ZAJAC: There is one notion that has been used in the time of the first Czechoslovak Republic—"state forming political state". If I were to transfer this term into contemporary circumstances, Party of the Hungarian Coalition (PHC) showed that it belongs to the state forming political parties.

HRÍB: Do you think that the nationalists understand it as well?

ZAJAC: I don't think so. However, when the party was in government, most people viewed it this way, and they were not irritated by the fact. The problem was there, but didn't surface. Dzurinda's government was no "lamb"; when they needed to improve their "score", they always brought up a national issue. Party of the Hungarian Coalition behaved politically like most of the parties; that is, wherever they had influence, they behaved corruptly, but basically the fact that they were a government party had a positive effect. On the other hand, the fact that PHC is in opposition now, allows the current government to reduce everything to national issues. Nowadays, when the question is whether a government official is deceptive, or whether he was in conflict of interests or not, the answer is not "yes" or "no", but "Hungarians are to blame".

KUSÝ: I don't know whether we fully realize that what took place yesterday in Košice is a marvelous sign of improvement. Slovaks participated in the celebration of Rakoczy's rebellion. It is a very positive phenomenon, when Rakoczy can be viewed as a representative of Slovaks as well.

FELDEK: I would like to react to what Peter said about the old relationships and react to the events, which are poorly politologically and historically mapped; about which we know nothing, and which used to be good long time ago. Hungarians call it "taken territory" and nobody seemed to mind all that much, because there's been plenty of territory. Hungarians came as a natural nation. I've noted down a very nice quote from Vaculík's Polepšené pesničky (Amended Songs), where he uses one Hungarian song: "my brown stallion has a horseshoe on the front leg and it shines". Vaculík thinks that Magyars galloped to Pannonia on horses without horseshoes. They were an uncivilized nation that learned a lot from the Slavic people. Slavs also learned from Magyars—mainly the Magyar cuisine was so influential and great that many influences can be traced in Slovak cuisine nowadays.

However, as the Magyars started to settle down in Central Europe, their instincts started changing into reflections. It's a pity there's no Hungarian discussing with us, but I know what Lajos Grendel would say now, so I'll say it, because I know it from him. Grendel says that Hungarians gradually changed into a nation without historic instinct, which he views as their biggest mistake. As an example he usually mentions the year 1867, when Hungarians used the defeat of Habsburgs and the weakened monarchy and changed the Austrian monarchy into Austro-Hungarian monarchy. Up to that point in time, they've been the subject nation and all of a sudden they became one of the ruling nations. The other nations were subjected. What happened in 1918? They paid for it. We were all liberated and they were defeated. Grendel sees the cause of this defeat in the lack of their historic instinct. They separated from the other subject nations and had to rule at all costs. It is here that the problem with the Austro-Hungarian compromise begins, which we've spoken about. Hungarians became the ruling nation and started to behave like one towards the other nations. The roots of Hungarization, mistakes, and their final defeat can be traced back to this time, which was completed in 1920 by the Trianon treaty; Hungarians haven't yet managed to recover from it.

KUSÝ: Slovak history conceals from us that on the Slovak side there were a lot of enthusiastic and intelligent Hungarian patriots—an intelligentsia that belonged to Hungarian patriots. It was probably the historically "enlightened" part that had a clue of how things would turn out. We were not a nation of anti-Hungarian enlightened people.


We Slovaks, Hungarians, and Czechs are slackers

HRÍB: Let's return to the contemporary situation. Can the historical wrongs and other ballast be balanced by our membership in the EU, where we all are Europeans? Can the nationalist conflicts be bridged thus? Do you believe that with the admission of countries into EU this question will solve itself somehow, or is it an unreal assumption?

KUSÝ: I am deeply convinced about it. The solution lies in the fact that the artificial boundaries in all spheres, that created the barriers, are very often becoming just "highly artificial". Even the physical borders and the cultural ones are being blurred more and more. Let's take some sociological factors confirming the proximity between Slovaks and Hungarians like the high number of mixed marriages, which would mean for a sociologist that the cultures definitely have the tendency to close the gap between them.

HRÍB: If I understand correctly, you are saying that the membership of Slovaks and Hungarians in the EU will lead them to view themselves more as Europeans, and the passions will automatically decline?

KUSÝ: Yes. The "phobias" will lose significance.

HRÍB: So the European identity will satisfy Slovak or Hungarian soul enough to make it forget the Slovak or Hungarian?

KUSÝ: It doesn't have to be the soul of a European, that's a more remote perspective. However, very soon the physical country borders will be "cancelled" and the fear of the Hungarians demanding autonomous territory will lose justification.

FELDEK: I think that in this issue, the Slovaks will choose a different approach from the Czechs. In my opinion, we won't share the Czech euro-skepticism. Why should we be EU skeptics, when it is beneficial to us that the European central "headquarters" will correct our eventual mistakes? If you consider that Serbia eventually had to extradite war criminals, because it had no other possibility, that is a wholly novel situation.

KUSÝ: In this context it is obvious that the EU had a "moralizing" role, because if there were no EU, many things including the entry of Hungarians into government wouldn't have happened.

HRÍB: Ľubomír, do you think that the fact that we, Slovaks, Hungarians and Czechs are in the EU, the union will solve possible problems for us?

FELDEK: EU will assist in solving them. I believe it and I never will be an EU skeptic. I've mentioned a similar case of the war consequences in Serbia.

HRÍB: But we haven't had a war here.

FELDEK: However, we have to start our considerations with this ultimate danger in mind, that things might go really worse. The war can be prevented by not being EU skeptic and in some issues relying on the opinions of EU.

ZAJAC: To be honest, I think both of these opinions are an absolute illusion. I don't think that EU will automatically remove problems between Slovaks and Hungarians. I don't think that in certain cases the EU will solve our problems for us with some kind of intervention. If the EU will function at least a bit effectively as a whole, and rely on the military force of NATO, it will only more or less soften the conflicts that have always existed in this part of the world, and that will always exist. I don't remember EU having solved the problems between the Basques and Spanish, or the English and Irish... These problems have historic background and survive, or they are in some way reproduced. I'm not an optimist in this respect. I think that conflicts of the Slovak-Hungarian type cannot be solved—at least in the sense that they'd be removed. They can be treated better or worse, or eventually abused. There is no automatic truth that EU will be only successful—and in times when EU won't be successful, these conflicts will grow.

HRÍB: Could the European identity in a long term perspective take place of the national, and suppress the national conflicts?

ZAJAC: I don't think so, because when a collective identity has been created in history it does not fade. In the 19th century this identity is strong and on its basis the modern political nation is created. In the 20th century it leads to absolute perversities, whereas in the 21st century this issue is weaker, but national identities remain intact and they'll stay so even in EU—simply because sometimes your coat is nearer than your cloak, sometimes German is closer than European. When the issue was the 3% GDP deficit, all of a sudden it shows that Germans are able to coolly exceed it.

HRÍB: Is it natural or not?

ZAJAC: I wouldn't ask this question. In history you don't use words like natural or unnatural. It developed historically to the present state, and this is the present state of things.

HRÍB: Do you believe in the so-called European nation?

ZAJAC: In principle not at least at this historical moment.

FELDEK: Nobody from this group does, we just believe in higher institutions. They've always interfered. Treaty of Trianon and the post-war arrangements were created by higher institutions and it worked for long. They don't have to change national feelings, but they help to solve problems.

HRÍB: I understand from what you've said, that we, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Czechs are lazy slackers, so it's good that there's Brussels' hand guarding over us? Do you think they're more intelligent?

FELDEK: This is not about intelligence, but about the position of chessman on the chess board. I'll tell you one amusing example, but from another field. There's been some TV show recently about the problems between neighbors. One man wanted to repair his roof, but he was only able to do it from the garden of his neighbor, who would not let him enter his garden. A psychologist entered the debate and said, that psychology does not recommend for the neighbor conflicts to be solved by the neighbors themselves. From the psychological perspective it's better when some third person assists.

HRÍB: But the third person has to be sensible.

FELDEK: He has to be sensible and has to have some power.

HRÍB: So do you think that the Brussels politicians are sensible?

FELDEK: They'll have to be or become sensible, because they have an important position.

KUSÝ: Brussels doesn't work only towards us, but also towards the French, Spanish... Brussels decisions are conclusive for the French as well. They need to amend their minority politics. Their old attitude of there being only one French nation is unsustainable in EU. EU generates pressure on them to recognize their minorities.

HRÍB: In Slovakia, several reforms have been done, that were necessary—I think we can agree on this. EU is rather an obstruction to them. So the institutional "sensibility" you've been talking about has only been more to our damage than profit.

KUSÝ: I don't think so. Even "old Europe" has to change its old rooted attitudes that it needs to change according to the situation. I think it is very clear nowadays.

ZAJAC: I don't think that entering EU neither automatically means the solutions of all problems nor protection against them. To the contrary, I think we unfortunately entered EU in a situation, where it is in deep internal crisis—this crisis is very deep and we know no solution to it. It is a huge difference whether we wanted to get into EU or now EU problems are also our problems.

HRÍB: There is a habit in some EU countries, that the government blames all unpopular things on EU. We're expecting Europe to solve our problems. Won't the voters feel even bigger alienation from Brussels and vote for even more nationalist parties at home?

FELDEK: Quite to the contrary. If they won't do anything, they'll alienate themselves. If we see that they're trying to adapt to new situations, I don't see a reason why they should alienate themselves. Hopefully they won't be as stupid as to create two Albanias, four Hungarys... it's their role to guard the status quo.

ZAJAC: I will use a "mechanical" example. Canon producers are producing bigger and stronger cannon balls and the shield producers are producing harder shields. Contemporary nationalists have learned how to exist in EU much more efficiently. This implies for us, that Fico used to reject entry into EU and always asserted that we'll enter there with bare buttocks. Today, we're in EU and he is making use of the achievements of the previous government, which led the country into EU against his will. On one hand, he uses all the benefits and advantages of this entry into EU. On the other hand, the present government is examining how far they can go with the nationalist issues. I must say that so far they have very effectively used the anti-Hungarian button even under the "shelter" of EU. Under this shelter nationalism works a bit differently than before, but still it can work very effectively.

HRÍB: From the long-term perspective, do you think that in relation to nationalism our membership in EU is positive or it isn't related?

ZAJAC: Many variants of ethnical relationships have been tested in Europe. The imperial pattern was used, with big countries seemingly without obvious ethnical problems, very similar to the Habsburg monarchy, where it proved not to work. This monarchy has failed in the creation of modern political nations. Other options have been tested; after 1918 it was the national states, which tried to form some kind of minor agreements. It proved not to be sufficient. It was insufficient in the European and global power struggle. Today we're witnessing and attempt to create a larger unit on a European level. I don't dare to say whether it'll be successful. I only think that it has better chances than the nation states set against each other; it has better chances for success than other attempts to create Central European federations or other forms of arrangement.

HRÍB: Is it possible that contemporary functioning of EU may incite nationalism?

ZAJAC: Yes, of course... it can be evoked as a reaction against EU, that's a common phenomenon.

HRÍB: What is the cause of it?

ZAJAC: It's caused by the defense mechanisms of the countries.

HRÍB: What are they defending themselves from?

ZAJAC: They can be defending themselves from someone's interferences, or because it's economically unprofitable; there are many possibilities. However, we don't get to feel this way in Slovakia, and until the European funds will work, the nationalists will have little control, because they'll be getting from EU more than they'll be investing.

HRÍB: Why did the French and Dutch, long-time EU members, refuse the European Constitution, which could have been the backbone of Europe?

ZAJAC: Because for one part of the French, the socialists, it was too liberal, and for the other part, the liberals, it was not liberal enough.

HRÍB: Is there any way how to steer clear out of this?

ZAJAC: There's no way steering clear out of it. That's out of question. It's written in the Constitution like this. EU is very self-contradictory, because it always puts two groups of citizens of one country into opposition. One group that thinks socialistically -for them EU is too liberal, and the other that thinks liberally—for them it's too socialistic.

KUSÝ: I think that nationalism is not an eternal theme. It was created with the emergence of the nation states, but today it's just a remainder, which is evoked on the basis of past phenomena. It has its source somewhere else than in the modern time. Nationalist are losing fertile ground, it's vanishing—that's why they're looking for new themes.

HRÍB: Why do you think it's vanishing?

KUSÝ: They are losing the nation state as feeding ground. Many taboo issues that were sacred for the nation are losing importance. The road of the nations is a sociological process; I'll give a sociological example. Slovakia is urbanized nowadays and the country traditions are disappearing in the urban population. A city inhabitant has different habits and way of life, even traditions, from the people in the country.


I don't get up in the morning with thinking "I'm Slovak"

HRÍB: Do you think that importance of nations as such is diminishing?

KUSÝ: Yes.

HRÍB: Until they'll disappear?

KUSÝ: I cannot tell whether they'll fade totally. Even in a city person there will always remain some reminiscences of the country—he'll want to have a field of his own somewhere, where he'll grow parsley...

ZAJAC: You'll need to name things directly even in controversial relationships. Everyone here openly said that he is an enemy of nationalism—which above all means animosity.

HRÍB: Hatred.

ZAJAC: And violence, after all. Our opinions differ in this aspect. First, nations don't rise and fall all in one moment. Second, once the phenomenon of modern nations arose in history, it is not going to disappear—it may be cultivated, the nations can exist in other less conflicting relationships. I don't think that the problem of nations should be of less importance in the future. Third, I think that emergence of other types of cultural conflicts, like the conflict between the European and Muslim culture, will lead Europeans to maintain the status quo, which contains among others also national identity and variety of nations. I don't see any reasons why should the nations perish at the moment, or why they should cease to play a part in the European situation.

FELDEK: You don't have to believe me, but as we have nails, teeth, and hair, which we inherited from animals, we also inherited the "crowding instinct". I put this into connection with nationalism, because it's a deeply rooted instinct that we cannot cope with too easily...

HRÍB: And should we?

FELDEK: We should, because the whole human culture is about conquering our animal instincts.

HRÍB: But nation is a manifestation of the human need for collective identity.

FELDEK: You see, it's in us!

HRÍB: And that is wrong?

FELDEK: It can be both wrong and right.

HRÍB: So it's neutral.

FELDEK: In itself, it's a natural heritage.

KUSÝ: This kind of collectivism was dominant in the past; we lived in it and everything went back to it. However, it differentiated greatly. Today we have different kinds of collective identities parallel to national collectivism. There were no fan clubs in the past. National collectivism was strong and dominant. The "crowding instinct" can be satisfied in other ways than just the national.

HRÍB: Why is then the national way bad?

KUSÝ: I'm not saying it's bad. It doesn't have to be bad. Anyway, it can degenerate if it becomes the only world view. However, today it dissolves into many identities.

HRÍB: Dissolves? So the French are feeling less French nowadays?

KUSÝ: Of course they do. Besides being French, they're becoming Europeans, members of the golf club... the dominance didn't dissolve in a way it does in modern times.

HRÍB: Is there a way to "measure", whether people (the French) are feeling less French than they used to?

KUSÝ: I don't get up in the morning with thinking "I'm Slovak" and that I have to do something for Slovakia. There were times when a Slovak had to think this way.

HRÍB: Is there a way to scientifically prove that the national identity is in decline?

KUSÝ: With the multiplication of the number of nationalist groups of various kind declines the domination of one of them.

ZAJAC: There are different kinds of identities—individual, family, local, regional, national...It is highly probable that the national identity, which emerged historically as territorial, is probably the highest degree of collective identity that a person can perceive intensively enough. European identity is more abstract and people cannot identify with it as strongly as with the other identities mentioned.

HRÍB: Which means?

ZAJAC: It means that national identity won't dissolve in other kinds of identities. It will always exist and constitute one of the strong identities.

HRÍB: Our Czech colleagues have chosen as the topic for us "We suffered under Hungarians, we suffered under Czechs". I infer from this that they think that it is an important issue in Slovakia. Is it a key problem here?

KUSÝ: I don't think it's a key problem. Key problems of today are economic or social issues. If the existence of our nation came into question, this problem would become a key issue.

HRÍB: Ľubomír, is nationalism a key issue of contemporary Slovakia? When not, what are the key issues?

FELDEK: I'm a lawyer's son and you made an interview about that with me. I grew up among judges and prisoners. I view the world through legislation. The key issue here is that first of all legitimate lawfulness should have been established and democracy only afterwards. Democracy is being established here in a setting, where legislation doesn't work. We live in illegal processes and pretend democracy. In this area I expect some contribution from the European and global models.


Culture of illusions

HRÍB: Peter, is nationalism a main problem of Slovakia?

ZAJAC: Nationalism becomes a main problem, when all problems are explained through it. Contemporary Slovakia has gone quite far this way. The government consciously converts all problems that can be converted this way into national ones. It means a bad state of society to me. I think it's one of the key problems now. If I were to say what the biggest problem of Slovakia is, I would paraphrase what Ľubomír said. Not only in Slovakia, but throughout central Europe, works the culture of illusions. Concrete relationships are not created, only illusions about them. A system of creating good laws doesn't function; the legal system and relationships between legal subjects don't work.

HRÍB: Could you be more specific?

ZAJAC: One of the biggest cases is probably the case of Mečiar's amnesties. I consider it the basis for what I call culture of illusions. I've read a headline in SME newspaper that run "Lexa is innocent". The illusion is embedded in the assertion. Lexa is not "acquitted", he just hasn't been tried in court—that is a huge difference. By creating an unbelievable system of illusions in Slovakia, we hinder solving a lot of problems. In this case, without canceling the amnesties it is impossible to solve the case of the president's son abduction. However, it seems that any opening up of this issue and attempting to solve it would be the worse possibility. It's this huge gap that determines the status of legal consciousness of people in Slovakia.

HRÍB: Do you perceive any problem the Czechs have?

KUSÝ: Their problem is on another level. They've moved from revolutionary politics, which proclaimed big slogans to the kind of politics where everything can be arranged somehow. That is the "trend" in Czech politics. Sometimes it is said about them they're "two-toungued".

FELDEK: It's "cunning" what's said about them.

KUSÝ: And this shows on their political scene as a norm.

FELDEK: Czech politics has a longer tradition, that's why I don't understand it sometimes—sometimes we judge too quickly and are surprised to find that what seemed as an insoluble problem, will be easily solved in future. The state without government as it is now can be resolved in tomorrow's papers. Czechs are masters in this. They're chess players that think a couple of moves ahead. In this respect, we are "kid chess players", who only think about one move.

HRÍB: Is there something you perceive as a Czech problem?

FELDEK: The Czechs are not to be put by when speaking about illegality. Czechs created the saying "Let's turn off the lights for five minutes, and law and order will appear after that". Darkness has reigned for the last sixteen years. Slovaks have quite readily accepted this for their own. However, Czechs are much further with solving this problem. Did any government member get tried in court in Slovakia? In the Czech Republic they did. Zeman sacrificed his minister Svoboda, because where legality ends, also the protection of government members ends. We should learn from them.

ZAJAC: If we speak about legality in Czech Republic, it is necessary to start with the formation of politics after 1992. I mean "mis-creations" like the opposition agreement, which do harm to democratic politics; I mean electing individual representatives, the level of corruption of politics, economy, or secret intelligence services. We're witnessing all that. Everything I mentioned personifies in my eyes in one character, citizen Paroubek, who is the absolute product of Czech politics.

HRÍB: The situation into which we arrived after sixteen years is surprising to you, or it's as you've expected it...

KUSÝ: We're much better off than we've expected before six years, and better than I've expected it to be in the time of Mečiar's government. I agree with Peter, that nationalism has a huge chance of growing. The problem is whether this nationalism has real space to develop, or whether it's just arbitrarily created by the politicians. This is where our opinions differ. After eight years I've started receiving anonymous nationalist letters.

HRÍB: Which things and aspects have exceeded expectation?

KUSÝ: We have improved a lot in what is called "culture of politics". I think that it improved, although Slota is still Slota and never will be different, or that Smer is the governing party and still retains its typical features.

FELDEK: History, in spite of all the horrors we talk about here, is a beautiful wilderness. We have to look a bit back into history to gain confidence that what we're living through is not apt to destroy nations. Let's take English Renaissance and how many wonderful accidents it contains. If there was bad weather in 1588, the Spanish would have beaten the English and America would be Spanish speaking today; if Henry VIII wouldn't need to get a divorce, renaissance wouldn't even happen. Nations have endured wilderness throughout history, we will endure the few "wildernesses" that are going on today.

ZAJAC: There is no set anticipated procedure, aim or result in history. I realize that the communist and democratic systems are incomparable. That's clear. It's not all the same who is in government in Slovakia. Even if I were a strong critic of Dzuridna's government as I am not, there is one crucial and principal difference for me as a conservative liberal that is valid still today. This difference that is the biggest disappointment for me has been the ruling period of a government I identified with.

HRÍB: Why?

ZAJAC: Because it wasted a chance to make Slovakia into a better country. Those eight years were an enormous possibility, and notwithstanding all the positive things, it's been wasted. And I think the culture of politics has not improved.

(The roundtable debate took place in the autumn 2006 in Bratislava as part of a project organized by Revue RozRazil and funded by the International Visegrad Fund.)


Profiles of the Participants:

Štefan Hríb (1965), journalist, discussion leader, editor in chief of the weekly magazine Týždeň. After finishing studies he worked as a researcher in Institute of Electrical Engineering of Slovak Academy of Sciences. From 1991 he was a publicist for Lidové noviny newspaper, consequently a speaker in Radio Free Europe. From 1999 until 2004 he was editor in chief of the weekly magazíne Domino fórum. He has a TV discussion show Pod Lampou (Under the lamplight) on Slovak Television channel.

Ľubomír Feldek (1936), poet and publicist. Since 1976 he's been the stage advisor for Poetická scéna (Poetic stage) in Bratislava. He wrote several poem collections and a novel, Van Stiphout. His translations are very significant—he translated modern poetry as well as classic plays from several languages. In the middle of nineties he settled in Prague and accepted Czech citizenship. Today, he lives in Bratislava again.

Miroslav Kusý (1931), university professor of philosophy and political science, teaches at the Department of Political Science at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University in Bratislava, which he founded in 1990. Signatary of Charter 77, during the communist rule was several times imprisoned, the last time he was sentenced in 1989 in the trial with the so-called Bratislavská päťka (Bratislava's Fiver). Member of the Coordination centre of Public Against Violence and also member of the first federal government "of national apprehension" (head of the Federal bureau for print media and information), MP of the Federal Parliament and Slovak parliament, rector of Comenius University in Bratislava. After the 1992 elections he drew back from active politics. He wrote approximately 800 specialized and publicist articles, essays and contributions. He published fourteen books.

Peter Zajac (1946), literary scholar. Graduate of Slovak and German language studies at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University in Bratislava. In 1989 co-founder of Public Against Violence, from 1991 chairman of the Slovak PEN centre, member of the presidium of Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences. In 1998–2001 he was an MP. At the moment he works at the Institute of Slovak Literature at Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava. He lectures at the Humboldt University in Berlin.


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