Before the elections to the European Parliament, nothing seems likely to change and nothing will until we change ourselves.

You know the feeling, that something is in the air and that nothing at the end of that day will be the same as before. And I must admit, I have this feeling these days, and closer the day for European Parliament election gets, the more intensive this feeling becomes. Am I paranoid? And who is not in this region, in Slovakia?

Wars of Words

This feeling is omnipresent, and I could describe it with the annotation “Everything goes” in dating columns for daily newspapers. And that’s the same feeling that I have when I look at the candidates and parties running for the EP. “Everything goes” is currently visible also in electoral campaigns, and these have descended into a cultural war of words about belonging to the West, to Europe, cherishing the traditional family values, church, the purity of us – Slovaks, belonging to an open and liberal society, to a traditional and conservative community, or simply to…(something).

At first glance, it seems like these wars of words have no common origin. But this is not correct, all the forces that emerged in 2016 and after are becoming more and more powerful because they are free to say whatever they wish without facing the consequences; these harmful thoughts and ideas are not demonised and marginalised as they were before.

Words at War

In the past thirty-eight months, the political climate in Slovakia changed. However, it was not a rapid transformation that emerged after the election in 2006 or after the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova. These events played a role more as the main triggers for old stereotypes and prejudices that were hiding just under the surface.

The entry of the Kotleba political party into the parliament legitimized their views in societal discourse; they became taboo-breakers that changed the behaviour of the mainstream. It was not Kotleba but Robert Fico, who claimed before the parliamentary election in March 2016 that “the only way to eliminate risks of events, which happened in Paris and Germany is to prevent the creation of a compact Muslim community in Slovakia”, and it was again Robert Fico who claimed that “foreign forces are trying to destabilise Slovakia. We already know that the organisers of those demonstrations after the murder of Ján Kuciak came from the organisations funded by George Soros.”

It was not Marian Kotleba who attacked the third sector through media, but the minister of culture Lubica Laššaková, who claimed that “the third sector is richer than it reports” and she thinks there must be other sources of their income: “somebody funds them, somebody with US money”.

Also it was not Marian Kotleba but Richard Sulik, who expressed doubts that IT businessmen are actively supporting the new political projects slowly gaining preferences and becoming the third strongest political party after Smer-SD and Kotleba party.

Many Winners and One Loser

So, everything goes in our land; former social democrats are calling for protection against multiculturalism while spreading conspiracy theories against the traditional society. Liberal politicians are claiming that they are concerned about the role of businessmen and their foundations in political competitions though nationalists are celebrating the ability to join forces with Russian leaders who are on the sanctions list. And society is calling for change and for decency on one hand and for purity on the other including support for traditional and conservative values and protection against gender theory.

GRAPH NO 1: Distrust towards political parties in Slovakia (Source: Eurobarometer).

At the end of the day, nothing will be as it was. There has to be a winner over these wars of words, but who is it? Fascists, nationalists, populists, liberals or conservatives? We know only the losers: the citizens. They also understand the reason why they are losing since they are exhausted and they can’t stand it anymore.

An Epidemic of Distrust

Distrust, anomie, disappointment and unwillingness to fight is like a virus that is spreading from one person to another. If this virus will continue spreading from political authorities through mass media channels and alternative media outlets, we should get ready for an epidemic.

GRAPH NO 2: Distrust towards the government in Slovakia (Source: Eurobarometer).
GRAPH NO 3: Distrust towards the justice system in Slovakia (Source: Eurobarometer).

But as every virus also this one needs predisposition in society to survive and multiply. Slovak society has predispositions for such virus, for example, high levels of distrust towards political institutions; conspiracy mentality of Slovak society, where every second Slovak believes in various conspiracy theories and over 35% Slovaks of all age believe that Jews have too much power and secretly control the world, and last but not least, only 23% Slovaks generally trust other people.

So, the feeling is here, it is real, and we all know that at the end of the day nothing will be the same as it was before. And the war of the words will have its winners and losers, but who will end it, if we are searching for the enemy and the enemy is inside us?

GRAPH NO. 4: Trust in people (Source: Eurobarometer).

This article is part of the #DemocraCE project organised by Visegrad/Insight. 

Bratislava Policy Institute Executive Director

Central European Futures

Over the past several years, it has become ever more apparent that the post-Cold War era of democratic reform, socio-economic development and Western integration in Central Europe is coming to an end.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the German-Marshall Fund of the U.S..

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