In March 2016, the far-right political party, The Grass-Root Party Our Slovakia, was elected to the Slovak parliament with 8.04 percent of the valid votes. The politics of Our Slovakia is extremist. In their election program, they call the Romany minority “parasites of the country” and promise to deploy military forces to protect Slovak borders against immigrants (Naše Slovensko 2016a). Moreover, Our Slovakia is a so-called anti-establishment party, claiming all other politicians are corrupted, and thus, responsible for exploiting ordinary people (Naše Slovensko 2016a). The party finds its popularity particularly among Slovak youth, more specifically, first-time voters. According to the poll agency Fokus, almost 23 percent of people between 18 and 21 years old would vote for Our Slovakia (Fokus 2016 in Onuferová, Čevela 2016). All public poll agencies agree preferences for Our Slovakia keep rising. On average, their preferential votes have raised 2 percent in the last year (TERAZ Preferencie 2017). In this essay, I argue the rising preferences for the extremist party pose a problem for Slovakia, especially due to spreading discrimination of minorities and celebrating “democracy” as the rule of an ethnic nation. I discuss these reasons, focusing on education, to shed some light on the sources of growing extremism among youth.
Firstly, Our Slovakia disseminates hatred towards the Romany minority. They speak about the “gypsy terror” and refer to the Romany people as “gypsy parasites” (Naše Slovensko 2016a: 1). These formulations interchange ethnicity with criminal activity, and therefore, deepen discrimination of Romany people. According to Amnesty International, discrimination of the Romany people in Slovakia poses a huge problem (SME 2015). It inhibits their successful integration into the core society, and thus, contributes to problems of poverty and criminality among the Romany minority (Alexander 1988). To eliminate these problems, it is needed, on the contrary, to facilitate integration processes. One way to do so is to support inclusive schools in which the Romany children are educated together with children from the majority. Inclusive classes give place to mutual learning (Alexander 2013: 2). Understanding integration as mutual learning between the majority and the minority is, according to Alexander (2013), the way to successful integration. However, the current trend of segregated schools (SME 2015) incites discrimination and prejudices. Without any personal contacts, the “Romany people” remains an abstract category for majority children and youth. In the aftermath, young people are more likely to listen to the hate speech of politicians. Therefore, the lack of inclusive classes acts as both the reason and consequence of the rising support for extremism among youth.
Secondly, even though now the representatives of Our Slovakia give off an impression of credible politicians in suits, in the past, they have exhibited neo-Nazi ties and participated in extremist public protests. Marián Kotleba, a chairperson of Our Slovakia, led the rallies celebrating the political order of the Slovak state (1939-1945) – a client state of Nazi Germany. What’s more, in 2004, he gave an anti-Semitic speech at one of the public gatherings of the neo-Nazi association he chaired at that time (Leško 2013). In 2009, he was charged with the offence of supporting and promoting groups directed against human rights and freedoms. After Kotleba modified his rhetoric, his popularity has begun to rise. He was elected to the regional government in 2013, and afterwards, to the national government. It is alarming to find a leader of the most popular political party among youth is a former neo-Nazi supporter with a criminal record. Young people need to understand the politics of Nazism to “take a lesson” from it and to remain critical. However, when it comes to education, schools still put prevailing emphasis on memorizing facts, often at the expense of developing the critical thinking of students. Bauman (2003) argues the Holocaust was not an “one-off” event, but can be repeated any time in history. Therefore, it is crucial schools support the critical thinking of students, for instance, by discussing politics and current affairs. The controversial past of political representatives should not be irrelevant for voters if we do not want history to repeat.
Lastly, Our Slovakia claims to protect “democratic” principles in Slovakia (Naše Slovensko 2016b). However, they understand democracy on a nationalistic basis. As Mann points out, politicized nationalism becomes very dangerous, because it intertwines the rule of the people as a population with the rule of the ethnic nation (Mann 2005: 3). Mann calls this the “dark side of democracy” when “ethnic unity may overweight the kind of citizen diversity that is central to democracy” (2003: 3). In this sense, democracy as a public institution gives the ethnic majority legitimacy to execute power over ethnic minorities, and therefore, it has an illiberal character. Liberal democracy is based on the equal human rights and freedoms of all citizens of the country. To protect democratic-liberal values, schools need to cultivate values of freedom, respect, solidarity, and dignity. The already mentioned inclusive education and development of critical thinking is the way to cultivate essential liberal-democratic values.
I have shown the problems of the rising preferences for the extremist political party Our Slovakia. Since political extremism is popular particularly among young people, I have paid special attention to how education may affect the inclination to extremism among youth. First, segregated rather than inclusive education impedes integration of the Romany people into the core society. Thus, without any personal contacts, young people are more likely to listen to the racist language of Our Slovakia and nourish discrimination further. Second, the neo-Nazi past of the representatives of Our Slovakia is falling into oblivion. It is, presumably, the consequence of the weak development of critical thinking in schools, which focus more on teaching facts than discussing important issues. Finally, mutual learning in inclusive classes and the development of critical thinking bear potential to cultivate liberal-democratic values missing in the extremist notion of democracy. Challenging extremism is a complex and long-term process. In democracy, it is too late to discredit the candidates once they are given a mandate in the public election. Therefore, prevention is the only key to challenge extremism. Re-thinking the current modes of education can be a good starting point for this task.
Alica Rétiová is a PhD student of Sociology
Article was proofread and edited by Nadya Jaworsky
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