Young Slovaks often do not identify Marian Kotleba with the fascist system which we once had in our history. They do not believe me when I say that it can all happen again – says Slovak historian Stanislav Mičev interviewed by Łukasz Grzesiczak.
Łukasz Grzesiczak: You withdrew from the elections for the governor of Banská Bystrica District and supported the candidate who eventually, in the autumn of 2017, won against the controversial Slovak politician Marian Kotleba. Does this painful electoral fiasco mean the end of his career?
Stanislav Mičev: You must remember that these were elections to local government, while in the national parliament we still have fourteen representatives of the People’s Party Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) headed by Kotleba. Losing the elections for governor of the Banská Bystrica District may mean a temporary decline in popularity, but over the last four years this politician has built strong economic foundations for the party he runs. And I think he will want to use this potential.
He will become even more radical and aggressive?
Let us look at his political career. He started as an extremist, but now he prefers to present himself as a relatively moderate politician. He needs the centrist voter. He has realized that electoral success is hard to achieve without that. But Kotleba does not change his views. His slogan is “For God, for the nation,” and he took it from Father Jozef Tiso. We may say that he adopted the main ideas of the Ľudáks as his own.
When I call Kotleba a fascist or a Nazi, I often hear that he has not killed anyone. Tiso also did not kill anyone, and yet he was a fascist. Today, Nazism or Fascism is not the same as in the 1930s.
Of course, in our times they cannot be directly applied. When I call Kotleba a fascist or a Nazi, I often hear that he has not killed anyone. Tiso also did not kill anyone, and yet he was a fascist. Today, Nazism or Fascism is not the same as in the 1930s, but it uses the same methods. In every society, 5-10 percent of the population may support extremist left-wing or right-wing parties, depending on which side is more likely to win. Let us look at Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, or Poland. I think that in Slovakia the problem is bigger, for in our country the Ľudáks tradition has been preserved in many families. Besides, people like a simple view of politics. This approach is popular especially among Slovaks with lower education, but, recently, educated people have been joining this camp.
Not only them. Part of the business community also likes working with Kotleba.
They are impressed with his rhetoric. Why do I believe that Kotleba is a fascist? For he uses the same methods. You have a problem? He will fix it. But he will never say how or when. It regards, for example, the Roma. He says: “Elect me and I will solve the Roma problem.” But he has no easy recipe for disentangling this issue. Unless we build camps and lock up all the Roma in them. Kotleba also says that he will “chase away all the thieves from Parliament.” It is easy to promise that, but he has never said in what way or when he wants to do it. He could achieve it if he got more than 50 percent of the votes, but we know that in Slovakia it is not possible. The experience of his rule in the Banská Bystrica District shows that if Kotleba took power on the national level, he would rather use it to improve the economic situation of himself, his family, and his closest associates.
But a significant section of Slovak society believes him. Perhaps it is Kotleba who has the right diagnosis and answers to current problems of Slovakia?
Kotleba defines problems the way people feel them. He speaks about them in exactly the same language which people use when talking in pubs. Some Slovaks would vote for anyone who would promise to solve their problems. There are politicians who can promise us anything so that we would vote for them, but they have no intention to fulfil these promises. The main thing for them is to build a strong party structure and to achieve unconstrained power. This is the fundamental aim of politicians like Kotleba.
People are afraid. Kotleba exploits that.
Fear is his main trump card. Kotleba has no social or cultural program to lure the voters with. His only electoral agenda is hate. Kotleba wanted to change the rules for granting Slovak citizenship. Under his proposal, Jews, Hungarians, Americans, Chinese, Asians, or colored people would not be able to get Slovak citizenship. Slavs would be eligible, provided that they would give a precise reason for why they want to become Slovaks.
Kotleba wanted to change the rules for granting Slovak citizenship. Under his proposal, Jews, Hungarians, Americans, Chinese, Asians, or colored people would not be able to get Slovak citizenship
Kotleba also wanted to review all citizenships granted since the emergence of the Slovak state in 1993. Who would decide about someone remaining a Slovak citizen? The leader. Kotleba still proclaims that he will help honest white families. Does it mean that the rest of the families are dishonest? Who is to decide which family is honest and white? Again – the leader.
And as if accidentally we will hand them a check for 488 euro. “88” is the cipher for the Nazi greeting “Heil Hitler” used by the neo-Nazis. “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
This is an explicit promotion of fascism. The check you are talking about is not the only example of such actions. When Kotleba was governor of the Banská Bystrica District, he promoted Fascism in a periodical published by his office.
When Kotleba was governor of the Banská Bystrica District, he promoted Fascism in a periodical published by his office. I believe that Kotleba should have been long put to trial for these things.
I believe that Kotleba should have been long put to trial for these things. Promoting fascism is punishable under Slovak law, but he has not been prosecuted. I do not understand that. Not to mention that Kotleba believes that Slovakia’s best period was during World War II, and Doctor Jozef Tiso was the best president in our history.
He is not the only one to hold such an opinion. When I ask some political scientists and historians for their assessment of Father Tiso’s Republic, I often hear ambiguous answers.
We lack self-reflection. We are often unable to admit our mistakes and do not understand that we must correct them. I often get Facebook messages with such questions like why are we dealing with the past so much. Their authors believe that these things will never happen again. I would not be so certain. History repeats itself. Of course, not in an identical shape, for political systems keep evolving.
In your opinion, what is the source of this ambiguous attitude of some Slovaks to Tiso, who collaborated with Hitler?
Tiso was a priest and his state was to some extent connected with Catholicism, and today most Slovaks subscribe to Catholicism. We are incapable of admitting to ourselves that a priest is also human and may do evil things. The Pole Karol Wojtyła belonged to the resistance movement and as Pope John Paul II he always expressed his opposition to fascists. Our Catholicism makes us attached to a former fascist regime. This has a harmful influence on today’s situation in Slovakia. We know how many Polish priests were murdered by the Nazis. Our situation was absurd, a priest was Hitler’s ally.
The arguments of his defenders are well known…
I do not believe in the claims that Tiso did not know what his pact with Hitler meant. If he did not know what the fundamental theory of fascist Germany was, he should have learned about it. If you sign a contract with someone, you have to know what his aims are. I cannot accept arguments that he did not know what he was doing. He did know. He had advisors.
I do not believe in the claims that Tiso did not know what his pact with Hitler meant. If he did not know what the fundamental theory of fascist Germany was, he should have learned about it.
The same argument is used in the context of the deportation of Slovak Jews to death camps. I hear that Tiso did not know what he was doing, and it is said that everybody was doing this. This is not true. The Bulgarians, allies of Hitler, did not agree to the deportation of their Jews. Denmark, although occupied, sent several thousand of its Jewish citizens in boats to Sweden. We do not have access to the sea, but we could have refused. Tiso could have interned the Jews and say that he would not let them out of Slovakia, just as Bulgarians and others did. Benito Mussolini also did not give away his Jews.
Tiso stood by Hitler to the very end. Over time, all nations of the region – the Finns, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians – did everything possible to shed the shackles of Nazism. Only Tiso did nothing. If he was capable of making deals with one devil, why was he unable to come to an agreement with another?
Let us go back to Kotleba.
As a district governor, Kotleba censored art, which is absolutely unacceptable. From his position of a representative of regional government, he has no right to define what is a work of art and what is not. This is for society and the artists themselves to decide. He also has no right to change the content of a theatre performance just because vulgar words appear in it. They have their meaning in a specific content, for otherwise the author would not have used them. It is worth remembering that this performance was presented all over the world. And the swearwords did not bother anyone besides Kotleba. Kotleba is simply a “cultural illiterate.”
The former district governor announced that he would censor a dance theatre just because naked women and men were rolling about on stage during the performance.
He does not understand art at all. I will give you an example. The former district governor announced that he would censor a dance theatre just because naked women and men were rolling about on stage during the performance. I cannot understand this distaste for the human body which Kotleba feels. But let us leave culture aside. Kotleba also did not take advantage of the development opportunities for our region. Other districts are leaving us behind.
Is there anything Kotleba did well as district governor?
I liked his approach to public transport. He lowered ticket prices.
During the war, Banská Bystrica was the center of the antifascist Slovak National Uprising. We are talking in the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising, which you run. How is it possible that it was in this region that a fascist achieved more than 23 percent of the vote?
He once got an even better result. I do not have a simple answer to that. Sometimes politics can be puzzling. Marian Kotleba, just like me, was born in Banská Bystrica. He has spent his entire life here. He is about forty. Everybody knows him here. Not as a fascist, but as our Marian. He has friends among policemen, for he went to school with them, he is known by merchants, and by teachers, for he once taught in a secondary school. Hence the phenomenon of this support. In no other place he could have gotten more votes than in Banská Bystrica. He has received a comparably high support in Krupina, where his family comes from.
After Kotleba’s loss was announced, pro-democratic Slovak elites gave a sigh of relief. Denník N compared the election result in the Banská Bystrica district to the Slovak National Uprising. Do you agree with this opinion?
I did everything possible for Kotleba to lose. I sacrificed my own political ambitions. Surveys show that our withdrawing from the elections significantly strengthened Ján Lunter, who proved to be Kotleba’s most serious rival. I hope he will not disappoint us. The head of the People’s Party Our Slovakia is of an age when he will certainly be able to run again and he continues to be politically active. Therefore anything is possible.
I am worried that young Slovakians often do not identify Marian Kotleba with the fascist system which we once had in our history. They do not believe me when I say that it can all happen again.
I am worried that young Slovakians often do not identify Marian Kotleba with the fascist system which we once had in our history. They do not believe me when I say that it can all happen again. Education in the family and in school does not shape opinions on democracy. Young people today are not taught about what democracy is and how it should be used.
is a Slovak historian and the director of the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica. He is an author of books and articles about the WWII in Slovakia. Mičev is a co-chairman of the joint Slovak-Romanian Commission of Historians, a member of the joint Russian-Slovak Commission of Historians, and a member of the Academic Council of the Museum of the Great Patriotic War 1941-1945 in Minsk. Last year, he was a non-partisan candidate for the governorship of the Banská Bystrica region and one of the challengers of the controversial and xenophobic Governor Marian Kotleba. Mičev resigned in favor of the entrepreneur Ján Lunter, who became the new governor in Banská Bystrica in November 2017.
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