A Slovak National Conscience


I could never really believe there was such a thing as an absolutely clear conscience. After all, if for generations you were raised to believe that there are some absolute  truths, like white being legally more worthy than black,  you would betray your principles if, for example, you shook hands with someone who is black. You would betray everything that makes up our Great Inherited Values: Father, Mother, Cradle, Solidarity, a Festive Table, the Graves of Our Fathers. You would betray their and your own traditions, and would have to live with the burden of a sullied conscience.

And now a true story that happened a few days ago: the editor of the Hungarian desk of the Slovak State TV minority department invited a guest on her programme. On their way to the studio they were conversing in their mother tongue.  As they were waiting for the lift, a young man, another TV employee, actually a member of its highest executive board, stopped by and interrupted them in an icy voice: Do you realize you are on Slovak TV territory here?! End of quote.

There are a few ways of looking at this homegrown TV skit. However, let me start by a few over-the-top ideas, just to lift myself out of the depression:

Perhaps this young man ought to initiate the setting up of language zones in the Slovak State TV building in Mlynská dolina that would be designated as the only places where speaking a language other than Slovak would be permitted? A kind of quarantine rooms, to prevent the infection from spreading.

Wouldn’’t it be nice to see this young man’s face if he learned that, following his lead,  the Hungarian State TV proposed that the only language to be spoken on its Slovak minority channel was to be Hungarian? On the grounds that it is Hungarian TV territory?

Since, as a top Slovak TV executive,this young man is bound to meet foreign guests, I would be interested to know if he dares to share such witty remarks with them? Or is perhaps English allowed on Slovak TV territory but Hungarian is not?

And now a few down-to-earth thoughts. Let’’s take the top Slovak TV executive – how did this moment of glory by the lift made him feel? Was he relieved not to have remained silent, to have told them exactly how he felt?  Did he recall Martin Rázus [early 20th century Slovak writer and defender  of Slovakia’’s autonomy] and did he send him the following mental message: Dear Martin, I have avenged your magyarization torments!?  Did he picture a crowded central square in Bratislava, chanting Slovak only in Slovakia and giving him a standing ovation? Was he convinced he behaved like a true Slovak patriot?

And what about those two Hungarians by the lift?  Did his remark make them feel like proud citizens of the Slovak Republic, ready to sacrifice their lives for their mother country?

Did they come to realize they could never possibly strive for autonomy because they would no longer have the privilege of working for such brilliant bosses? Or did they just wave their hand, and remember they had young children at home, needed the job, but one day, when the time came, they would pay him/us back?

I don’t know. I’’m not even sure how I would react if this happened to me. However, there is one thing I am certain of: this young man was not motivated by base, opportunistic, material interests. He did not act the way he did because of an inferior IQ or because of a lack of education. I think he acted the way he did because of the hallowed traditions he was brought up in from his early days. Traditions formed by notions such as Nation, Right, Self-determination, Order, Respect, Truth, Law.

I think he acted on the moral imperative of his conscience. His clear national conscience.

Translation: Julia Sherwood

This article was originally published in Slovak in the Fórum, the Saturday supplement of the daily SME on 22 November 2008.

We are grateful to Daniela Kapitáňová for the permission to publish this text in English.