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Peter Nôta

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Anabela Žigová: Culture in Slovakia, Oct. 2020

October, 2020: The arts and culture communities in Slovakia are currently enduring a severe, over half year long existential crisis. The crisis can be summed up as a zero euro income for a huge number of people. Despite this, politicians are claiming the money needed is available through several, well-funded institutions, such as the Art and Film Fund and the Ministry of Culture.

We are left to wonder what is causing this long term disconnection of politicians and funding institutions from the reality faced by our large and diverse arts community. Why does this disconnect persist in a democratic country in Europe—a country that has an amazing woman president, as well as a culture with great creative potential, and talent?

Since the beginning of the Covid19 crisis no real aid has gone to people of various professions, crew members, on and off stage, authors, artists and others who fall “off the grid” of social aid, or various existing grant schemes.

The Culture Committee of the Ministry of Culture developed a comprehensive pandemic recovery plan for arts and culture. That plan for urgent action was unanimously endorsed by all ten members of the Committee. However, on September 30th, the Committee’s plan was not given a proper hearing before the government.

The Strategic Materials Plan Draft was published just this week. This plan calls for the spending of billions of euros from EU funds for the development of a “Modern and Successful Slovakia” through to 2030. But unbelievably, the plan makes no mention of culture.

Via press conferences and Facebook, Prime Minister Igor Matovič (OĽANO Party) continued to shift blame onto the arts and culture community, for pretending to be something extra, more special than other sectors of the economy. Yet arts and culture employs well over 200,000 people, who are now going into winter and a tougher Covid19 season.

Their survival is at risk. Their dignity and human rights, hang in the balance. And arts community is too proud to beg for assistance, why state should have done its job this summer properly.

On top of it, we are pained by the sentiment toward arts and culture amid this ongoing crisis. Old era thinking and populist attitudes have emerged. Artists and the culture community are viewed as demanding "something special". The Slovakian public is led by this unfortunate populist tone. It manifests itself via brutal, often anonymous social media attacks, asking artists to quit their mission and go work in factories, and grocery stores, for example.

Any sane artist or human being in any democratic country would feel that it is their job to peacefully counter negativity. Many of us do so by our long term commitment to our various talents and skills. The Slovak government and leadership of this NATO member state must
understand the impact that arts and culture has on keeping our democratic rights and values on track. After all, access to work, shelter, and food are basic human rights for all Slovak citizens.

And so while the public, and government leadership seems to take no pity on its decimated cultural community, we call for concrete, immediate help, and finances. Without access to work and funding it is not possible to meet our duties as citizens, and pay rents, bills and mortgages, buy food, and care for our families. 

Live drama, and music productions have been particularly hard hit by Covid19 restrictions limiting the size of indoor gatherings, but these restrictions don’t apply to other public spaces, such as fitness gyms or shopping malls. This inequity creates grounds for a class action lawsuit to save the arts community and repair damage already suffered and imposed by this crisis. Is that why the prime minister is undermining our human rights with populist attacks? His conduct is unacceptable in a democracy.

In addition, a free society should value its culture and nurture it. In this young post-Soviet democracy, Slovak civil society, and artists are most effective in countering neo-fascists, and other violent extremists. Before these parliamentary elections, the extreme right ĽSNS party had 8% support.

Creative arts and positive expression can overcome the ridicule of hate-mongers and simplistic ideologies and effectively push them off the grid. Art and pop culture can do that in a very visible, fast, and fun way. It does not have to be high art. On the contrary, the whole point is to get to people and connect to their reality, to enrich them, make them feel valuable, and empowered.

Art accelerates good and healthy change. It finds the common ground that we are clearly lacking here. The current state of affairs in Slovakia deepens the dangerous gap between people. Online negativity and hate can escalate tension and violence in real life.

It is essential to understand that real power comes from caring for the weakest and most vulnerable in our community.

This is a mission that Slovakia needs to understand, and embrace. We need to upgrade together— upgrade responsibly from a country of car makers to design innovators. And politicians must see how the creativity inherent in arts and culture relates and integrates with each of the sectors of society bringing economic stability. 

Culture is everything, and everywhere in our day to day way of life. In our elections over the years, musicians have supported so many politicians. We were not lounging in Dubai with the high-living Mafiosos that ripped off this country of millions of euros. We took time to actually understand our own country, and we love it. We are people of this country. And as for the current state of affairs, politicians have not repaid us for our support and work.

Finally, we actively follow and kindly demand that justice be served.

After two years of investigation into the brutal killing of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé, in our dealings with the government, we now witness a similar lack of transparency coupled with lengthy rhetoric from the state power.

In reality this lack of real actions represents a major failure that endangers the lives and dignity of the entire cultural community in Slovakia.

In understanding all this, context is often of paramount importance.

Slovakia is right next to Hungary, which has just appointed a military colonel as head of the Uni- versity of Theatre and Film Arts. Also, we note the despicable brutality of the state on its own peo- ple in Belarus. In addition, there is the horrible Nagorno Karabakh situation. This is not an easy time to speak truth to power. But we must.

Alexei Navalny is now recovering from being poisoned by Novichok nerve agent.

Prior to her self-immolation, journalist Irina Slavina wrote on Facebook, “I ask you to blame the Russian Federation for my death.”

How many more acute warnings do we need to prompt us to act within our own reality?

(Text was drafted for OF Zachráňme kultúru, Hudobná Únia Slovenska, diverse communities of Slovak Culture, and people. Written by: Anabela Žigová, with David Kitz.
Supported by: Hon. David Kilgour. Thank you: Tereza Langerová, and Peter Gregor.)

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