Slovakia: Historical myths and traditions in nation building initiatives

The concepts of nation and national identity asserted by SMER-SD and SDKU-DS differ substantially. While SMER-SD construes the nation in ethnic terms, SDKU-DS uses terms such as “population” and “citizens” when referring to the nation. In their discourse nation is conceptualised rather in geo-political terms than in ethnic. When referring to history, SDKU-DS usually traces the roots of Slovakia to events associated with civic as opposed to ethnic events, e.g. establishment of the first Czechoslovakia and of the independent Slovak Republic. Some of the strategies described below are not featured in the SDKU-DS discourse at all.

SMER-DS

As mentioned earlier, the very core of the Slovak legislation, the Preamble of the Constitution, asserts the dominant status of the Slovak nation. In his speech at the conference of Matica slovenská in February 2013 the PM conveyed a representation of the Slovak nation that seems to summarize all its key dimensions that are more or less obviously manifested in legislation and public policies pertaining to (not only) minorities.

I understand what this unique cultural and social institution has done for the Slovak nation. Because, not only did she save the Slovaks from extinction but Matica slovenská resurrected our nation.

Matica slovenská, as one of the national symbols, prevented the 'death' of the nation which is conceptualised as an inevitable result of the centuries of oppression and subjugation by other nations within the Autro-Hungarian Empire. This also puts the nation in the position of a moral winner who prevailed despite all the wrongs and injustices done by its rulers (i.e. Hungarians and later also the Czechs) which gives it certain privileges.

Divinity of the nation

The status of the 'chosen' nation is further corroborated by using references to the divine, e.g. resurrection of the nation or national prophets. SMER-SD also elaborates the spatial dimension of the national identity by evoking places in which several key historical events took places. These are almost exclusively associated with the Great Moravia and the so called old Slovaks which is, however, a historically incorrect term.  All these places are ascribed a divine nature, e.g. sacred Devín or sacred days which, again, is a means to confirm the privileged position of the ethnic majority and its claims. Tracing the national identity back to the roots of Christianity the PM confirms the 'holiness' of nation and thus legitimacy of its claims.

SDKU-DS

Christianity is an important source of national identity also for SDKU-DS although in this respect the nation is not construed in ethnic terms but rather as a part of a larger European community whose origins are rooted in Christianity.

With a great awe the SDKU-DS noted the information on objections of the European Commission to the portrayal of Constantin and Method that is to be placed on a two-euro coin. Based on this requirement the halos and crosses are to be removed from the draft portrayal. The Commission's statement calls for religious neutrality. It is entirely incomprehensible to us how it is possible that in Europe which is undoubtedly built on Christian foundations it is a problem to portray figures that are parts of Christianity and that are undoubtedly parts of cultural and spiritual heritage of not only Slovakia but the whole Europe.

Even though there are certain similarities with regard to the status of Christianity in the history of Slovakia, SDKU-DS clearly construes the nation in more geo-political terms while SMER-SD refers to the Christianity as a means of developing the language and culture of the 'old Slovaks'. Language, moreover, is another important source of national identity that is even subject to special protection. Reference to Christianity as an inherent attribute of the Slovak nation also excludes all those who profess different religious beliefs. References to Christianity and common Great Moravian history thus create an ethno-space and suggest ethnic definition of the Slovak nation.

Patriotism as a source of morals

Affectionate attachment to the nation is seen as a means of preventing moral decay since the nation is construed as pure and moral. SMER-SD construes the patriotism in ethnic terms tracing its roots back to the emancipatory struggles of Slovaks in the 19th century when „Matica slovenská saved the Slovaks from extinction” and since then “she watches over the patriotism.”  Matica slovenská as one of the major national symbols is thus an important source of national identity. The ethnic dimension of patriotism is also corroborated in the notion of the unity of Slovaks living all around the world. Nation is thus not tied to borders or political community but is rather based on the 'blood' principle. In comparison, SDKU-DS asserts the nation in its civic terms: “The patriotism must unite not divide the citizens of Slovakia.”

Following ethnic rather than political principle in constituting the state is in fact incompatible with basic principles of constitutionalism, i.e. equality of all citizens, and with liberal democracy.  Again, further analysis is needed in order to explore how these distinct discourses are negotiated, for instance in parliamentary debates.