By Adam Gašparovič
The author of the quote above is Milan Mazurek, Vice Chairman of the nationalist Kotleba – Peoples’ Party Our Slovakia (K-ĽSNS). This piece will provide an analysis of a speech that Mazurek gave during a protest against “Gypsy terror” in the city of Krompachy. What warrants my attention to this particular speech is the way in which Mazurek discursively constructs the body and mind of Slovaks and that of Roma in a binary opposition to each other, and how he is able to maintain a non-racist stance even though racism and racial stereotypes clearly manifest themselves throughout the speech.
One of the key issues for K-ĽSNS, and the one that Mazurek speaks of in his speech, is what K-L’SNS labels as the “anti-social” and criminal behaviour of some members of the Roma ethnic minority. What K-ĽSNS and Mazurek mean by antisocial behaviour is an inability to be a member of the general society and, as will soon become clear, to pose a threat to the survival of Slovak society as a whole. Mazurek took the effort to make it clear that he was not trying to generalise and did not explicitly state that being Roma means being antisocial, nevertheless, he is being persecuted and will face a trial for such statements. Just to make it explicit that neither he, nor the K-ĽSNS are racist, Mazurek said that the problem is not the colour or nationality of these Roma individuals, but the way in which they treat others. In other words, it is not a problem that they are Roma but that they cannot behave.
The discourse of antisocial Roma relies on rendering a certain type of behaviour exclusive to the Roma, i.e. being antisocial, binding nationality with ethnicity and thus the body. First, Mazurek and K-ĽSNS talk about “antisocials” only in reference to Roma ethnic minority. As a result, the specific behaviour becomes stereotypic and exclusive to the Roma. White criminality is not mentioned once throughout the speech. It appears, therefore, that apart from corrupt politicians, Roma have total monopoly on criminality in Slovak Republic. In contrast to Slovak people, Roma are portrayed as always prone to antisocial and criminal behaviour. The argument is that it is not the race of the Roma individuals which leads them to commit crimes, however, only they actually do so. This allows Mazurek to make the issue of criminality into an ‘us versus them’ struggle for survival.
The primary strategy of K-ĽSNS’ political campaign is asserting a fear for Slovak sovereignty, land, culture, and of course Slovak women. Mazurek explicitly states that K-ĽSNS is “the only party which will make the Slovak man the lord in his country.” As a part of this strategy, Mazurek and K-ĽSNS argue that antisocial Roma “drain social welfare, are burden to the state, destroy our forests, illegally occupy lands of others, rape women, kill the elderly and steal.” Antisocial Roma, therefore, represent an existential threat to the “hard working, honest and white” Slovak man. This point clearly manifests in the speech when Mazurek warns that “if we don’t wake up now, this problem will catch up with us for we all know how quickly the population of this antisocial part of our society grows. And nothing will save us once we become a minority.” The reason why Mazurek can see no other future than the one he predicts is that he attributes the behaviour of asocial Roma to their very core, to their identity. Hence, if Slovaks become a minority there will be no one who could control the criminal whims of Roma.
Mazurek and K-ĽSNS do not explain why the Roma are antisocial, they only speak about what is to be done with them. This logic has manifested itself in the actions that K-ĽSNS took to combat this antisocial criminality. From April 2016 till February 2017, K-ĽSNS organised so-called ‘train patrols’. These were bands of K-ĽSNS party members dressed in the green party T-shirts travelling on train routes between towns with large Roma population. The cover photo of this article features Mazurek while at the ‘patrol’. Their aim was to keep an eye on the antisocial elements among the Roma and “step in where the police has left ordinary Slovak people in peril.” Monitoring and policing an entire ethnic group because some members of the group partake in criminal activities is a result of identity politics that portrays one group as problematic and dangerous to another. The same logic is applied by Donald Trump with regards to the Muslim travel ban or Nigel Farage’s fear of immigrants raping ‘our’ women. By creating the binary of us and them, Mazurek and K-ĽSNS legitimise such generalisation and render the conflict between the groups they construct as ‘natural’.
Not going as far as to call a group’s race a problem while arguing that the group is naturally problematic is a performance of racist identity politics on the edge of legality. It is speeches like this one that legitimise and enable the aforementioned train patrols, travel bans, and to some extent the result of UK’s EU referendum. However, Mazurek and K-ĽSNS are not the only ones playing this game. The mainstream party Smer-SD, currently the strongest party within the governing coalition, recently began speaking about ‘Roma criminality.’ As a way of dealing with the phenomenon, the Minister of Interior, Robert Kaliňák, plans to ramp up policing of Roma and begin collecting ethnic statistics on crime. Such move would amount to differential treatment of ethnic minorities and would therefore contradict constitutional law, a problem that Kaliňák aims to solve by amending the constitution. Labels that divide the population along ethnic, national or racial lines are not a solution to the problems of our societies today. Terms such as K-ĽSNS‘ antisocial Roma and the government’s ‘Roma criminality’ should be acknowledged as stereotypical exaggerations and avoided, so that we can begin to search for real solutions to problems of social inequality and exclusion.
Adam Gašparovič is the current Editor-in-Chief of Identity Hunters. Adam is a final year student of International Relations at King’s College London interested in Slovak politics.