Political scientist Radoslav Štefančík talks about how Slovakia has changed since the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The questions of our colleague, Patrícia Arpášová, were also focused on the two anniversaries that Slovakia will celebrate in 2024 - 20 years of EU membership and 80 years of the Slovak National Uprising.
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I think that we have developed not only as a state, but also as a modern society. I remember the 1990s, which were certainly unpleasant for people who were against the government of former PM Vladimír Mečiar. Later, Slovakia became a member of the European Union and NATO. This means that we belong to the group of civilised countries with the highest living standards, even if it sometimes does not seem like that. I think that this is a very important result, not only of the new state establishment, but rather of the building of a modern form of nation.
Slovakia joined the European Union in May 2004. This was preceded by a referendum. In January 2024, we can say that this was the only successful referendum in Slovakia so far. Slightly above 50% of voters took part, which is the condition for the vote to be valid. More than 92% of them agreed with becoming a member of the EU. According to political scientist Radoslav Štefančík, Slovak membership has many more pros than cons.
The European Union funds a number of projects. Slovakia is one of the countries that receives more from the EU than it contributes to its budget. The membership has helped the country to modernise itself. Not only the road infrastructure, but also education, health, culture and many other areas. The fact that we wanted to be part of the European Union is very important, because the EU is also a community of values committed to liberal democratic principles. We have adopted these, and although some political parties are trying to deny the importance of liberal democracy, I think that most of society already has these principles ingrained in its value system. The EU has helped Slovakia to democratise itself.
The autumn 2023 Eurobarometer survey showed that only 41% of Slovaks have a positive view of the EU. Compared to the spring survey from the same year, this is an improvement of five percent. Nevertheless, anti-EU sentiment grows within society. Radoslav Štefančík, an expert in political science, believes that Slovaks have forgotten the problems that the country faced before 2004.
Slovaks with anti-EU sentiment perhaps forgot the time of the third government of former PM Vladimír Mečiar. Back then, from 1994 to 1998, Slovakia was considered as a ´black hole´ of Europe. As the state that makes trouble, as the state that isn’t worth being part of the EU or NATO. Maybe people have got used to the advantages of EU membership. Such as free movement of persons, common currency etc.
EU membership brings not only advantages, but also certain duties. It is also about shifting some competences from the Slovak capital to Brussels, the EU's decision-making centre. According to Radoslav Štefančík, some people may not realise that this is to Slovakia's advantage rather than disadvantage.
Of course we have here some phenomena such as international migration, but it bypasses Slovakia rather than affecting it. There is also maybe the influence of European directives. If these are misinterpreted, people don't want to accept them. For example, there are all sorts of rumours about what a proper cucumber or banana should look like. On the other hand, EU membership actually brings more pros than cons. It is just that some people do not seem to have the opportunity to benefit from all these advantages. If you are a university student and have the opportunity to go abroad a few times and experience life there thanks to the European Union, you will understand that the EU is a great project.
Not just anti-EU sentiment has been growing, but also radical nationalist tendencies are being spread more in society, not only in Slovakia. Ironically, 2024 is the year of the 80th anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising, the open rebellion against the nationalist ideology of the Nazi Germany, the ruling regime in the war-time Slovak state. Radoslav Štefančík finds the reason behind the growing nationalism lies in the fact that people forget about their history.
There are fewer and fewer direct participants in the Slovak National Uprising. Even if there are survivors, they are probably no longer able to adequately interpret what happened in 1944. What horrors the Second World War brought. It probably has something to do with the value system of these people. But I think maybe we just do not learn enough. We don't talk much about the negative aspects of our history. Unlike the Germans, for example, the Slovaks have never really dealt properly with their history, with two undemocratic regimes ruling in this territory. There are people who have a positive view of the war-time Slovak State and the regime before 1989. Despite the fact that both regimes murdered their own citizens. The former even sent its inhabitants to concentration camps and paid the German Reich for it. There are people who cannot evaluate the negative side of these regimes and they see the positive side.
The year 2024 marks 80 years since the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising, 20 years since our entry into the European Union, it is the year of the next presidential elections as well as the elections to the European Parliament. What can Slovaks expect in 2024? The expert on political sciences Radoslav Štefančík gives his opinion.
At the end of 2023, a part of society showed its dissatisfaction with the government's policies. It showed that the ruling parties cannot do whatever they want and that society can make its voice heard for example, by gathering on squares, or by writing a protest article, or by forming some other protest activity to criticise the government's actions. I firmly believe that we will not face another pandemic. Although we will still be challenged by the war in Ukraine, because we are still an immediate neighbour of the invaded state. I think society will move in a good direction. Even though there are groups of people in society who do not have the principles of liberal democracy among their values. They will indeed undermine democracy with their activities, but the positive aspect of my thinking for 2024 comes from these protest activities. Whether it is the opposition or the people themselves who go to the squares. They are expressing that they care about what is happening in this country.