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May-August 2021

  • May 2021: A new proposition of law to limit abortions

Seven months after the last proposition to limit abortions, another parliamentarian, Martin Čepček, came with a new one. The new law intended to restrict abortions to women with health or psychic issues and those who had been raped, but the law was not changed. Čepček was later excluded from his political party Obyčajní ľudia a nezávislé osobnosti (OĽaNO) because he submitted the proposition without discussion with his colleagues from the coalition, and regularly voted for propositions of the opposition (including far-right political party with similar antiabortion initiatives).

  • May 2021: Continuation of disputes on the process of beatification of bishop Ján Votajššák

The topic of the beatification of Ján Vojtaššák (1877-1965) is still dividing public intellectuals since the first suggestion of glorification by John Paul I in 1995. The first beatification process was stopped in 2003; a new one started in 2019. Series of articles were written from the perspective of secular anti-fascist humanists and Catholics. Slovak Catholics are in favor of the beatification because they see Vojtaššák as a martyr of the Christian faith. This Slovak cleric was the first bishop of Roman Catholic Diocese of Spiš, one of the signatories of the Martin declarations (in which Slovak intellectuals declared their will to join Czechs in Czechoslovakia after World War One), member of Štátna rada (eng. State council) of Slovakia during World War Two. He was later sued in the made-up trial against bishops in 1951 for treason and sentenced to 24 years. Vojtaššák is an essential person in the history of Slovak Catholicism.
His critics point out his anti-Semitism. During his days in Štátna rada, Vojtaššák did not protest in the name of the Catholic Church against anti-Jewish politics and deportation of Jews.

  • July 2021: Slovak conservative politics oppose European Parliament Report Matić

The Slovak parliament released a decree against European Parliament Report Matić on the 17th of July. The note and voting were initiated by Anna Záborská, one of the most prominent Slovak Christian politic and deputee of EP. The decree says that Slovakia is not against the message of Report Matić. However, they believe that the European parliament is way beyond the competences of each individual and breaks the principle of subsidiarity.
Report Matić caused a significant discussion between conservative Christian politicians and liberal opponent across Europe. The report points out the worsening state of reproduction and sexual health in Europe, for example, the violence and stress during births or social barriers in the treatment of sterility. It criticises religiously motivated prohibition of abortions in Poland and Malta.

  • July 2021: Slovak Pagan Jaroslav Pagáč was sentenced to prison due to propagation of hateful ideology

After two years of trial (See the February 2021 Current debate), Slovak contemporary Pagan and singer Jaroslav Pagáč was sentenced to prison. He refused to make a deal with the court; claiming his innocence. He was accused of propagating hateful ideology because he sold music products bearing the symbol of the kolovrat and the rune Algiz. Both symbols are used by contemporary Pagans, but also by neo-Nazis interested in the occult side of Hitler. The court declared that these symbols are ancient and have only been used by Nazis. It found enough evidence to declare that Pagáč is a sympathizer of the ultra-right and he used these items – the kolovrat and the Agliz rune - not as religious symbols, but as political ones.
The trial had a strong resonance with the modern Slovak and even Czech Pagan community. They see Pagáč as the victim of the corrupted system, who is persecuted for his faith. For the rest of majority society, he is just another ultra-right sympathizer and they do not care about his faith.

  • July-August 2021: Pope Francis will visit Slovakia in September

Vatican News confirmed on the 4th of July 2021 that Pope Francis will visit Slovakia from the 12th to the 15th of September. He is planning to visit capital city Bratislava, pilgrim place Šaštín, Prešov, and Košice (including Roma district Luník IX). President Zuzana Čaputová already invited Pope Francis to Slovakia during her December 2020 official trip to the Vatican. However, no agreement was reached on this occasion. The rumor of the pope’s visit started to spread during spring 2021, as he planned to visit Hungary on the 11th of September to celebrate mass at the International Eucharistic Congress. The importance of the pope’s visit should not be underestimated. Pope’s Francis last official travel trip was to Iraq in March 2020; he is also getting older (85 years old) and underwent surgery in June. It is possible that one of his goals is to rekindle the faith of local Catholics and improve the image of the Catholic Church as the ban on masses during lockdowns, the media backslash against Catholic politics since 2020, and atheist campaign against Christianity during the 2021 national census could diminish the level of devotion of believers.

The announcement of the visit was first received in a positive light by the public, media and state. It is the fourth visit of the pope to Slovakia since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Past visits received substantial media coverage and many politicians supported their image of proud traditional Slovak Catholics by attending masses celebrated by Pope John Paul II. The former pope was born in Poland and had a very positive relationship with Slovakia, leading to his immense popularity among the people.

It seems that the situation will be very similar this time. Parliamentary speaker Boris Kollár (Sme rodina/We are family), father of ten children with nine women and in the past connected with the criminal millieu, describes the information about the papal visit as “good news in difficult times which will bring some calm and hope for Slovakia”. Similar words of encouragement, a message of hope and conciliation were used in Facebook statuses by Prime Minister Eduard Heger (member of the charismatic Christian community) and president Zuzana Čaputová (former member of centrist-liberal party Progresívne Slovensko). Former Prime minister Peter Pellegrini (Hlas-SD) met with Pope Francis in 2019. He also expressed his happiness about the Catholic Church leader’s visit of Slovakia and used a similar vocabulary to Čaputová and Heger regarding the pope’s visit. Vice-premier and leader of party Za ľudí (For people) Veronika Remišová, a solid Catholic believer, wrote in her Facebook post that “she is delighted about this visit, it will give hope and revive people’s faith. It can have a similar effect to that of John Paul II’s visit to Slovakia in 1991, after forty years of communism.” She also expressed her agreement with the pope’s opinion on the necessity of vaccination against COVID-19. The national vaccination campaign only resulted in less then 50% of the population being vaccinated by mid-summer. Remišová probably hopes that pope Francis can help to persuade religious people to be vaccinated.

Some secular humanists, however, expressed their doubts about the pope’s visit. Influential leftist public intellectual Eduard Chmelár wrote in his Facebook status that reactions of politics to the visit are insincere. “They are hot for photo with pope for their social networks. But why don’t they follow his anti-military calls?”. Chmelár points out the discrepancy between actions (ignorance of the pope’s ecological and peace message) and media speeches (we love Pope Francis) of Slovak politicians.
Former leader of traditional catholic political party KDH Alojz Hlina also wrote that “[I am] glad that pope will honor Slovakia with a visit, but I am not very eager to see politicians with a shady past, former communists, those who spread hate, and ultraconservative Christian politicians who mentally still remain in the days of Rome’s former empire jostling to be photographed with the pope.”

The biggest wave of discontent was caused by the decision of the state to allow only vaccinated people to see the pope at mass public gatherings. The state hopes that this will motivate people to get vaccinated, but so far this has not happened. Similarly, people from culture, business, and sports, who face restrictions when organising mass gatherings, are saddened that the state has allowed a capacity of 400 000 people. Up to the 27th of August, around 33 000 attendees were registered to the pope’s public masses, but it would be not easy to control the Green Pass of the masses of unregistered persons who will arrive in places. The example of the pope’s visit and exception from the covid restrictions show how important it is still for politicians to demonstrate their Christian faith in public.

D 2 September 2021    AMichal Puchovský

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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