Thursday, March 4, 2010

Patriotism Act passed in Slovakia

Yesterday I took part in a discussion about patriotism and what it means on the BBC Russian Service, where they invite me either to be an attack dog or for my cynicism, depending on who is talking. The trigger for the discussion was this slightly odd piece of legislation in Slovakia, a fully paid up member of the European Union and of the euro, something that has caused the odd economic problem or three.

The Act, passed by 77 out of 122 MPs and yet to be signed by the President, specifies that the Slovak national anthem is to be played mandatorily at the beginning of every session of all public events as well as sessions of the national and regional Parliaments. It will be played in every school at the beginning of every school day and by state broadcasting companies at the beginning and the end of programmes.

The Act also imposes the duty of patriotic education in all schools and the prominent display of all patriotic symbols in schools, regional parliaments and other public institutions.

In many ways, this is an odd piece of legislation. Slovakia was very anxious to get into the European Union, whose purpose it is to supercede existing national symbols with its own. Will the EU flag be displayed next to the Slovak one? Will the EU anthem be played after the Slovak one? How will this patriotic teaching explain that those Slovak Parliaments have to implement EU legislation and regulation?

There appears to be some resistance to the law in the country, which is not surprising when one considers its history in the last century when one form of "patriotism" after another was forced on the people. Yet none of the discussions mention the peculiarity of the situation in which a country that has voluntarily given up its right to legislate for itself and decided to participate in the European project of integration (however unsuccessful it might turn out to be) making such an issue of patriotic symbols.

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