An age of the monsters brings me back to Slovakia

I’m half Czech, half Slovak, I consider both languages to be my mother tongues. Over the last 10 years I have lived half the time in Bratislava, and half the time in Prague, feeling home in both societies. But recently I have felt that Slovakia has been attracting me with bigger force. Paradoxically, I have realized this thanks to my different attitudes to what repels me in each country.

Photo: Mickey Champion


Share on LinkedIn0Share on Google+0Tweet about this on Twitter2Share on Facebook54

It was exactly this day 10 years ago, when I was packing my stuff into boxes after quitting my job as editor-in-chief of the Slovak daily, SME, having no idea at all what I was going to do next, marveling at my complete lack of concern for stepping into the unknown. Had communism still been in place, I would have happily returned to being a stoker, but in democracy? I kept telling myself that I was not skilled enough at anything that might feed me in the free world, and also give me the feeling that my work had some meaning.

These thoughts were interrupted by two phone calls. The first was from Respekt’s own Jarda Spurný, who said the news that I’d left SME had reached their editorial office. He asked me whether I would accept the position of the magazine’s editor-in-chief; then right afterwards Respekt’s then-owner, Karel Schwarzenberg, called and asked me the same thing.

In my life I have been lucky to experience a number of unexpected turnarounds, but this one certainly ranks highest. The very next day I found myself in Prague, meeting for the first time Jarda Spurný, Erik Tabery, Marek Švehla, Ivan Lamper (I knew Lamper from dissent), then Karel Schwarzenberg and Zdenek Bakala (to whom I hereby thank for always respecting my editorial independence), and it was once again my impetuousness that led me to accept the job.

In the Respekt newsroom I have always felt a bit like the horse in the joke about the traveler who meets a coachman with a carriage, and asks him to take him to town: the horse is old and weak and the road full of hills, so both men must push the carriage uphill and then brake on the way down. When they finally reach the destination, the traveler asks the coachman: “I understand that both of us needed to get to town, but why did we take the horse?”

My biggest accomplishment as editor-in-chief was having the privilege to select my successor, Erik Tabery, who I knew would be much better at the job than I was, something he is proving every day. But above all, the most important thing for me has been the opportunity to live and work among the company of friends, who have made Respekt for the last 10 years. This has been an extraordinary gift to me; I will be forever grateful for it and will try not to waste it.

So why am I leaving? I, myself, am surprised by the motive, but I have been examining it for a while to weigh its importance. It seems my identity is calling me. I have always been suspicious about this term and what it means, as I serve as a good example for its refutation: half Czech, half Slovak, I equally consider both languages to be my mother tongue. Over the last 10 years I have lived half the time in Bratislava, and half the time in Prague, feeling at home in both societies.

But recently I have felt that Slovakia has been attracting me with bigger force. Paradoxically, I have realized this thanks to my variant attitudes about what repels me in each country.

It is easy to feel at home in a community, whose mentality is close to your own – and in this sense, both Slovakia and the Czech Republic are still my homes. But, I’ve been realizing that I have a different relationship to communities that I consider mentally distant. People represented by Zeman, Konvička, Klaus and the likes do not belong to me, I cannot empathize with them, while those represented by Fico, Kotleba and many others – although miles away from my own thinking, are somehow more relatable to me. This paradox is growing out of depths that I can further understand and discover, and this is why I am so interested.

So it is the strange times we are living in, an age that’s producing monsters, which urge me to return to Slovakia and leave Respekt, a publication I will always feel is more than just a weekly. It is a national institution, without a peer in tradition or in quality throughout the Czech Republic – or throughout the rest of Central Europe – and I hope Respekt readers are able to enjoy it for many, many years to come.

The article was published in Czech by Respekt and in Slovak by Dennik N.

Martin Milan Šimečka

Martin Milan Šimečka

is an author and journalist, currently editor of Respekt, a Czech political weekly and member of editorial board of Denník N. In 1990 he founded and led an independent publishing house Archa. He later became editor-in-chief of Domino-forum, a Slovak weekly. In 1997 - 2006, he acted as editor-in-chief of SME and in years 2006-2008 he was editor-in-chief of Respekt, from 2009 he changed his positon to editor and contributor.