Iveta Radičová: I worry that all we will be left with is filth

Tomorrow, Slovakia will experience a decisive battle in its “cultural war”. Citizens are invited to take part in a referendum which conservatives claim is in defense of the traditional family, but what appears to be a halt to the expansion of same-sex couples’ rights. Former Slovak Minister of Labor and Prime Minister Iveta Radičová says in an interview for Denník N that even if it succeeds, no family will be helped.

Photo: CreativeCommons/European People´s Party

If you were now in politics, for instance as a prime minister….

That’s quite a bad idea … (laughter)

… would you publically declare your decision to abstain from the referendum?

I would say exactly what I am saying now: each civic initiative is entitled to a referendum, however, it is the substance that counts. This is not a referendum about family, it is merely about one of its forms. It does not address the problems of the day. The issues that it raises have been legislatively resolved a long time ago. Let’s imagine that the referendum succeeds – what will then change? I insist, not a thing. It will not improve the standing of families and marriages; and there won’t be any more children, either.

Why do most politicians say that they will take part in the referendum even if many do not agree with it?

I am afraid that this issue has recently become entirely ideological, even dogmatic. The moment you accept a dogma, you are closed to a discussion. It is normal to talk things through openly… even when it comes to registered partnerships. Instead, we are hearing threats; an atmosphere of fear is being raised. This is not normal. The institutes of marriage as well as family have undergone certain developments and we must respond to that. The key is to dismantle stereotypes, dogmatic behaviors and prejudices because they tear society apart.

So how do you judge the politicians?

They are trying to accommodate the prevailing public opinion. However, politicians are not supposed to just respond to waves of public opinion – they should shape it, and then they ought to bring solutions. We know the main problems that families have to cope with: the necessity of a double income, the balancing of work responsibilities with childcare, unemployment. We have a debt towards families; we must continue with legislative changes. We must, for example, address the conflict between the family and the labor market, as labor markets still only take into account individuals and not their families. We must attend to families’ mobility and their social security. This is the agenda on our desk. However, the politicians do not come with any such offer. A woman that struggles with everyday survival, fears potential job loss and considers not having another child because her family can’t afford it is probably honestly asking – ‘what are we trying to solve?’ She won’t be helped by the marriage protection embedded in the Constitution if she happens to have an aggressive husband. Such a woman lives with completely different problems. At the same time, she harbors faith, which helps her survive this everyday monotony. It is due to this that I consider the pillars of faith to be of utmost importance in these problematic times.

Is it a prevailing public opinion – to be against homosexuals?

Participation rate in the referendum will provide the answer. But to me, the more important question is: how will we fare after it is over? The referendum has brought a conflict into society. The discussion only escalates and Slovakia won’t be any more democratic or welcoming. Why, after all that we went through, do we need to hurt ourselves like this?

Our colleague Konštantín Čikovský  1 praised Prime Minister Fico and President Kiska for planning to take part in the referendum, because ‘the need to cherish democratic institutions is a good habit, which will disappear if the top political representatives also ignore it.’ Is the referendum similar to elections – is it good if people take part in it?

It is principally different. This is not how a referendum is understood. In a referendum, participation or non-participation is the first step in decision-making, a way by which someone can say whether they identify with the topic at all. Non-participation is a relevant attitude; it is not the same as a rejection of the institution.

Do you think that this issue can remain the topic of the day until the elections?

Those who will want to cover up the real problems are sure to reach for it. It has been overshadowing other important topics for months now. It has opened space to aggressive attitudes bordering on Neo-Nazism. Dušan Ondrušek compared this to spooking the children with Jews. Certainly, this is not a pathway to dignity.

Martin M. Šimečka writes that in a society that has not yet fully come to terms with its responsibility for the Holocaust organized by the Slovak State and aided by the Catholic Church, another specific minority is once again being depicted as the tumor on the nation’s body. Do you also see a parallel with Fascism?

There is a part of our society that still appraises the Slovak State in a positive light. Similarly, there is also a part that has a positive perception of communism. When we became a democratic country, these people lost their positions. In the context of the Central European space, Slovakia is peculiar in terms of the size of this group who is nostalgic about the totalitarian regimes. The sociologist Vlado Krivý even found a combination of fascist and communist inclinations in the regions. In these places, the level of tolerance towards “otherness” is zero. These groups are nowadays being encouraged; they are mobilizing and are generally much more visible and audible than before. One cannot win over simplicity and dogmatism; one must be patient. That is why the debates about the various forms of co-habitation take so long.

Why do they hate minorities so much?

Xenophobia is present in every society. It is the fear of the new, the unknown, and the other. When you are afraid of, for instance, the future, you are more inclined to be hostile to groups that you perceive as threatening or that others tell you are dangerous. You can see that in countries with long-term experience with the existence of marital, partner form of family as well as with registered partnerships, the traditional family has not been weakened in any sense. It has not resulted in a smaller number of children, either. What you have, however, is less tension in society. This one “danger” has been realized as no threat at all, and the fear of unknown has been diminished. The same goes for sexual education. We have a great number of families that are not able to inform their children in this area. If in such a situation they go to school, the experience from abroad is an unambiguous proof: less venereal diseases, a later start of sexual experimentation, fewer unwanted pregnancies – all clearly positive results.

When will we pass a bill on registered partnership in Slovakia?

I don’t dare guess. I do not even know if anyone will require this given the current experiences.

Do you talk about the referendum with your partner, former Franciscan priest Marián Balázs?

Of course; he won’t take part in it, either, because everything is already written in the legislation. The strongest evidence that nobody is endangering or doubting the institute of marriage in Slovakia are the valid laws. The problem that remains is rather the lack of proper attention to the relations between other groups.

If you were president, would you announce the referendum?

Yes, I would respect the law. I would try to enter the discussion with experts and perhaps organize round tables. I am worried about the sometimes even hysterical positions that we have had the chance to observe.

Do you consider it correct that the President said that he would take part in the referendum, as well as how he planned to vote?

He is fully entitled to do that. We know him; we know his attitudes. Having the personal experience of living in a second marriage himself, he surely knows what the breakup of a marriage means. He went through a divorce and that is why I think that he is also open to other forms of cohabitation.

Are you certain the referendum will not be successful?

I am not sure about the result. However, I dare say that it has failed already due to the manner in which the discussion has been led. It has been one enormous “minus” sign. Whether people respond to the questions with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ will not change anything in the real life. You know, some of the reactions that I have read about stated that it was good that the filth had surfaced because it would enable us to move somewhere. However, I worry that the filth is all we will be left with.

 (The original Slovak version of the interview was published in the daily Denník N)


  1. editor of the Denník N daily – ed. note
Monika Tódová

Monika Tódová

is editor of the Slovak Denník N daily. Previously she had worked as editor of SME daily for fourteen years until January 2015.