Slovak Jews Keeping Low Profile As Nationalist Sentiment Rages

Jews in the Slovak half of Czechoslovakia seem to have become uneasy bystanders at best and sometimes victims in the escalating battle between increasingly provocative Slovak separatists and federal authorities determined to hold the country together.

The strident voices of the separatists, calling for dismemberment of the state, which only recently emerged from 40 years of Communist rule, has been accompanied by anti-Semitic graffiti and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries.

While it is pleased by President Vaclav Havel’s unequivocal condemnation of anti-Semitic utterances and cemetery vandalism, the Slovak Jewish community seems most anxious to keep a low profile at this time.

Havel used his weekly television address Sunday to call on the former Slovak prime minister, Vladimir Meciar, to speak out against anti-Semitism and fascism and to condemn the anti-Jewish slogans on the walls of Slovak towns.

Havel observed that while Meciar had no qualms about attacking Czech and Slovak politicians who do not share his extreme nationalist views, he has been reticent about racist outrages and vandalism in Slovakia.

The Czechoslovak president also spoke out against the prevailing nostalgia for the Nazi puppet state of Slovakia that existed from 1939 to 1945.

It was the only instance in history of an independent Slovakia and owed its existence to Adolf Hitler, who selected a pro-Nazi Catholic priest, Jozef Tiso, to be its leader. Tiso, eventually executed as a war criminal, dutifully slaughtered and deported Slovakia’s Jews.

BEST TO ‘ACT WITH RESTRAINT’

Havel reminded Slovakia’s politicians that Tiso’s state was one of Hitler’s defeated allies.

But he called repeatedly for a referendum on the issue of Slovak sovereignty. Slovak politicians and political parties aiming for the dismemberment of the republic oppose a popular vote because they fear a majority of the population rejects their adventurism.

Robert Kardos, director of Slovakia’s Union of Jewish Religious Communities, said that while fascist and anti-Semitic slogans are often shouted at demonstrations for Slovak independence, the leader of the separatist Slovak National Party, Jozef Prokes, apologized in the press for the cemetery desecrations.

In addition, one of the most radical leaders of the nationalist party, Mayor Jan Slota of Zilina, has assured local Jewish leaders that he repudiates anti-Semitism.

Jews in Slovakia, nevertheless, feel uncomfortable in the prevailing political atmosphere.

“We are being criticized by some people for not being more outspoken. But together with the president of the Union of Jewish Communities, Juraj Reich, we believe that in the present turmoil, one would be well advised to act with restraint,” Kardos said.

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