BRATISLAVA – Reverberations continued this week after Slovakia’s first-ever rally for gay pride, which was disrupted by neo-Nazis and cut short for fear Slovak police wouldn’t do enough to prevent violence.
Two ways to read the May 22 “Rainbow Rally”: 1) one more barometer of Slovak democracy, a step forward in that the event was allowed, as hundreds of Slovaks and Westerners gathered in support; 2) dismay at how it unfolded.
Catholic, conservative Slovakia is said to be the last of the ex-Communist-turned-European-Union members to host such an event. Yet no sooner did speakers take the stage in a central square than witnesses say they saw bomber-jacketed skinheads drop tear-gas canisters among the crowd.
Other demonstrators interrupted with cries of “perverts” and “deviants.”
“We haven’t come here to condemn homosexuals, but to say that homosexuality is a clear sin, and if these people continue committing it they’ll face eternal damnation,” said Jozef Dupkala, president of the Association for Protection of the Family, according to the English-language Slovak Spectator.
Even Western diplomats, who earlier expressed support for the rally, told the Spectator they felt uneasy about the “thugs” milling about, amid passive police. Rally organizers, citing reports that scores of skinheads might be lining the streets beyond, cancelled the parade that was to follow.
Slovak riot police said they detained 28 extremists, but activists smoldered this week after a pair of un-sympathetic comments from top government officials: one said organizers should have hired themselves private security, while a second reportedly called for mutual respect from “both sides.”
“As if it were not outrageous enough that a top state representative in the area of human rights and minorities failed to move at his own initiative to defend the event, he is now calling for tolerance toward violent neo-Nazi groups,” said rally spokeswoman Romana Schlesinger.
Canadian Tom Nicholson, who has lived here since the 1990s and is an investigative reporter for the leading Slovak daily, SME, was withering in a Spectator editorial.
“Neo-Nazi websites have been calling on skinheads for months to ‘come and kick some gay butts and express your disagreement with this disease that is killing our race and our nation!’ So what where the police expecting? Courteous disagreement?” wrote Nicholson, who attended with his wife and kids.
“This was a depressing reminder that the Slovak police identify with far-right hooligans, and that they are not yet professional enough to robustly protect the right of all Slovaks – even pinko liberals and faggots – to assemble peacefully. But the police would never have dared to neglect their duty if they didn’t feel support from the political establishment.”
I wasn’t in Bratislava to attend the event. But one friend who did, Liza Slay, pointed out that police eventually did remove disruptive hecklers. And that their venom shouldn’t be the final word.
“That image of hate is not the one that I carry with me from the day,” she tells me. “There were speeches and images of love, rule of law, dignity, and respect for human rights that were far more powerful than anything skinheads could throw.”