Politics are inherently evil and should be pushed out of every aspect of society. This is the prevailing opinion in Slovak society. Of course, these ideas are totally justifiably formulated by people’s experience with politics in Slovakia (and abroad as well). What are my personal observations with this issue?
Is civil alibism legitimate?
“Only bad and incompetent people who don’t think of anything else, but their personal interests go to politics.” I encountered this opinion at home, in school, media, movies, so It’s no wonder that I myself adopted it. But then, a question of what is to be done with this issue followed. If the world cannot be changed by politics, then how else? Eventually I came to a “shocking” conclusion, that it can be changed by people who have the power to do so. But who has the power to change society on a systemic level in a democratic country? Well of course, the politicians…
The area where antagonistic attitudes towards politics upset me the most is activism. Currently, it is in fashion to depoliticize any public effort, whether it is a protest, or a mass movement, with an argument that “we are not stained by politics, and we don’t want to be associated with any party or political subject, so we do not corrupt ourselves.” As a member of Leftist Youth Front of Slovakia, I can say that edification during protests is not easy. We have encountered a situation where the organisers did not allow us to hand out leaflets of our youth organisation and the Socialisti.sk movement, in a better case we could only hear grumbling from the crowd, that the protest was supposed to be apolitical. Of course, it is understandable that they do not want to discredit themselves with politicians, who have dark past behind them, but it is wrong to put everyone in the same box.
The method of Slovak activists on how to change certain things is apparently as follows: we must develop societal pressure on bad politicians, so they do what we ask of them. Practice shows that this method is utmost inefficient.
What I consider equally ridiculous is the opinion that trade unions should act apolitically. No, I myself am not a fan of the SMER party either (note: SMER is a social democratic party with heavy nationalistic tendencies and has consistently earned a major share of every vote for over a decade – trade unions used to associate with them, but after being burned by this association over and over they have decided to stay away from politicians). I myself would welcome more radical unions. However, the task of unions is to fight for rights, working conditions and adequate wages for employees. These are all political matters, on which the government has a direct influence in many cases. It is natural, that trade unions will cooperate with entities, that share similar values and approaches for improving the lives of the workers. Of course, parties which come up with ideas such as a regional minimum wage cannot succeed with unions (note: Slovakia has major disparities in wages and cost of living between its regions, which is why there exists a proposal of right-leaning parties to impose a regional minimal wage).
Theory of apoliticism limits celebrities too
Famous personalities are not spared either. Athletes and artists are often met with negative backlash after expressing their political stance. A number of public reactions echo an opinion: “Stick to your profession and don’t get involved in politics.”
It is especially funny, when this rhetoric is voiced to a music band whose songs are mostly political. A good example is Rage Against the Machine. I see no reason why personalities who could have great influence precisely because they are famous, ought not to express their political views. Whether we agree with them or not, this is a matter of principle.
It is only logical that instead of constantly persuading “bad” politicians who have egocentric goals, we put people who represent our interests into leadership. The way to get into a position where a person has the power to change something is to be elected. The standard approach to run for office is via a political party. Therefore, I would gladly see more efforts in civic activism to cooperate with political subjects that share their goals, because that is the only way to reliably enforce our demands.
Honest people have resigned
Unfortunately, the situation is such that an honest person wants nothing to do with politics. As a result, we get into a state where the only people who get into politics are the most undesirable ones. When out of 100 politicians, 99 of them are in politics because of power/money, then it is most likely clear to everyone how it will turn out. Citizens are disgusted by politics; it discourages them away from active political involvement and the circle closes. This, of course, is not only a matter of active participation in politics, but also a basic overview, forming of one’s own opinion and participation in elections and referendums. Let me paraphrase Plato: “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by the incompetent.” And this is exactly what is happening to us.
This, however, suits the current ruling class. Our apoliticism in public life, combined with citizens rejecting to even be interested in politics eliminates all threats to their power. They do not have to make compromises with us, let alone be afraid of revolutionary changes.
Does the world seem so perfect to you that we don’t have the right to demand change? Waiting for the enlightenment of the nation is not a very reliable method.
Enlightenment must be carried out on one’s own initiative, there is no need to be afraid to get involved in political life. And the best way to do that is to join the Leftist Youth Front.
Ľubomír Zeman, regional chairman of the LYFS West
Translated by LYFS member S. Novák