The Slovak culture and its definitions have always suffered from a lack of self-confidence. We have also been targeted by not always culturally advantageous geopolitical influence. Side by side to the bigger and more powerful neighbours, the attempts of cultural elites to seek identity have been complicated. Tendencies to gloomy suffering, cultural self-pity, feelings of martyrdom and the smallness complex began back with the Štúr’s generation. It continued to persist in the literary works by the likes of Milan Rúfus and Rudolf Dilong. After them came modernists, opting for irony and sarcasm to replace the romantic pathos.
And then came the Internet and globalisation. We found ourselves in the post-modern era, amid the cultural phenomenon called multiculturalism. And so tendentious Slovaks are afraid of foreigners especially where there have not been any of them, in the same way as they are afraid of the penetration of new cultures, although this natural phenomenon had appeared in our territory long before globalisation.
The current effort to create a single European culture, however, causes a pressure under which, willingly or unwillingly, the specifics of different cultures come to the fore. Even the smallest ethnic groups have a need to define their own cultural identity and its attributes. The Slovak culture is still undergoing a similar process. The need for geographical and cultural definitions has sustained as the needs of Slovak artists to be in active contact with both domestic and foreign creators. With how many of them do we really share cultural values? Do we see ourselves as part of Europe or not?
Central Europe has identified itself throughout its history as an independent political, geographical and cultural entity in Europe. The Slovak culture is considered a part of the Central European. In the recent years, the Central European countries have sought to define the similarities and differences with Russia. In the past, such a categorisation did not have a form so simplified. The Slovak culture was formed, like the whole Central European region, in the context of pan-European processes, repeatedly confirming its affiliation to the European culture, not to Russia or the US. An example is the adoption of the Latin language and world, or by affirming its authentic Christian character and belonging to antiquity.
In the 16th century, Central Europe was on the Protestant-Christian border. For many years during the Ottoman occupation, Slovakia accounted for the largest Hungarian Kingdom’s territory and Bratislava was the seat of the Hungarian authorities. At the time recatholisation, Slovakia became a favourite destination of Italian and Austrian baroque artists. In the 19th century the identity of Central Europe was formed under the influence of Pan-Slavic romanticising and Slovak-Czech disputes about language. Germanisation of Czechs and Magyarisation of Slovaks complicated our efforts of finding our cultural identity in Europe. And then came the 20st century and the totalitarian regime put multiculturalism for to a “sleep” for nearly 50 years. It is no wonder that nowadays this term is considered by some as an insidious weapon imperialism.
However, multiculturalism is not a Colorado potato beetle. It is an integral part of the Slovak culture and its presence is proof of the cultural sovereignty of Slovakia in Europe. In addition to countless works of art, the quality and ability of self-presentation of Slovak creators confirmed at one of the most important book fairs Salon du livre in Paris on March 15 to 18. Given the current state of our culture, no complex pettiness, sadness or cultural self-pity is needed any longer.
The author is a graduate of Theater Studies in Brno