Alena Krempaska is a human rights activist. She works as a journalist in the Slovak Insitute for Human Rights. Center Europe has become the epicenter of a storm of populism and intolerance. It seems that hate speech against Muslims has strong roots within the population. To be a Muslim is to be a suspect, therefore there is an hostile climate against refugees and migrants. Hate speech needs, hate speech requires intimidation in order to ingrain. Mainly to those who fight against it. This is the reason why Alena Krempaska was attacked in September. In this interview she offers some views, ideas and the circunstances which led to violence against her.
Could you please describe what happened to you last September 5?
The story I believe needs a little explanatory note. During the entire summer, the opposition political parties OLANO, SAS and NOVA, which are rather non-traditional right wing parties featuring many conflicting ideologies, islamophobic and often homophobic in their rhetorics, have organized a series of protests against the current government and alleged corruption deals of the current Minister of Interior. These rallies were presented as public rallies, rallies of civil society against corruption. In fact, these were thinly veiled political meetings of the above-mentioned parties.
Me and a group of other activists, we came to take part in the “public rally” with a rather different message – together with criticizing the current government, we held banners accusing also organizers of the rallies of either allying and forming governments with parties accused of corruption of huge dimensions, sending water canons on protesters against corruption in the previous era, or else for not issuing any legal proposal against corruption during their terms in government and opposition alike. Our message was clear – not only the government, also the opposition parties are embroiled in the corruption scandals.
The statement that we were not welcomed is an understatement. At one point, the leader of OLANO, Igor Matovic, an MP I underline, took the stage. He named me and my colleague, pointed a finger on us in the crowd and there from the podium, started lying about how we are financed by the sitting government SMER party, we are “fake activists”, we “are prosecuted for stealing money”and other outright lies. We were booed at and the police has to come and stand in front of us to protect us from violent attacks; in fact they had to cordon us off to the public transport at the end of the rally. 4 hours later, I was attacked close to our office by two unknown men shouting “You are a SMER whore” and punched in the face.
We read in a text you wrote that you would keep the fight and don’t let them be intimidated…do you want to say something else about that?
It came as a surprise to many; me and my colleagues, we are used to online and even offline threats though never took them seriously. It shows the public discussion deteriorates also due to mainstream parties, not only because of the neonazi party in the Parliament; it will hopefully be a lesson, a message that we can’t let the online hate outburst freely and that the politicians have to be very careful about their public statements in an already frustrated and tense atmosphere. I accuse the OLANO leader Matovic for being responsible to create tensions that led to the attack on me.
Do you know if there are any findings related to the case? New information or something related to the investigation?
I already received the official police investigation statement that the perpetrators were not identified, the case will not be further investigated unless there is new evidence, up until 2 years.
Do you think this political environment where the hate speech, Islamophobia, etc. are increasing have an impact on hate crimes and on attacks to activists?
Surely so. They are more tolerated, particularly on Muslim-perceived people. The violent attacks are mainly perpetrated by open neonazis, but smaller, minor attacks are also done by ‘ordinary’ people, not affiliated to parties. They are largely tolerated amongst the society. The attacks on activists are rare; I hope my case does not make it a normalcy, but the contrary, a wake-up call.
Recently we learned that you did an action in the National Theatre: What did you do? In which context you decided to do it? What was the aim?
5 years ago, me and my colleagues we organized a series of huge protests labeled as Protests Gorilla, named after a security intelligence leak about corruption deals between businessmen and Slovak right-wing parties members. Although the protests were massive in scale, the investigation was recently closed with filing no accusation, as if nothing happened. On 7th of January, a yearly ball of Slovak prominents, a number of them mentioned in the leak as related to corruption, were present there. We decided it’s a good occasion to show the profanity of the situation, and sneaked inside – in fancy ball dresses and ready for the dance – with a a banner saying “Gorillas are dancing while people are starving”. This is an allusion to the investigation of the corruption affair going nowhere, the general feeling of frustration that the wealthy and corrupted are beyond the rule of law, and also as a little reminder that there will be 5 years of the Protests Gorilla anniversary for which we plan a bigger action.
Could you describe the actual situation in Slovakia?
Depends from which perspective you’re asking 🙂 The country is doing relatively good in economic terms, but the uneven spread of wealth, rising prices are felt in poorer areas and among disadvantaged. The living standards of the “West” are nowhere in sight and there is a general discontent over the state of the affairs in which many powerful seem to be openly corrupted or misuse public procurements, but no justice is done to the cases. In such a climate, the political actors /all of them, not only politicians across the spectrum, but the media, the clergy, non-traditional, so-called “alternative” media/ have bandwagoned on scapegoating the immigrants. The anti-migration, precisely an “anti-Muslim-perceived” sentiment is widely shared; the political actors have been successful in dehumanizing the refugees, and in such a short time, that it is sad and surprising to see the majority’s fear and loathing over Islam and Muslims at large.
Could you describe the work of your organization and the main concerns and goals you have nowadays?
I am now involved in two projects. The Human Rights Institute focused on campaigning and raising awareness on human rights issues abroad and home, as well as fighting against rising fascism and islamophobia. We hope to conduct a big project aimed at high school students in writing and promoting their blogs on human rights issues online.
As a consequence to the events around the September, we received an anonym tip information that the leader Igor Matovic from OLANO has his business license still active thus violating law, for which he could lose the Parliamentary seat. We realized there is quite a need for a more domestic watchdog political work, therefore we set up a new organization Slovak Political Watchdog focused on monitoring the activities of politicians as well as focusing more on neonazis present in the Slovak parliament.
Which do you think are the challenges and main objectives for the antiracist movement for 2017?
Well, we definitely can’t let the populists win the cause. In the absence of the alternative, people seek for the only alternative they often /and in many countries/ find – the further right. The antiracist movement can’t get stuck in old school narratives and campaigns, such as “we are all equal” and “the skin colour doesn’t matter”. Although I wholeheartedly agree with their meaning, it’s already quite some time these are not the main concerns for majority people. Unless the antiracist movement opens up for other topics and, within its campaigns, includes also other progressive ideas and supports other causes, it is doomed to fail miserably.
It surely also has to focus on rising neonazis and find good means to target them. In the current situation, the antiracist activists have to realize that old differentiations are now not the most important and we have to find allies among those we never would beforehand. For example, 8% of the Slovak Parliament is neonazi. We have to get rid of them, and for that, we can’t rely only on a few progressive antiracists, but we have to make large coalitions with liberal right-wingers and others, because we have now a common enemy, far more dangerous than some currently petty differences between our movements and diverging personal opinions.