On the 7th July 2012 at the Pohoda Festival in Trenčín, Slovakia, Project Forum presented Grassroots Europe.
Following the infamous October 2011 vote on the European Financial Stability Facility which forced the Slovakian government to resign, Slovakia experienced the first authentic, and certainly the liveliest, debate yet on the European Union and Slovakia’s role in it. The questions pondered were:
Is there such a thing as a European public? What price are we willing to pay for the European Union’s unity? Are the EU institutions legitimate? Is it once more the case that the powerful rule and the weaker obey? Can the European voter actually influence what happens on the European level? Can Europe’s people even really influence what happens on a national level, in their own countries?
Our speakers for this public debate were Czech sociologist and legendary dissident Jiřina Šiklová; Iveta Radičová, former Prime Minister of Slovakia, head of the resigned government; Michael Kocáb, rock musician, human rights activist and former minister of the Czech Republic for Human Rights and National Minorities; and Slovakian writer Michal Hvorecký. The one hour discussion was moderated by Martin M. Šimečka, the Slovakian/Czech journalist, and the festival tent which served as the venue for this scorching hot afternoon panel was filled to the brim with around 600 guests in attendance.
The moderator wasted very little time with introductions as it was clear from the excited applause from the audience that everyone was familiar with the speakers, and the debate began with each speaker’s introductory statements.
Former Prime Minister Iveta Radičová outlined her basic arguments for why it is absolutely vital for Slovakia to belong to the EU through rough and smooth and subsequently explained why she was left with little choice and was willing to stake her government on the European Financial Stability Facility.
Jiřina Šiklová was very critical of the Czech stance on European issues and especially of the stance taken by the former Czech president Václav Klaus, whose attempts to push the Czech Republic into the role of a second United Kingdom was in her opinion completely irresponsible towards the younger generation. She elaborated on the continuity of the wide Czecho-Slovak and Czech shift from authoritarianism to democracy, which was directly influenced by the European idea. She made her opinions very clear when she said: “when it comes to people as old as me, there will not be much forthcoming change, but this generation and the ones after it will be affected by a most profound change brought about by free movement, studying abroad, and an opening up towards Europe…that is, so long as we the older generations don’t mess it all up for you.”
The moderator frequently engaged the audience, with most of them expressing feelings of powerlessness, bemoaning their influence on the state of democracy, and making clear their disillusionment with domestic corruption, which, in the words of one audience member, “turned democracy into a farce”.
What can we do about this? Writer Michal Hvorecký had a straight answer to this question. “We need to go and experience the world, but we have to return to our home country. We cannot all leave this place and let politicians and other elites take it apart. We have to use the tools that are available to us. We cannot let our voices be stifled. Use Facebook and other tools that are becoming available to help us organise.”
Czech rocker and human rights activist Michael Kocáb – one of the stars of the festival – arrived late, apologising profusely. He was also very critical of the Czech political stance towards the EU and spoke about the Czecho-Slovak democratic tradition and European identity, and how important it is for him to appear in front of a Slovak public and play here with a Slovak rock band.
Despite tremendous interest from the audience who wanted to ask more questions, the discussion had to end after about an hour due to tight scheduling in the discussion tent. The moderator, however, invited everyone who was interested to join the speakers and organisers to continue the discussion informally in a nearby café tent where Projekt Forum had booked a large table. Several audience members took this opportunity and the discussion went on informally for another hour.