Monday Jun 18

Platform Not in Our Town Response to Radicalization of Society

 

Not in Our Town is a platform of individuals and organizations that care about tolerance and human rights in Slovakia. Our main goal is to respond to the violence and hate that is spread by the new extremists and fascists. The movement started in 2013 as a response to the outcomes of the regional elections. That time a leader of an extreme right wing party, Public Party Our Slovakia (Ludova Strana Nase Slovensko, LSNS), won the regional elections in the central part of the country. Their victory was met by the public condemnations and protests. Shortly after that, Not in Our Town platform was founded in April 2014. Its goal is a long term response to the radicalization of civil society. The Platform is an informal group supported by the Center for Community Organizing, a 20-year old local institution that also provides coordination of the Platform.

The next election was coming up in November 2017 and prior to that we started to form a working group that was established in February 2017. Marian Kotleba, the leader of the extreme rightwing party was still the head of the region, using his power to ban cultural and school activities that were not to his taste. He was trying to dominate the cultural life and youth activities through his programs. Many individuals, backed by their organizations or institutions, expressed their willingness to change the situation, and they devoted their free time to work in support of freedom, democracy and liberal values.

We decided that our message to the public would be to choose democratic alternatives instead of extremism and fascism. The working group consisted of 30 active citizens of the city of Banska Bystrica, which is also the regional capital, and surrounding areas, There are teachers, students, IT specialists, seniors, community workers, businessmen, curators and priests among the initial group. In the beginning the group was met every two to three weeks. After we launched the campaign for the November 2017 election, “Together We Are More” (Spolu je nás viac) in the most active period we had our meetings several times a week in the summer and autumn before the elections. Several important opinion setters hat joined the campaign.

Evangelical priest Daniel Koštial, human rights activist Rado Sloboda, director of the community foundation Healthy City Beata Hirt, activist and businesswoman Csilla Droppová, singer Katarína Máliková, Andrej Bán who was representing the initiative Forgotten Slovakia (Zabudnute Slovensko), sportsmen and sportswomen, Student councils, and others.

On Wednesday 21st June we launched the campaign Together We Are More after many discussions and meetings. We debated intensely the character of the campaign, goals, the focus group that we need to work the most with in order to impact the elections, but also the most effective activities we could undertake. It was very demanding to come to consensus on the manifesto that would be the main message of the campaign. Also, agreeing on the slogan was a tedious and difficult process. But after a few months of analyses, evaluations and clarifications among the working group, it was agreed that the platform was solid, and we were all in agreement.

The main goal of the campaign was to mobilize people for the elections. We focused on the younger people from 18 to 40 years of age that use social networks.

There were several strong activities of the campaign. (Ne)tárajštreka is a documentary series about the life in the region. It was a reportage series in the form of documentary videos from road trips in the region done during the summer months. People could follow series through their social networks. A famous local stand-up comedian called Cynic (from cynicism) and a cameraman documented life in the rural areas, places that are being left behind, They were concerned about how people make their choices in elections, why do they do so, and what they would like to change in the area they live. Altogether the documentary was compiled from 22 segments from different cities and towns and screened as a complete package at one of the debates with political candidates. We funded the effort through a crowd sourcing site that raised the equivalent of $2000 USD. This series had enormous impact.

We organized two discussions with the candidates. One was with all of them. The second one featured only the strongest candidates. We organized a march and rally a month ahead of the elections, on Saturday 7th of November in Baska Bystrica, the regional capital. We had a number of groups speak, but did not allow any of the candidates to speak, even though all of the major opposition candidates were present at the rally. Just before the election we had run a profile picture “I will go to vote and you?” We also organized debates that were tackling the issues of managing the region and the topics that were used by LSNS to manipulate public opinion.

Part of our objective was to put pressure on the opposition candidates to consolidate behind one candidate with the best opportunity of winning and defeating the populist, reactionary party. One of the changes in voting procedures made during their term of office had been to alter the election system from a primary and a runoff to first-past-the-post, thinking that their 30% of the electorate would always be sufficient to allow their party of maintain power.

Our main achievement was to mobilize the voters, mainly in the city of Banska Bystrica where the tunout was high above the average (50-60%) and overall in the region it was more than 40% which was also above the average (in whole country in these elections it was 29,5%). The turnout in the 2013 election had only been 20% in the region.

LSNS nominated 335 candidates in the regional elections in the whole country. Only two were elected as a regional representatives. The loss of Marian Kotleba in Banska Bystrica is a great success that has strengthened our platform and encouraged us to go ahead and fight the extremism in our country. The working group continues to meet once a month and works on the activities connected to the coming local elections. What we emphasize the most is cooperation between various groups (religious, LGBTI, Roma, student communities, activists, cultural institutions, local government and public).

This will be a long fight, but we are committed to stay Together and prevail in Our Town.

Martin Strmenova is the coordinator of Not in Our Town as a member of the team with CKO, the Center for Community Organizing headquartered in Banska Brystica, Slovakia.

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