Andrej Bán

    is a journalist and photographer with the Slovak weekly .týždeň. He focuses on the world’s crisis hotspots, including Kosovo, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Haiti. He has collaborated with foreign journals such as Newsweek, ONE magazine and NRC Handelsblatt. He is the founder of the Slovak humanitarian organisation People in Peril, which he chaired for 11 years, and co-founder of the non-profit Slovak Documentary Photo. A recipient of numerous journalism awards, he has published three photobooks, Iné Slovensko (2005, The Other Slovakia), Kosovo (2008) and, most recently, Na juh od raja – 25 rokov, príbehy obetí vojen, exodov a prírodných katastrof (2017, South of Eden – 25 years, stories of victims of wars, exoduses and natural disasters). He is also the co-author of several documentary films. He lives in Bratislava. “In places such as Pakistan, Haiti or Kosovo I have found myself in difficult situations of having to defend my very life when communicating with people who were very hostile towards me, which sometimes meant that although they didn’t assault me physically, they were verbally aggressive. It was on a knife-edge. The situation in Slovakia seems to remind me that the only way is not ignorance but communication. I decided that, as a journalist, I may be able to help our society get a better idea of Kotleba’s electorate by chairing discussions in those parts of the country where he has a great deal of support. This also means showing respect for those who have different views because ignoring them will only confirm them in their own views. At the same time, you mustn’t give up your own convictions. Direct communication is the only way to burst ‘social bubbles’. My experience in war zones has taught me that Slovakia hasn’t been as badly off – not even under Mečiar or Fico, or when Kotleba marched down the square in a wartime Hlinka guard uniform – as the Balkans were under Milošević or Ukraine under Russia’s President Putin. At the same time, it showed me that if the situation isn’t tackled in the right way and in good time, very little is needed for society to become radicalised. Some time ago, under Mečiar, people used to say that one slap in the face in a pub in southern Slovakia would be enough to ignite the spark. Kotleba is to a large extent a virtual, Facebook phenomenon. Our discussions on extremism have confirmed that Kotleba’s followers are tamer and less aggressive in reality than in cyberspace. They play the hero only when there are many of them or when they are on the net. But I agree that this is a very dangerous phenomenon.”
    Photo: Boris Németh/.týždeň