Martin M. Šimečka

    is a writer and journalist based in Bratislava. Before 1989 he could publish only in samizdat; later he co-founded the Archa Publishing House, and edited the critical weekly Domino-Fórum and the daily SME. His books include fiction Džin (The Genie, reissued in 2015) and Žabí rok (The Year of the Frog, English translation 1994), as well as an edition of his father’s letters from prison with his comments, Světelná znamení (Light Signals) a book of essays, Hľadanie obáv (Looking for Concerns) and, most recently, Medzi Slovákmi (Among the Slovaks, 2017). From November 2006 until January 2009 he was editor-in-chief of the Prague cultural and political weekly Respekt and until 2016 an editor of the journal. He is currently an editor of and commentator with the daily Denník N. “There are many self-obsessed nations that constantly scrutinise their own character, their own quarrels and traumas, endlessly reinterpreting their history in the hope of discovering the reason for their existence and destiny. Our neighbours, the Czechs, the Hungarians as well as the Poles, are virtuosi of self-obsession, making the Slovaks, appear like masters of detachment by comparison, although that might be just another way of expressing their indifference to their own history and destiny. It is, of course, quite possible that there is within Slovak society some silent, unspoken agreement that I have yet to discover because I am not really a part of it. Although I was born in this country and have lived here most of my life, all my family (apart from my Slovak wife and children) live in the Czech Republic. I have always envied my classmates their summer holidays with their grandparents in the villages of Slovakia, while I spent mine in Brno. To this day I suspect that it was in those villages that my classmates acquired a cultural code I will never be able to crack. To be born a foreigner in your homeland is an existential paradox you can overcome only by taking possession of this homeland emotionally and intellectually, in other words, by devoting your entire life to trying to understand it. In this respect I am not in any way exceptional: it is a fate embraced by others, for example many ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia. Of course, rejecting one’s homeland is also a possibility. When I was fifteen and proudly brought home my first identity card, my Czech mother took a careful look at it and discovered I had been registered as a Slovak national. It came as a shock to her, but it was something I took for granted. However, it was also something I had to rethink twenty years later, when Czechoslovakia was splitting up. Since my parents were Czech, the laws in force at the time automatically made me a Czech citizen. I went to the register office to ask for Slovak nationality instead. It was a strange experience. I had the reputation of being a traitor to the Slovak nation because I had publicly opposed the creation of the Slovak Republic as a result of Czechoslovakia’s break-up. Applying for Slovak nationality seemed like sheer madness, yet I knew that if I wanted to go on living in Slovakia and share my thoughts on the country with the public, I could not leave a back-door open. The lady at the register office was moved to tears.”
    Foto: Matěj Stránský

  • Truth and Love

    If lies and hatred prevail we must all accept responsibility for it. By Martin M. Šimečka.