Misery in Slovakia: A topic that belongs to the theatre

Nationalism, national identity and attitude to diversity. Within an educational project, Divadlo Pôtoň (the Pôtoň Theatre) talks to young people about social situation in Slovakia.

The road from Bratislava to Levice is bordered with radio advertisements displaying hateful guff described as a “non-censored alternative”. A bit further away from Levice, you find the village of Bátovce, where Divadlo Pôtoň is located. The performances of this theatre represent a true alternative – an art that discusses current social topics and tries to inspire the audience to be more open and tolerant.

The founders of the theatre, Iveta Ditte Jurčová and Michal Ditte, strive to stimulate critical thinking in the region through their plays. Their sensitively adapted productions touch upon social issues in Slovakia and ask pressing questions – who are we and who do we want to be? “Authors frequently seem to forget that theatre should be a social event also from the perspective of the topic. We cannot infinitely stage Slovak classics from the 19th or 20th century. There are much more burning topics that belong to the theatre and that would probably be much more attractive for the audience,” explains Michal Ditte.


Discussion leads to understanding

The all-day program is based on a play that uses an original poetic to discuss the issues of identity, nation, home, diversity or the Slovak history. The scenes are full of meanings, allusions and references that might at first be unclear for a common high school student. Students from the Secondary School of Transport in Zvolen laugh especially when they see the grimaces of Branislav Matuščin or when they hear swear words. That is why the theatre organizes a discussion with experts, so that students understand what they saw in the play – theatre scientists Miro Dacho and Elena Knopová, the director of the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising Stanislav Mičev, journalist Michal Havran, Ingrid Kosová from the Quo Vadis civic association, Viera Dubačová from a partner organization of the Animus Apertus project, Rado Sloboda, founder of Nie v našom meste platform and Laco Oravec, programming director of Milan Šimečka Foundation.

However, the afternoon discussion with Milena Maková and Marek Berky leaves the deepest impression. Both of Roma origin, they openly talk about their life experience – the feelings of loneliness and unfairness which they felt at school or the unpredictability of faith, which can turn anyone of us into a “social case”. “They don’t feel hurt by being Roma, quite the opposite, they are proud of it,” stressed Ditte. “What they went through at a very young age can happen to anyone of us. Redheads, brown-eyed, obese people, anyone can become a target. Once there was a girl here that started crying, as she gets laughed at because of being fat. We are all different and the experience of Marek and Milena destroys personal barriers.”


A comfortable agreement

During the course of the project, students attend painting, theatre and literary workshops. An important part is also a questionnaire – at the beginning and at the end of the day, high school students anonymously fill in the same questionnaire. A significant majority of students from Zvolen indicate that they agree with statements such as: Roma have children only to get more money from the state; Roma are a population threat and they will soon become a majority in Slovakia; I would participate in a celebration marking the anniversary of the establishment of the Slovak State.

“Let’s be honest, this is a generation of comfort. It is enough for them to read on Facebook that a friend of theirs was at the post and saw a Roma woman getting her social benefits of 800 EUR. This information is all they need, they are convinced that Roma are leeches and we need to do something about it, even if it is radical. They won’t search the Internet to study social legislation and find out where the truth is, ” believes Ditte. Ditte Jurčová says that students tend to change their attitudes at the end of the day. “There are some contradictory responses, such as: I am a nationalist – no; I would vote Kotleba (note: a radical right-wing politician) – yes. They do not see the link between these expressions, they don’t feel the negative connotation of the word nationalism. When they understand the relations during our program, they are able to change their attitudes.”

The play Krajina nepokosených lúk (The Land of Uncut Meadows) and accompanying activities can help young people to understand complex issues, such as the formation of identity or the history of Slovakia. Similarly to the scene where the youngest daughter hides a forbidden seed during an air raid, these young students can be the new generation that will not be scared off and that will do things in a different way – in a better way.


Photo: Divadla Pôtoň


Author: Michaela Kučová 6.05.2015