Tom Nicholson’s marathon in Slovakia

Tom Nicholson belongs among the most courageous journalists in Slovakia. Not only did he dig out the facts and aired corruption case Gorilla, but he has also been involved in investigations of various cases of interconnection between government and underworld. At times like these when a lot is being said about importance of investigative journalism which safeguards democratic functioning of society, but media owners are not willing to invest in it, deeds like Tom Nicholsons’s are invaluable.

To make it even more viable, Tom has built a superstructure for his mission. He wants to motivate young people to be more active, to feel responsibility and healthy patriotism. Thus, he devoted past year to intense discussions with young people at schools. As part of the Slovak marathon project, Tom keeps discussing difficult topics such as politics, corruption and potential for social change with them. So far, he has faced students‘ questions in more than 60 schools around Slovakia. Although political corruption is not an everyday issue at secondary schools and intricate webs of relations and historical backgrounds of various political cases are sometimes hard to follow even if you are informed adult, Tom fiercely describes all the rotten parts of the Slovak kingdom. He believes that understanding major corruption scandal in the Slovak politics is crucial, since Gorilla reflects actual functioning of our state.

Young people have good sense of reality

The objective of the Slovak marathon is to reveal the reality to young people who may bring about change. Nicholson talks with them about the need for cooperation and seeking of common voice. „I have been pleasantly surprised by the level of political awareness of our students,“ says Tom after his lectures, „I was convinced I would have to explain everything to them. However, they expressed firm expectations of change, since they are not careless. This is not just my impression, 60 to 70% of students have actually given me their contact addresses to keep in touch and become part of the community. So, these are key indicators to me – level of information and willingness to do something about it.“

Project of Tom Nicholson encourages young people to make informed decision about the future of Slovakia. Krzysztof from the private Slavic High School in Bratislava is glad for having the opportunity to discuss Gorilla case first-hand. „Even if just half of us talks about todays‘ lecture at home with our parents, it will be a progress. The group of people who care and are willing to act in this respect, will grow bigger and in one, two or ten-years time, everybody will know.“

However, an offer for a presentation for young people has not always been welcomed: „There are regions in Slovakia, where founding institutions are stronger and decide about the schools‘ activities to a great extent. Such schools have to get consent every time a visitor like me wants to hold a lecture on its grounds and people of my kind are obviously not welcomed. In other regions, founding authorities let schools have more freedom. At the end of the day, it is also about personal feelings of headmasters. I have found out that students are reflection of their headmasters. If you have a headmaster who is open, liberal, self-confident and interested in hearty debate, then students are also happier and more open. It is interesting how much influence do leaders have over their communities.“

During his lectures, Nicholson tends to speak about fear and helplessness. He usually emphasizes that despite our traditional approach of „keeping our heads down“, Slovakia is also a modern European country where even uncomfortable journalists do not face risks comparable to those in Russia or Ukraine.

Topic No. 1

Gorilla case revealed that our state primarily serves other than public purposes. Nicholson keeps this topic alive among citizens. Moreover, he keeps stressing to the next generation of voters that it is them who will decide about their future. What has he learned about young people after so many joint discussions?

I have spotted a dangerous phenomenon and that is the fact that at least half of students in every class I asked wish to leave the country and in eastern regions, the number reaches 80%. So, despite having a hope that things might get better, most of them decided to quit. The sheer number of them astounded me and I believe that is a tragedy. Media sometimes mention this fact, but in my opinion, the future of our youth should be the No. 1 topic for them. How to persuade them to build a country worthwhile staying in. I just fail to understand why this is not being discussed more widely, since it is a national tragedy.

We are glad that Tom uses the courage he brought with him from abroad in our country. We wish for the network of active young people to grow, so that politicians will no longer be able to (or want to) do whatever they want.

photo: Tomáš Halász

Written by: Viktória Mlynárčiková and Michaela Kučová

Author: Michaela Kučová 16.07.2014