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2021

January-March 2021

January-March 2021: Religion in the national census and national funding of religious groups
From February 15 to March 31 2021, an online census has been conducted in Slovakia. In this census, (...)

  • January-March 2021: Religion in the national census and national funding of religious groups

From February 15 to March 31 2021, an online census has been conducted in Slovakia. In this census, the first one in a decade, 86% of the population of Slovakia have been enumerated. The first phase of self-enumeration was followed by a phase of assisted enumeration for those who could not carry out the electronic registration themselves due to lack of computer skills and/or Internet access. Due to the pandemic, the period assigned for completing the assisted census has been prolonged until October 31st, 2021. Census questions included an inquiry about the citizens’ religious affiliation and this gave rise to a political conflict between factions with conflicting worldviews. It was mainly due to the validity of a new law regarding governmental financial assistance for the church from 2019, which states that the amount of funding allocated for church financing depends on the number of Slovak citizens declaring affiliation with the given church. An increase or drop of 10% reflects in a 10% decrease of funding for the registered denominations applying for financial assistance. In the course of the campaign before and during the census, several registered churches, most of all the Roman Catholic church, called on the population to confirm their affiliation with the church where they practice their religion or in which they were baptised. For this purpose, the Catholic Church addressed the public by its first Pastoral Letter of 2021 as well as in several media outlets. In their second Pastoral Letter issued in February, the Catholic bishops talked about census assistance offered to those without access to modern technologies. Secular circles expressed concerns about the possibility that the church may be directly influencing the population by encouraging the public to register their church affiliation, thus tampering with the impartiality and objectivity of collected data.

Ethos, an NGO of secular humanists (sekularisti.sk), led a campaign encouraging the public to check the box “without religion“ as a way of highlighting the contested method of church funding. In addition to gradual financial separation of state and church, they want to achieve a decrease of funds for direct church support. They also criticized the – failed – efforts of the Catholic Church to join the Central Census Commission.

Simultaneously, a campaign was led by groups of believers from the Catholic Church and the Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession (Lutherans) for checking the option “other“ while verbally indicating Catholic, Evangelical (Lutheran), or Christian affiliation as a way of expressing their disapproval of methods of church funding.
The campaign of groups rejecting the idea of direct church funding peaked in the common statement entitled “Let’s Finish November 1989 (Giving Freedom to Churches)“, bringing together Christian group activists, secularists, an eccentric group called Alcohol’s Witnesses and the SaS liberal political party. They critically challenged the churches that encourage their non-practicing members to confirm their affiliation with their church in the census, and stated their opposition to the funding of churches by the state.

Smaller religious communities released various campaigns to motivate their believers to register their faith in the national census to strengthen their negotiation position with the state. For the first time, Islam was offered as an option. NGO Islamská nadácia published various internet newspaper articles trying to encourage Slovak Muslims to claim their faith, even if there are afraid of possible social stigma. Slovak Jews are another small religious community that was motivating their sympathizers to enter Judaism as their faith. They are attemps to slow the secularization of Slovak Jews. During the last census 2011, only 1999 of Jews of a total number around 5000 claimed to be religious. Miro Žiarslav Švický, a prominent Slovak Neopagan leader, also heavily promoted the necessity of claiming the Pagan faith under the moniker “rodné duchovno” (Native Faith) during February and March 2021. One of the main arguments was strengthening the negotiation position of the unregistered Žiarislav’s Neopagan religious group with the state.

  • January 2021: Clergy ranked among critical infrastructure workers during the pandemic

- January 20th: In his official statement, the Minister of Healthcare included in the groups receiving priority in the vaccination process members of the clergy who, according to the Ministry of Healthcare, visit medical institutions and assisted living facilities where they work in close proximity with vulnerable and high-risk groups. This statement included priests among essential frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

- January 25th: Anna Záborská, member of parliament for the OĽANO party, launched an amendment request to include the clergy among healthcare professions. According to her amendment proposal, spiritual service would be included in medical care. A wave of criticism from the ranks of medical and healthcare professionals resulted in the amendment proposal to be withdrawn.

  • February 2021

- Conference of Slovak Bishops against gender equality

As part of commenting on the proposed European guidelines on adequate minimal wage in the European Union, the Conference of Slovak Bishops (Catholic bishops) requested to leave out the words “gender equality“ and recommended for the Slovak Republic not to ratify the Convention of the International Labor Organisation on the elimination of violence and harassment in the workplace from 2019. The Convention recognises foremost the right of everyone to a work environment free from violence and harassment.

- End to coverage for abortions for women over 40 due to health-related reasons

Minister of Healthcare Marek Krajčí issued a regulation stating that women over 40 years of age having an abortion will not be covered by health insurance if requesting the procedure based on their private decision. The Minister explained that he intended to end discrimination of women based on age. Abortion is covered by health insurance for all women in the case of medical risks. Previously, however, pregnancy was considered as a medical risk for women over 40 years of age and abortion was, thus, covered by health insurance for them regardless of its motive. From now on, women over 40 will be in the same situation as younger women: if the abortion is not for medical reason, it will not be covered by health insurance and they will have to pay for the termination of pregnacy. The regulation came into effect on March 1st. Those who are against this new policy stress that it will limit access to interruption of pregnancy for woman from poor backgrounds.

- Court trial with Slovak Neopagan Jaroslav Reborn Pagáč was delayed to May 2021

The trial of Jaroslav “Reborn” Pagáč, which started in the year 2018, continued in February. The Slovak Slavic Neopagan and musician was accused of propagation and distribution of extremist symbols, together with Jakub Škrabák and Michal Buchta. They are all connected in various ways to the nationalist politic party Ľudová strana – Naše Slovensko (ĽSNS). Explicitly, Pagáč was charged with the use of symbols such as a spinning wheel (kolovrat), a black sun, the rune of life, and the rune of death. If Slovak Neopagan was declard to be guilty, he would go to prison for four years. The case raised much attention among Slovak antifascists (who produced various blogs trying to connect him with the Slovak ultra-right scene) and Slovak Neopagans (who see his charge as an attack against his religious beliefs).

  • March 2021

- Invitation of Pope Francis to visit Slovakia
March 8th: Pope Francis has expressed his intention of travelling to Slovakia. Zuzana Čaputová, President of the Slovak Republic, had invited Pope Francis to Slovakia during her visit to the Vatican in December 2020.

- Attempted ratification of a ban of adoption by same-sex couples
March 17th: Voting took place on a proposed bill to include the sentence “parents are solely a father – a man and a mother – a woman“, and to “ban“ a third gender as well as adoptions of children by same-sex couples.

- Protests against the closing of churches
Chairman of the Anton Tunega Foundation’s Executive Board, ex-chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement and former Commissary of the European Union Ján Figeľ stated that the banning of public worship services violates constitutional and international law. For this reason, he called on the government to amend the rules in order to allow citizens to exercise their right to freedom of religion or religious belief and its expression. He also made a motion to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg as well as to the Attorney General of the Slovak Republic to submit this motion to the Constitutional Court of the Slovak Republic. According to Figeľ, the constitutional law does not allow the government to prohibit public worship services, which means the closing of churches.

He also refers to the constitution explicitly confirming religious freedom as a fundamental human right. Similarly, the European Convention on Human Rights guarantees a free collective exercise of religious freedom. The Head of the Conference of Slovak Bishops, Stanislav Zvolenský, made a similar statement saying that executive power in the country is limiting religious freedom in an inadequate way, addressing his standpoint to Minister of Finance and appointed Minister of Healthcare Eduard Heger of the OĽANO party, who soon after replaced the previously elected premier, Igor Matovič, in the office of Prime Minister.

According to the Conference of Slovak Bishops, on March 30 Eduard Heger promised to submit a proposal for adequately guaranteed access to individual spiritual care despite the curfew in place. He also expressed a desire to look for a solution in terms of resuming religious services with the participation of worshippers as early as possible while observing relevant safety and health standards and regulations.
As the head of the Conference of Slovak Bishops said on April 12, Slovak bishops are encouraging congregants to return to their parish churches upon the easing of anti-pandemic measures while observing health and safety guidelines. Masses and religious services are likely to resume in the upcoming days or weeks, admitting limited participation of worshippers.

From April 19, the lockdown in Slovakia was reduced and some shops, services and schools were open for public respecting the hygienic restrictions. Religious services started to be open for public with restrictions of the number of people per square meter of churches and spiritual places. Religious services have an exception from obligation for participants to have a negative COVID-19 test that the other common activities are obliged to respect.

D 27 April 2021    AMichal Puchovský AMiroslav Tížik

May-August 2021

May 2021: A new proposition of law to limit abortions
Seven months after the last proposition to limit abortions, another parliamentarian, Martin Čepček, came with a new one. The new law intended (...)

  • May 2021: A new proposition of law to limit abortions

Seven months after the last proposition to limit abortions, another parliamentarian, Martin Čepček, came with a new one. The new law intended to restrict abortions to women with health or psychic issues and those who had been raped, but the law was not changed. Čepček was later excluded from his political party Obyčajní ľudia a nezávislé osobnosti (OĽaNO) because he submitted the proposition without discussion with his colleagues from the coalition, and regularly voted for propositions of the opposition (including far-right political party with similar antiabortion initiatives).

  • May 2021: Continuation of disputes on the process of beatification of bishop Ján Votajššák

The topic of the beatification of Ján Vojtaššák (1877-1965) is still dividing public intellectuals since the first suggestion of glorification by John Paul I in 1995. The first beatification process was stopped in 2003; a new one started in 2019. Series of articles were written from the perspective of secular anti-fascist humanists and Catholics. Slovak Catholics are in favor of the beatification because they see Vojtaššák as a martyr of the Christian faith. This Slovak cleric was the first bishop of Roman Catholic Diocese of Spiš, one of the signatories of the Martin declarations (in which Slovak intellectuals declared their will to join Czechs in Czechoslovakia after World War One), member of Štátna rada (eng. State council) of Slovakia during World War Two. He was later sued in the made-up trial against bishops in 1951 for treason and sentenced to 24 years. Vojtaššák is an essential person in the history of Slovak Catholicism.
His critics point out his anti-Semitism. During his days in Štátna rada, Vojtaššák did not protest in the name of the Catholic Church against anti-Jewish politics and deportation of Jews.

  • July 2021: Slovak conservative politics oppose European Parliament Report Matić

The Slovak parliament released a decree against European Parliament Report Matić on the 17th of July. The note and voting were initiated by Anna Záborská, one of the most prominent Slovak Christian politic and deputee of EP. The decree says that Slovakia is not against the message of Report Matić. However, they believe that the European parliament is way beyond the competences of each individual and breaks the principle of subsidiarity.
Report Matić caused a significant discussion between conservative Christian politicians and liberal opponent across Europe. The report points out the worsening state of reproduction and sexual health in Europe, for example, the violence and stress during births or social barriers in the treatment of sterility. It criticises religiously motivated prohibition of abortions in Poland and Malta.

  • July 2021: Slovak Pagan Jaroslav Pagáč was sentenced to prison due to propagation of hateful ideology

After two years of trial (See the February 2021 Current debate), Slovak contemporary Pagan and singer Jaroslav Pagáč was sentenced to prison. He refused to make a deal with the court; claiming his innocence. He was accused of propagating hateful ideology because he sold music products bearing the symbol of the kolovrat and the rune Algiz. Both symbols are used by contemporary Pagans, but also by neo-Nazis interested in the occult side of Hitler. The court declared that these symbols are ancient and have only been used by Nazis. It found enough evidence to declare that Pagáč is a sympathizer of the ultra-right and he used these items – the kolovrat and the Agliz rune - not as religious symbols, but as political ones.
The trial had a strong resonance with the modern Slovak and even Czech Pagan community. They see Pagáč as the victim of the corrupted system, who is persecuted for his faith. For the rest of majority society, he is just another ultra-right sympathizer and they do not care about his faith.

  • July-August 2021: Pope Francis will visit Slovakia in September

Vatican News confirmed on the 4th of July 2021 that Pope Francis will visit Slovakia from the 12th to the 15th of September. He is planning to visit capital city Bratislava, pilgrim place Šaštín, Prešov, and Košice (including Roma district Luník IX). President Zuzana Čaputová already invited Pope Francis to Slovakia during her December 2020 official trip to the Vatican. However, no agreement was reached on this occasion. The rumor of the pope’s visit started to spread during spring 2021, as he planned to visit Hungary on the 11th of September to celebrate mass at the International Eucharistic Congress. The importance of the pope’s visit should not be underestimated. Pope’s Francis last official travel trip was to Iraq in March 2020; he is also getting older (85 years old) and underwent surgery in June. It is possible that one of his goals is to rekindle the faith of local Catholics and improve the image of the Catholic Church as the ban on masses during lockdowns, the media backslash against Catholic politics since 2020, and atheist campaign against Christianity during the 2021 national census could diminish the level of devotion of believers.

The announcement of the visit was first received in a positive light by the public, media and state. It is the fourth visit of the pope to Slovakia since the fall of the communist regime in 1989. Past visits received substantial media coverage and many politicians supported their image of proud traditional Slovak Catholics by attending masses celebrated by Pope John Paul II. The former pope was born in Poland and had a very positive relationship with Slovakia, leading to his immense popularity among the people.

It seems that the situation will be very similar this time. Parliamentary speaker Boris Kollár (Sme rodina/We are family), father of ten children with nine women and in the past connected with the criminal millieu, describes the information about the papal visit as “good news in difficult times which will bring some calm and hope for Slovakia”. Similar words of encouragement, a message of hope and conciliation were used in Facebook statuses by Prime Minister Eduard Heger (member of the charismatic Christian community) and president Zuzana Čaputová (former member of centrist-liberal party Progresívne Slovensko). Former Prime minister Peter Pellegrini (Hlas-SD) met with Pope Francis in 2019. He also expressed his happiness about the Catholic Church leader’s visit of Slovakia and used a similar vocabulary to Čaputová and Heger regarding the pope’s visit. Vice-premier and leader of party Za ľudí (For people) Veronika Remišová, a solid Catholic believer, wrote in her Facebook post that “she is delighted about this visit, it will give hope and revive people’s faith. It can have a similar effect to that of John Paul II’s visit to Slovakia in 1991, after forty years of communism.” She also expressed her agreement with the pope’s opinion on the necessity of vaccination against COVID-19. The national vaccination campaign only resulted in less then 50% of the population being vaccinated by mid-summer. Remišová probably hopes that pope Francis can help to persuade religious people to be vaccinated.

Some secular humanists, however, expressed their doubts about the pope’s visit. Influential leftist public intellectual Eduard Chmelár wrote in his Facebook status that reactions of politics to the visit are insincere. “They are hot for photo with pope for their social networks. But why don’t they follow his anti-military calls?”. Chmelár points out the discrepancy between actions (ignorance of the pope’s ecological and peace message) and media speeches (we love Pope Francis) of Slovak politicians.
Former leader of traditional catholic political party KDH Alojz Hlina also wrote that “[I am] glad that pope will honor Slovakia with a visit, but I am not very eager to see politicians with a shady past, former communists, those who spread hate, and ultraconservative Christian politicians who mentally still remain in the days of Rome’s former empire jostling to be photographed with the pope.”

The biggest wave of discontent was caused by the decision of the state to allow only vaccinated people to see the pope at mass public gatherings. The state hopes that this will motivate people to get vaccinated, but so far this has not happened. Similarly, people from culture, business, and sports, who face restrictions when organising mass gatherings, are saddened that the state has allowed a capacity of 400 000 people. Up to the 27th of August, around 33 000 attendees were registered to the pope’s public masses, but it would be not easy to control the Green Pass of the masses of unregistered persons who will arrive in places. The example of the pope’s visit and exception from the covid restrictions show how important it is still for politicians to demonstrate their Christian faith in public.

D 2 September 2021    AMichal Puchovský

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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