This is a reworked version of the article “Should foreigners in Slovakia care about today’s crisis?”, previously published on The Slovak Spectator. The Slovak version of this article is published in the magazine “13. ročník [fjúžn] | magazín – trʌst“, as part of the annual multicultural [fjúžn] festival, which took place on 20-27 April 2018 in Bratislava. Click here for the Slovak text.
For a foreigner in Slovakia, the past months were fascinating times, to say the least. We had a unique front row seat to what had all the elements to become a defining moment in Slovakia’s modern history. Although “fascinating” might not actually be the right word, it is not every day that you find yourself living in a country deeply divided by crisis, with a nation so angry at their government that thousands of people turned to the streets as once their parents did thirty years ago.
While following the developments closely, discussing them with my Slovak friends and colleagues as well as my family back in the Netherlands, a few questions quickly rose up in my mind. As a foreigner living in Slovakia, how much should I actually care about what is going on in this country, whether it is a political crisis as seen in the last months or something altogether different? Do I bare any responsibility for the future of this country, or is this rather a fight reserved for Slovaks alone?
Largely, I expect the answers to these questions to depend on how strongly you as a foreigner feel part of Slovak society. Speaking from the point of view of Bratislava and accepting the risk of a bit of generalisation, one could roughly divide the foreign population in two groups: the passerby foreigner and the here-to-stay foreigner. The passerby kind are those coming to Bratislava and work here for a year or two, before either moving on to a different country or going back to their home country with a backpack full of foreign experience. This group may not feel much engaged with the crisis and will rather stand on the sideline, as spectators, watching it all play out in front of them. They might be fascinated by it all but will probably not feel the urge to join the ranks of protesters, for it does not immediately touch them or effect their lives. And in my opinion, that is absolutely OK.
It is the here-to-stay kind of foreigner, however, that has a role to play in the future of Slovak society. Just to be clear, I firmly consider myself a member of this group. At some point in time, we decided to build our lives in Slovakia and therefore have most to lose from a crisis as we have seen recently. True, some of us may have come to Slovakia believing to be a passerby but having met someone or for any other reason, changed into a here-to-stay foreigner. Others came here with the full intention to build their lives in a new country. Regardless of how we came to plant our roots here, by doing so we chose to become part of Slovak society. Therefore, I believe we should be invested in a better future for the people, because we are those people, just as much as Slovaks are. Someone once told me that the latest crisis is a crisis of the Slovak people and is therefore the concern of Slovaks alone. This feels to me very shortsighted. If you have decided to build your life in a different country, any crisis that might affect the future of said country, may as well have an impact on you and should therefore concern you. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you are on, not caring at all is an ostrich-like behavior that borders to indifference to your own future in Slovakia, as well as to the future of your loved ones. Most of us became part of a Slovak family either through marriage or otherwise. Therefore, the fate of Slovakia is undeniably intertwined with our own. Not caring feels to me a tat bit arrogant and, quite frankly, very “foreign”.
On a baser level, however, can we not all agree that, apart from our own interest in the development of Slovakia, we might quite simply owe it to the Slovak people to support them to build a better future for us all? Regardless of the annoyances we as foreigners may experience with the often inexplicable bureaucracy, the foreign police and other quirks of Slovak society, there is no denying that all of us who put down roots here have felt a sense of inclusion, trust and belonging, emanating from the Slovak people. I have written many times elsewhere about how quickly I fell included in Slovak society, how the people welcomed me and adopted me into their ranks. Their generosity seems to know no bounds, while their tolerance for other cultures feels endless. They took care of me when I came here and felt lost in a language I did not understand. In my experience, not for a moment since I moved to Slovakia more than five years ago have I felt that the Slovaks treated me as a “foreigner”. They have always treated me as one of their own, so why should we treat them any different?
Collectively, we are responsible for the future of our children, whether you are Slovak, American, African, Chinese or, in my case, Dutch. Slovakia is our chosen soil on which we decided to grow our trees, regardless of our nationality. Slovakia’s fate is our own. I believe we should all care about that, for the struggles of the Slovak people are just as much ours to carry.