Fighting the Trope of the Tolerance Deficit: An Ethnography of Tolerance Proponents in Slovakia

    • Belgrade 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Eva-Maria Walther, Graduate School for East and Southeast European Studies, University of Regensburg, Austria


    This paper examines the tension between a commonly assumed tolerance deficit in Slovakia, and the endeavors to disprove this trope by engaging for minorities and a more open society. Which assessment of the status quo calls tolerance proponents to action? How do they reconcile the seemingly opposing drives to cherish national identity and embrace difference? Right-wing populism and nationalist tendencies are on the rise in many Central European countries, and the blame is usually given to an ominous socialist heritage and an incomplete transition to western style liberal democracy. Thus, tolerance proponents are facing both the nationalist propaganda spread by certain groups and a public which largely resigns to the problem. The reactions to this challenging situation differ widely. In order to unravel the various, sometimes conflicting motivations and commitments of tolerance proponents, I will carry out ethnographic fieldwork within church-affiliated and civic associations, encompassing interviews as well as participant observation. In this paper, I will lay out the context for engaging with tolerance in Slovakia and present my upcoming project as well as my approach to the field. I take an individual approach to the emergence of political subjects, assuming that modes of internal conversation or heteroglossia may allow individuals to hold contradictory views, ultimately leading to the coexistence of distinct, but intricately linked discourses on tolerance on a public scale. The project aims to enhance the current political debate on populism and nationalist movements in formerly socialist countries.