Wednesday

1st Dec 2021

Slovakia bitterly divided on social issues

  • The referendum, if valid, would bind the parliament to legislate in the spirit of the vote (Photo: Janis Zakis)

Socially conservative Slovakia has been locked in a bitter debate about marriage and gay rights for several months, culminating in the country’s first ever referendum – on Saturday (7 February) – as the result of a citizens’ petition.

The initiators of the referendum on marriage and sex education lay the blame on Western Europe for what they see as a threat as to their traditional values.

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“Seeing what kind of ideologies are coming to Slovakia, we want our citizens to express their views on the issues regarding family and not leave these issues just to politicians and judges,” said the Alliance for Family, a group of NGOs.

The referendum asks three questions.

Should marriage be exclusive to a man and a woman?

Should same-sex couples be denied the right to adopt children?

Should schools be forbidden to demand children’s participation in sex education if their parents disagree with its content?

There is a participation quorum of 50 percent for the vote to be valid. Out of seven previous referendums in Slovakia, only one proved legitimate - a vote on EU membership in 2003.

Polls suggest conservative views on marriage and family matters prevail in Slovak society.

But as a way of protest, critics of the current vote are prepared to boycott it.

“There are no right answers to the bad questions,” said Inakost, one of the NGOs representing the LGBT community.

In contrast, the referendum is strongly supported by churches – mainly the Roman Catholic church.

And all political parties, except the Liberals, have either openly said or hinted that they favour “traditional” values, including the ruling Socialist Smer party.

Europe as a threat

As the Alliance for Family stepped up its campaign for “Three times YES in the referendum” in January, the debate between its supporters and opponents turned ever more bitter.

At one stage Slovak president Andrej Kiska warned against the polarisation of society and broken friendships.

“We should not hurt each other over this issue,” he said.

Apart from the argument that a majority should not vote to limit rights of a minority, the Alliance has also faced criticism the vote would change little even if successful.

The man/woman-only definition of marriage has just been enshrined in the constitution (as a political deal between the Smer and the Christian democrats in 2014)

There are limited possibilities for adoption by gays and lesbians. Meanwhile, parents already have the right to express criticism on sex education.

The family campaigners say that the status quo needs to be cemented to prevent similar developments as in some other EU member states.

They cite the recent verdict by the Austrian court on allowing same-sex registered partners to adopt children and refer to the EU’s “judicial activism” and to “gender ideology” appearing in schools and education.

“A family is not threatened by a small number of homosexuals but by the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bi- and trans-sexual] lobby,” Christian activist Renata Ocilkova said.

But Janka Debreceniova, a lawyer and civic rights activist, suggested that Slovak society needs a proper debate about the difficulties people in different forms of families and partnerships face.

“This referendum has killed the debate before it even started,” she said.

According to a poll by Focus agency for the SME daily, some 35 percent of voters are planning to vote on Saturday, with 72 percent of them ready to vote Yes on all three questions.

Opponents are expected to stay at home to make sure the referendum does not reach the 50 percent threshold.

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