If nationalists in Slovakia have their way, schoolchildren will soon be forced, each Monday at 8 a.m., to listen to the national anthem blaring out from loudspeakers across this small Central European nation. As part of a patriotism bill that some school principals have derided as Pyongyang-on-the-Danube, state schools will also be required to hang the Slovak flag in every classroom, along with the text of that national anthem and the national symbols — three hills and a double cross signifying the Christian heritage.
“During Communist times, we would use the public address system to announce Lenin’s birthday, and this type of politics and ideological propaganda have no place in the classroom,” said Norbert Kyndl, director of a large state school in Bratislava, who said that he would have to crank up a vintage public address system and spend €1,500, or $2,000, on flags and a coat of arms. “This is Slovakia — not North Korea.”
Proponents contend that the bill is a necessary act of nation-building in a young country that only gained independence after the peaceful breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Critics retort that the legislation smacks of authoritarianism and see an attempt by the center-left government of Prime Minister Robert Fico to stir nationalist sentiment ahead of upcoming elections in June.