People´s Body


That morning in autumn I am received by the friendliest village-idyll I ever encountered in Central Europe. The sun breaks through the mist on the surrounding hills, a little stream whispers, two roosters walk about on recently cut wood.

Little houses with sharp gables made of dark wood from past centuries stand amongst functional houses of more recent origin. The amount of picturesqueness is just right. When I translate Hlboké nad Váhom, it sounds uncannily: “The Deep upon Váh”.

Hungry from the journey, I enter the little grocery shop “Potraviny Mix” to ask, where one can get a breakfast around here. The 900-souls-village is not equipped for tourists, I learn. No cafè, no restaurant, no B&B. The neat saleswoman spontaneously reaches for her private coffee tin and prepares a coffee for me, with milk and sugar. I buy rolls to go with it, she won’t take money for the coffee. Additionally, she trains a young blonde from the neighbourhood, who radiates the fresh cordiality of a mountain pasture. They have a nice word for every costumer.

I hike to the waterfall. At 10 am sharp, an old hit song suddenly booms out of all the loudspeakers, loud and bombastic. One and a half minutes, then the Slovak love duet is abruptly interrupted and a woman’s voice tells us the special offers of the day. Some older housewives have stepped into their front gardens, standing in front of their flowerbeds with scrutinizing faces, and learn about washing powder and tomatoes. Again half a hit song, sudden interruption, a clicking noise, silence.

The natural spectacle of Hlboké is hidden in the forest. A smooth grey vertical rock face, the waterfall itself is overgrown with moss and doesn’t gurgle too wildly. I refresh myself and walk back into the village, light and swift, back into the weekday-idyll, which I entered this morning with unease.

I am in the ethnically purest area of otherwise multinational Slovakia, in the national reserve of the Slovak nation. Here, the Slovaks are entirely themselves, among themselves, left on their own. And I have come here to understand the nature of bestiality. The bestiality that is represented by Ján O. and Ján S., the man-eater and the Hungarian-hater.

Ján O. is a young man from Hlboké, a handy carpenter who went to England for work. There, one day he assaulted the household of a retired couple and ate in the course of his attacks a finger, a cheek and a nipple of two old men. The victims survived, badly wounded, Ján O. is awaiting his trial, charged for attempted murder.

Ján S. is the longtime head of the Slovak National Party, which has recently become a junior partner in the Slovak government. Incited by beer and cognac, S. badmouths Roma, gay people and women, but preferably the Hungarian minority, whose representatives he calls at least names like “lumpy” and “gauneri”.

The nationalists - also called “národniari”, “the folkish” - have their traditional stronghold in the Slovak national reserve. Lately, 12 percent voted nationwide for the man, who threatened to planate Budapest; in these districts along the upper Váh the percentage was 25 to 30. With two more villages, Hlboké holds the undisputed record: 38.82 percent.

Even though I only discovered Hlboké because of him, I don’t ask about the cannibal. I don’t go looking for his parent’s house that was shown in all the Slovak newspapers, and don’t walk about asking the 26-year olds, what a feeling it is to have been to school with a cannibal. I don’t want to know what makes the one tick that has lost it. I want to know how the village thinks.

So I listen to the people: The migrating youth provide for their parents. The middle generation has work, but can barely live of it. The saleswoman, widowed at a young age, makes 180 euros, a worker at the highway construction site gets 230. The mayor is a národniar and networks with the local národniari elites. They call his position “richtar”, and the learned plumber really gained glamour in 1998. It was then that he accomplished in a referendum the secession from Bytča, the small town nearby that had incorporated Hlboké once. The “richtar” supposedly financed his holiday house from local funds, people gossip. There are three things everybody gives him credit for: the water pipe, the gas pipe and the cable network.

I know I eventually have to ask them about the 38.82 percent. They may be as nice as they are, I can’t spare them that. Revitalized by the waterfall, I feel strong enough. My mood is so excellent that not even a fist punch could spoil it.

I contemplate questioning techniques and choose the sledgehammer approach. In front of the Potraviny Mix stands a single wooden bench. Two rough, middle-aged guys sit on it, hands on their beers, clothes dirty. I approach them, look at them and wait until they interrupt their conversation. Without any further ado I come straight to the point: “Why do so many here vote for the SNS?”

The following pause seems long to me. “We are Slovaks”, says one of them finally, grumpily starring into his beer. He mumbles some incomprehensible things, which I take for curses, and ends the subject on: “Let’s stop talking about politics!” Then he disappears.

The other one seems to like me and before he goes behind the Potraviny Mix to pee, he politely asks me not to run away. Jožko has time, he works on the highway, he has no shift this week. I sit down and we talk, with view on the city hall and the elliptically tarred bus turn in front of it.

It becomes evident that Jožko is everything I would not ha¬ve expected in Hlboké: He despises the národniari and loves the Hungarians of Slovakia. In doing so, he divides mankind into two groups: Those he values he calls by their first names, those he criticizes he calls a “prick”. He tells the mayor constantly: “Dušan, you are a prick”.

To get one over on the “whole gang”, Jožko votes for the Hungarian party, and when their chairman is on TV, he is on the edge of his seat: “Bela is a solid guy.” He pronounces the Hungarian first name with gentle familiarity, as if he and “Bela” had just plodded on the construction site for 12 hours.

Other villagers come by, like the wife of the only ethnic Hungarian who found his way into Hlboké. Her husband cannot work anymore, she complains, he might have his leg amputated. She complains about the welfare system and already spotted the culprit: Brussels. “The EU brought this upon us!” she exclaims – and, hence, proves European normality.

Meanwhile Jožko´s revolutionary speeches become more enthusiastic, more malicious and more pricky with every “Popper” beer he scrounges off me. I would have loved to stay longer, but a bus was ready to leave in front of the Potraviny Mix. And before any shadow could fall on that chaotic idyll of opposition, I preferred to be on my way.