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October 2012

Racism in Slovakia

I love Slovakia.  I love Slovaks.  My first encounter with Slovakia, at the impressionable age of 18, changed me forever.  What I experienced here is a kindness, an authenticity, a love for life, and a genuine pride in culture and tradition that touched me to the extent that I was never again going to be happy with my life in the USA.  Many years later, even after finishing university in rugged Colorado, and then discovering so much beauty and intensity in Seattle, I made the difficult and impractical decision to call Slovakia home.  Slovakia feels more real to me and this is where I feel more alive.

But my love for Slovakia is not naive.  Even before moving here, I visited at least 10 times and I have countless connections and relationships here.  I know that no place is perfect.  I know that nobody is perfect.  Still, we have to hold ourselves to some standard.  When someone you love is falling short of even the minimum standard, you have to speak up.

I once had a good friend in Presov -- an American who had lived here for many years.  He once confessed to me, "I'm ready to meet the right woman and fall in love.  The problem I have is that every single woman I meet is racist.  How can I marry a racist?"  I understood him completely.  The vast majority of Slovaks I've known through the years have not been shy about expressing racist ideas about the Roma people -- a darker-skinned, ethnic minority who have been discriminated against in Europe for centuries.  Here are some typical examples (I apologize to my foreign audience because this will be difficult to read):

"They are not even human.  They are like animals."

"We should just take the anti-social ones and get rid of them."

"The way they are is genetic and there's nothing we can do."

This is about as bad as any racist remark can get, and yet the remarks I hear even from even the Slovaks who I like can frequently get even worse than this!  Such thoughts are so wrong and so unspeakable that, at some core level of my being, to hear this makes me feel like I never want to see that person again.  But the problem is that racism among Slovaks is so widespread that, if I hadn't learned to tolerate it to some extent, I would have no relationships here at all.  But there is a point where I have decided to draw a line. 

If a person is determined to hold such hatred and racism inside, then that person should make sure it stays insideTo openly express racism is completely unacceptable.  When you express a racist thought in any company, you become part of the problem.  By saying the unacceptable, you are making it acceptable for others to think and say the same.  When everybody is openly stating such hate-filled and destructive opinions, how long do you think it takes until this innocent, curious, smart little girl hears something that will change her forever?

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What will it do to her to find out that this white girl's parents don't believe she is fully human? 

How might the kids below feel to actually believe that every white person they see each day thinks that they are animals? 

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Might open racism decrease their desire to learn...might it decrease their desire to conform to the rules of "normal" society?  One racist comment too many might lead some of them to want to try sniffing glue just to numb the pain for a moment. 

Roma girl

This little girl is as human as my little girl.  She feels just as I do.  I'm not asking anyone to sacrifice their lives to improve the living standards of Roma people in Slovakia.  I'm not even asking everyone to care about their plight.  But I don't want to hear these racist views any more than she does.

If we are civilized, decent people, we have to commit ourselves to 1) never speaking racist views, and 2) never tolerating racist views being spoken. If someone expresses a racist view, here is what must be said: "What you said is racist and I don't want you to ever make racist remarks in my presence again."

Even this, alone, will not solve the significant problem that Roma face in Slovakia.  But, if we cannot commit ourselves to at least this, I am quite sure that the problem cannot ever be solved

Slovaks are good, decent, loving, sensitive people who, quite simply, are better than this.  So it is time to commit to not being part of the problem.  As a decent human being, it is unacceptable to tolerate open racism from anyone, ever.  That's where I draw the line on this topic.   

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Some things never change

I wrote in a recent post that happiness comes from newness.  But I later realized that this isn't the whole truth. 

Happiness comes from some ideal combination of newness and familiarity.  True, lasting happiness cannot exist without newness (new challenges, new experiences, new ideas, sounds, sights), but it also cannot exist without the familiar.  In pursuing the new, we cannot lose sight of that which makes us who we are.  Living life well actually means finding that ideal balance between the new and the familar.  We cannot discard that which has given our life meaning, that which has made us who we are, and that which makes us content and happy.  We have to hold on to all of this just as we chase the new.

I will continue to chase, seek, explore...and yet I will always remain deeply in love and committed to the one woman who I love.  I will never ignore my lifelong love, attachment, and responsiblity to my child.  I will never discard my family or my friends.  I will never lose sight of my never-ending responsibilities (work, chores, taxes, etc.).  I will carry with me all of those things that are working, all of those things that are "right", and all of those things that make me feel happy, content, and comfortable enough in this life that I can appreciate all of the excitement and brilliance of the new.  Because when this goes, not even the new can save us.

Lasting happiness comes from holding on to everything that you love, everything that makes you happy...while constantly chasing and embracing that next thing.  It is in finding a certain balance, and that is exactly what makes it so fucking hard to do!

Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

My first "reality TV" appearance!

What an interesting week it was filming Bez Servitky.  It was such a wonderful experience to step out of my normal life and spend time with 4 talented and interesting "co-stars".  I'm also a bit surprised to say that I was impressed by the professionalism and even kindness of the entire Markiza staff.  They treated me and the entire Abscondo band very well.  I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my music, my opinions, and my food with all of Slovakia. 

The show will probably air during the week of October 15th.  Here are a few shots from the last day of filming:

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Mark Manney is the founder of “I am” by Infobeing (www.infobeing.com) (mark.manney@infobeing.com).