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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, I made the difficult and impractical decision to call Slovakia home. 

But my love for Slovakia is not na├»ve. 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 settle down. 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. Here are some typical examples of statements that are actually said out loud (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 inside. To openly express racism is completely unacceptable. 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.

Slovaks are good, decent people who actually 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.   

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!

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: