Slovakia on Your Feet!
Matúš Švirloch is a professionally angry citizen. In his free time he’s saving Kežmarok’s budget, makes the home rule talk to people, and he teaches people what civil rights they have. We talked to him about why passivity and timidity are the typical Slovak traits, what are the boarders of activizm, and what kind of KicK young people need.
Photo: Dalibor Krupka
People are often not concerned about problems of home rule, they feel they tilt at windmills…
But when everyone says that, it’s like blowing more wind in their canvas. I saw how Kežmarok’s city office wanted to throw away 1,64 million Euro and pay somebody else’s dues for a pitiful ice arena. Those people are counting on uninformed and passive citizens who won’t get in their way, and they’ll just keep on doing whatever they want. That’s why I’m not that angry about who’s the president today, because prezident’s authority doesn’t have great influence on life of an actual person, rather than town’s mayor authority has. 67% of your income that you pay to the state goes to town’s treasury. It’s not Fico or Dzurinda, but your mayor who usually spends your money unresponsibly…
Of course it’s important who’s going to be the next president, because if one party comes to power, even home rules won’t manage their own towns, but they’ll be managed from Súmračná street...
Is passivity a typical Slovak trait?
It’s not just Kežmarok, it’s everywhere. Well, I think except only for Bratislava and Košice, where are more people who are looking at local politicians’ hands. Something like that is completely impossible in small towns where people can’t say anything, because the biggest emplyer in town is the home rule. When half of the town works in schools, in kindergardens managed by town, in their town’s business, in the home rule inself, or in companies that take orders from the home rule, or it’s their family, no one’s going to do much about it. I’m not trying to look like a hero, because I live in Bratislava where I’m cut off of all these connections, which is my advantage to locals (in Kežmarok), but mostly it’s just people’s fears, their incompetence to act. During the past few years people in Kežmarok’s town hall created an aura of fear, “just don’t touch me, just don’t ask me”, and “let it be, dear citizens, I know how things go around and I can fix it, because I’m the only one who understands everything”. In Texas and Houstone, for example, crowds of people protested in front of shopping malls, because they didn’t want local taxes 5%, but only 4%. That really amused me. Sure, they have even federal taxes, but they know how to fight! What works there is the community. Strong community is essential, it knows how to engage, you can join it, and it’s not influenced by politics. That’s where one should get on with his interests.
What took an average Slovak like you to become an activist?
It started when I got angry. I kept returning home to Kežmarok and I saw people to be in bad mood, saying that nothings comes along, that nothing works, and that the only truth is the one that comes from official sources, and that nothing else exists. But most importantly, just as Havel says, that “bad mood”, that was something obvious and I felt sad about it.
And what have you done for Kežmarok?
I organize TEDx, I’m the administrator of Odkazprestarostu.sk, I try to blog about the local home rule’s bad steps, and open important topics for Kežmarok with the help of project Máme radi Kežmarok (We Like Kežmarok). Together with Miška from Puojd and other friends, we’re working on citizens’ association KicK, Kultúrne a inšpiratívne centrum Kežmarčanov (Cultural and inspirational center for the citizens of Kežmarok)… We want to get together organizations and successful people, who have something to share, and to inspire other people from Kežmarok to be active. Show them how to make stuff, give some know-how, push them in action to solve situtations they get involved in. Last year thanks to Odkazprestarostu.sk a young group of skaters spoke up. The mayor didn’t even talk to them before, but now they have a skating pool. This is it: if I start to solve a problem publicly, it’s a direct pressure to home rule, and the home rule should help me to assert what I want, to help me resolve problems that exist in my town.
Thanks to you the people of Kežmarok can leave a Message for the mayor.
In Kežmarok the home rule didn’t handle the communication correctly, they got offended and stopped communicating with Inštitúť pre dobre spravovanú spoločnosť (The Institute for a Well-Managed Society), which is upkept by Odkazprestarostu.sk, where I’m the administator of the Message, but also with the citizens. Now I have to write official letters in which I have to mention 500 legal paragraphs, I act that it’s my initiative regarding to Zákon o slobodnom prístupe k informáciám (The Law about Free Access to Information), and they tell me that according to this law I have no right for information, they send me another 500 legal paragraphs in which they say that they are not obliged to give me any answers, but in the end they have to… But the truth is that Odkazprestarostu.sk is so simple: click, it’s sent, the head of the town office receives a message, he clicks back, writes an answer and it’s public.
Photo: Dalibor Krupka
You have a small daughter, is she going to be a rebel?
She’s almost five months old. When she was still in her mother’s belly, her mother wore on belly a badge Punk’s Not Dead, so I believe she’s never going to have any problem speaking up. Until she grows up, I’ll try as much as I can, so she could still express her opinion in this little country of ours.
Text: Elena Senková