On 13 March 2016, a community theatre production of play ‘Kováči’ (Blacksmiths) in the central Slovakian town of Brezno was halted halfway through its performance by controversial Banská Bystrica regional governor Marian Kotleba, who has already been embroiled in a fight with local theatres, reported The Slovak Spectator on 16 March 2016.
The play, which describes the impact of war on ordinary people, had already been scrutinised by the governor’s office before the performance when authorities asked the actors to abstain from using expressive or vulgar words, which they refused.
When the play was then staged, a woman from the governor’s office, who was in the audience along with Kotleba, allegedly approached the prompter mid-performance saying they needed to stop the play immediately or she would order the curtain closed and Kotleba would leave.
Representatives of Kotleba’s office stated that “expressive phrases were ever more frequently and intensely used, and the frequency intensified” causing Kotleba, “partly in response to the audience’s reactions”, to stop the performance. Further, the office “decided to file a criminal complaint of the crime of defaming a nation, race and belief, in connection with the words that were included in the piece”, reported The Slovak Reporter on 17 March 2016.
Reactions to Kotleba’s actions
Slovakia’s president, Andrej Kiska, in a Facebook statement emphasised that “the beauty and variety of art lies in everyone being freely allowed to choose what suits their taste”.
“It is inadmissible that someone like Mr. Kotleba, from his position of power, disrupts and bans a theatre performance, and even files a complaint against theatre-makers for the contents of the piece,” the president said. “This goes beyond the limits of a decent and free society.”
According to one of the actors, 70-year-old Alžbeta Vagadayová, the troupe was “in shock and were unable to react”. Another actor, Július Obernauer, said: “I do not know whether we touched somebody’s German pride or whether it was stopped because of the vulgarisms.”
The troupe has staged the play over 20 times in Slovakia, as well as neighbouring Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, without complaint.
On 14 April 2015, after a majority of members of parliament protested Kotleba’s actions, the troupe was able to put on the performance in the Brezno town house of culture, reported Pluska on 9 April 2016.
A tense relationship
Ever since taking power in November 2013, Kotleba, who is the leader of the far-right, extremist People’s Party Our Slovakia, has had a tense relationship with the theatre that came to a head in late 2015 when he cut funding for a theatre project entitled ‘Stop to Extremism’, reported The Slovak Spectator on 20 October 2015.
At the time, the Bábkové Divadlo na Rázcestí puppet theatre received a grant of 6,985 Euros (approx. 7,675 USD) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to put on the project with Amnesty International, which included a play and a course that dealt with issues on extremism, xenophobia and racism. The project was targeted at secondary school students from poorer municipalities in the area.
Kotleba refused to sign the contract as current laws require regional governments to sign off on such contracts. Kotleba said he had a problem with Amnesty International as the partner and the way the group planned to present the issues.
Earlier, in August 2015, Kotleba did the same with the Divadlo Štúdio Tanca dance theatre, refusing to sign off on a 20,000 Euros (approx. 22,000 USD) grant from the Ministry of Culture to put on the 11th annual ‘Days of Dance for You Festival’. Kotleba said he was “not interested in the development of this genre”, which he called “decadent art”.
In response to Kotleba’s decisions on the local theatre scene in 2015, people began wearing white ribbons on their wrists in protest.
Photo: ‘Kováči’ performance still
» Pluska – 9 April 2016:
Performance stopped by Kotleba will be performed again in Brezno
» The Slovak Spectator – 17 March 2016:
President Kiska criticises Kotleba for threatening theatres
» The Slovak Spectator – 16 March 2016:
Kotleba stopped a theatre play
» International Business Times – 7 March 2016:
Marian Kotleba: Who is the Neo-Nazi whose party won first seats in Slovakian elections?
» The Slovak Spectator – 20 October 2015:
Theatres unite against Kotleba’s decisions