Resentments Fester in Slovakia’s ‘Land of Nothing’

Some days Adrian Lachata ponders how life would have turned out if he had never left Svidnik.

The 32-year-old engineer would not have graduated from the most prestigious technical faculty in the Czech Republic, where he has lived for the past 11 years since moving from the industrial town in Slovakia's northeast where he grew up.

Nor would he have met legendary Czech mathematician Zdenek Hedrlin, the subject of a book he is writing.

Most importantly, Lachata says he would not have expanded his horizons beyond the bitter resentments that makes Svidnik a hotbed of populist discontent.

"Deep in their hearts, they are good people," he said, sitting in a cafe in Svidnik during a recent visit to his hometown. "But their flaw is that they wait for someone to solve their problems instead of trying to solve them on their own."

As Slovakia prepares to vote in May 25 elections for the European Parliament, the affairs of Brussels — or Bratislava, for that matter — feel a world away from this town a stone's throw from the Polish border.

Earlier this year, the Svidnik district was the only place in Slovakia to vote in the majority for right-wing populist Stefan Harabin in presidential elections won by progressive newcomer Zuzana Caputova.

Harabin came third nationally, but in Svidnik his campaign struck a nerve with voters fed up with poverty, high unemployment and a sense of abandonment by urban elites. In the first round, he got 29 per cent of the vote in the town and 26 per cent in the district.

His was not the most radical campaign — that belonged to Marian Kotleba, candidate for the People's Party Our Slovakia (LSNS), which many consider to be proto-fascist.

But Harabin got mileage out a platform that mixed praise for...

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