Blood On the Pavement Not Ideology: a murder in Bratislava4 min read

 In Central Europe, Civil Society, Opinion
Two young men were killed in a terrorist attack in Bratislava: Matúš Horváth and Juraj Vankulič. On October 12th, a gunman killed two men and wounded a woman in downtown Bratislava, Slovakia, just outside of the LGBTIQ+ Bar Tepláreň, as we also reported in our weekly newsletter. The murder shocked the country, and the reactions show that hatred and indifference against LGBT+ people remain prevalent.

The Police are investigating the case as a terrorist attack targeted at the LGBTIQ+ community. The murderer, a nineteen-year-old student, fits into the unfortunate list of right-wing extremists. Just before the attack, he posted a white supremacist manifesto against LGBTIQ+ and Jewish communities online, referring to other extremists as well. He also planned an attack against Prime Minister Eduard Heger, according to media reports. His body was found the morning after the attack. He is believed to have committed suicide. His family legally owned the gun used in the murder.

A refuge for the community

Tepláreň is one of few LGBTIQ+ bars in the Slovak capital, a friendly place for everyone, as the owner described it in an interview. Such places of refuge are extremely important for a community whose members cannot feel safe everywhere in the country. Gay bars can be much more than just a bar where many of the customers happen to be members of the LGBTIQ+ community.

Imagine that you often feel you need to avoid holding hands with your partner. This is what 77% of LGBTIQ+ people in Slovakia feel. 36% of them avoid certain locations for fear of being assaulted (although this is just slightly above the EU average of 33%). In this context, the safety of your community bar means much more than just a bar you like to go to. It might be one of the very few places you can go to with your partner or friends. And this is still in an environment, where people cannot forget the outside world. “I had so many vomiting emoticons in my inbox …that it’s become a standard. I ignore it now.”, as Tepláreň owner Roman Samotný said.

Now even this refuge is ruined forever, and two innocent people are dead.

Lack of political support

Zuzana Čaputová, the President of Slovakia, showed solidarity by visiting the location of the hate crime and holding a speech at the march honoring the victims, where around 20 000 people gathered on the weekend after the murder. “Many say that LGBTIQ+ people are an ideology. But I saw the blood of my friends on the sidewalk. I saw their shot bodies, no ideology.” Addressed the crowd Roman Samotný at the vigil.

Although the president does not have broad prerogatives in Slovakia, her presence was an important sign of political support.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger also participated in the vigil. He earlier commented that nobody should be in danger because of their way of life. These words are problematic because the victims were not killed because of their way of life, but because someone hated their very existence. Later Heger apologised for his comment.

Slovak politics is not free from anti-LGBTQI+ hatred. Words and stereotypes about other human beings are often used to gain political capital. In February 2015, the country held a referendum to block the rights of same-sex couples. Although the referendum was unsuccessful due to low turnout, Slovak politics fails to deliver on granting equal rights to its citizens. Slovakia remains at the low end of the “Rainbow Map” according to the annual report by the advocacy organization ILGA Europe, which assesses the policy situation of LGBTIQ+ people in Europe. Same-sex marriage or registered partnership is still not available for residents of Slovakia.

Even in the aftermath of the murder, the Slovak parliament, the National Council, voted against granting same-sex couples inheritance rights and the right to access medical records. The members of Heger’s right-wing party (OĽaNO, Ordinary People and Independent Personalities) said this would go “beyond the government’s program”. The party leader, former PM and current Finance Minister Igor Matovič, felt the need to share that “he was heterosexual” as an explanation for actively refusing to grant the right to get information about someone’s partner in a hospital.

On 20 October the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution condemning the murder, calling for policy changes in Slovakia and across the EU to better fight hate speech and hate crimes, urging to extend the rights of LGBTIQ+ people across the EU. The text was supported by an overwhelming majority. However, Polish, Hungarian, and Italian MPs representing their respective governing parties voted against it.

A brighter future ahead?

The current European and global landscape is not bright. Many politicians actively deny the rights of people and try to gain popularity by being openly homophobic. Hate speech is so natural in many places that it goes unnoticed. Hate crimes often have consequences only for the victims, while the perpetrators enjoy impunity. These murderers commit their actions alone, but there is a context where they became radicalized. Slovakia is not unique in that sense, but at least one can hope that the authorities take this case seriously and will try to better protect all citizens. The tragic death of Juraj and Matúš should remind us that many people still cannot feel safe, just because of who they are.

Featured image: Instagram
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