Anti-LGBTIQ murders were result of years of hate in Slovakia – victims’ friend
Recent terrorist shooting of two queer people shows things are worsening for the community, say activists
The recent murder of two people at a gay bar in Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava, is the “culmination of long-term attacks on the LGBTIQ community”, according to a friend of the victims.
Two weeks ago, a 19-year-old man shot two people dead outside Tepláreň, one of the few LGBTIQ bars in Bratislava. The victims were Matúš Horváth, aged 23, a bisexual man, and 26-year-old Juraj Vankulič, who identified as non-binary. A third person was injured but survived.
The 12 October killing sparked a wave of shock and solidarity, including a march in the capital, two days later, in which up to 20,000 people gathered to honour the memory of the two victims.
However, there was also a rise in incidents of hate speech – in a country where activists and academics have long raised concern about attacks against LGBTIQ rights. Several days after the shooting, Slovakia’s National Criminal Agency reclassified the murder as a hate crime and a terrorist attack.
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The victims’ loved ones remember them for their sense of humour, empathy, creativity and open-mindedness. “Their death is a true tragedy,” said Iva, a close friend of both victims. “I have never met anyone with so much energy, anyone so authentic, and I don’t think I ever will.”
Martin Kliment, a close friend of Matúš, told openDemocracy that he had “a true will to live and open arms for all of his friends”, and that he was “a very kind, caring and mature person”. Juraj’s mother told a Slovak newspaper that friends nicknamed him* ‘Little Sun’ because they* would “never say no to anyone in need”.
The gunman, the son of a former candidate for the far-Right party Vlasť, had written a 65-page manifesto expressing his hate for Jewish and LGBTIQ communities and expressing his admiration for Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik, the Nazi Adolf Eichmann, and gunmen responsible for mass shootings in the US and New Zealand.
One of my neighbours tossed a bag full of trash on to my car. In the current climate, homophobia is a daily reality
The shooter fled the scene. In a letter written shortly after, he claimed he did it “for his nation and for his race” in a “battle against Jewish enemies and their collaborators”. He killed himself hours later.
Jana Jablonická Zezulová from Inakosť, an umbrella LGBTIQ organisation in Slovakia, said the attack did not “come out of nowhere”. “It is the apogee of a smear campaign against LGBTIQ people that has taken place over the past ten years,” she told openDemocracy.
“It started with hate speech and crime committed during the first Slovak Pride in 2010… and culminated during the so-called ‘Referendum on Family’ in 2015, which was, in fact, targeted against LGBTIQ people’s rights.”
The Alliance for Family, a coalition of pro-life and traditionalist organisations in Slovakia, collected 400,000 signatures – enough to organise a referendum seeking to constitutionally define the concept of family. The referendum consisted of three questions, asking citizens if they agreed to: limit use of the word ‘marriage’ exclusively to the union of a man and a woman; ban adoption for same-sex couples; and allow parents to remove their children from classes on sex education or euthanasia.
The referendum, held in February 2015, was deemed invalid due to low turnout, but many believe it prompted intolerance.
Diana Pruchnerovičová, an LGBTIQ activist and ex-director of Rainbow Pride Bratislava, told openDemocracy it was at this point that “LGBTIQ people were turned into a negative issue, presented as ‘enemies of state, paedophiles, people who do not belong to society and need to be cured’.’’
“When it comes to the lives of real people, we hear statements such as ‘it would be better to put a millstone around your neck and toss you in the water’ from politicians in parliament,” Pruchnerovičová said – referring to a 2013 quote by Slovak MP Štefan Kuffa in relation to LGBTIQ rights. “We are the target of many such statements, and we have no way to defend ourselves,” she continued.
Pruchnerovičová also described incidents of hatred she frequently experiences as a lesbian woman. “When I renovated my flat, I put a sign out in my building [to apologise for the noise], and every single day people would tag it with words such as ‘fag’ or ‘lesbian’,” she said. “One day, one of my neighbours tossed a bag full of trash on to my car. In the current climate, homophobia is a daily reality.”
Following the referendum, political parties came up with more legislative proposals restricting LGBTIQ rights – such as a proposal to prohibit the use of rainbow flags in state institutions, which did not pass.
Last week, in the wake of the terrorist attack, the European Parliament called on the Slovak government to take a “clear step” to protect LGBTIQ people from hate crimes. Just a few days after the shooting, a gay man claimed to have received a food delivery bag with the word ‘fag’ written on it, while two gay men said they were publicly attacked – verbally and physically – after they kissed in a restaurant. Both incidents took place in Bratislava.
“Such incidents have always been frequent, but following this terrorist attack, people have more courage to report them,” Jablonická Zezulová said. “This shooting is a tragedy with no equivalent in the history of Slovakia. If it has any meaning, it is to awaken society and make people more sensitive to smear campaigns against the LGBTIQ community.”
*Juraj used both ‘he’ and ‘they’ pronouns.
If you or someone you know is affected by the issues raised in this article, the following organisations can help:
Information, support and referral service for anyone who needs to consider issues around their sexuality.
Phone: 0300 330 0630 (10am-10pm). Website: Switchboard
A range of services, support and information to lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
Phone: 0345 3 30 30 30 (Daily 10am-10pm). Website: LGBT Foundation
Help and advice for people who may be LGBT on a range of subjects, including coming out and hate crime.
Tailored support for queer people experiencing domestic violence, hate crime, sexual violence, 'conversion practices' and other problems.
Website: Galop helplines
The Rainbow Project
A range of support services including professional counselling for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Northern Ireland.
Phone: 028 9031 9030. Website: Rainbow Project
LGBT Helpline Scotland
Information and emotional support to people who may be LGBT and their families, friends and supporters across Scotland.
Phone: 0300 123 2523 (Tue & Wed 12-9pm). Website: LGBT Helpline Scotland
Share information about gender dysphoria.
Information about gender dysphoria is available on the NHS website.
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