by Gabriele Merlini
The «cold autumnal front» -recycling an adequate expression of Jonathan Franzen- starts biting hard. But it is not easy to find a free seat in the bar on the street, and the waitresses seem very focused not to disappoint any of the clients (I discovered that, even if someone can be irritating and boring, it’s never nice to make him wait longer than necessary.)
Putting myself in the shoes and in the language of a tourist guide, I must say that in Obchodná there are a lot of «different attractions™»: pubs and shops, some of them pretty big, as well as take away and restaurants, generating all together the typical heterogeneity of the most visited places of any urban center on Earth (local dishes like bryndzové halušky mixed easily with pizza quatro stagionni and kebabs, toast or sandwiches.) Hostels competing for the best prize are separated by doors with neon signs, more or less buzzing and ambiguous, and supermarkets.
Hodzovo námestie and the Presidential Palace are just a few meters from here, as the fountain of Hlavni námestie loved by the tourists, especially the Germans. Cinemas and theaters and an unspecified number of trams rattling in the middle of the road (the fearful and pessimistic stranger will always see as a miracle the fact that none of those who are trudging on the edge of the street with heavy shopping bags will be killed by the silent local public service.)
Translating all of this: I am in the heart of a city, one of the most populated streets of Bratislava, Slovakia.
But it is fascinating the idea of calm easily noticeable in the air, a feeling -maybe facilitated by the sunset and the beautiful reddish light behind the Castle- which gives the view a sense of suspension and pleasant stillness. Something difficult to explain but graciously endorsed by two guys from here who sit at my table: despite everything (despite the growth and the dynamism of the city) Bratislava is, was and remains a quiet place. Or better a compound place. Measured. Essentially peaceful. Small dimensions or others kind of tricks, I really don’t know. The fact is that the neglected magnificence of some buildings, and the explosion of modernity of others, are the ideal setting for this heavy but never entering coming-and-going of souls; not some kind of modernity, but a fascinating theatrical reproduction of that.
Someone talked about «loss of innocence»; well, sometimes a bloodbath may cause it. Difficult -if not impossible- to understand more from my table in Obchodná. Every single person draws his own conclusion and metabolizes the things as he wants. But the fact remains: what happened here in late August was the first massacre in the history of Slovakia. The first one totally caused by a Slovak psychopath.
The newspapers sometimes could be really clear: it was the first time that a massacre of this kind appeared in the living room of our houses and not on TV in some creepy American movie (this comes from the Pravda.) Now, in a painful way, we are a gown-up nation.
Devinska Nová Ves -the place where everything happened- is a suburb of Bratislava, green and well kept. About the dynamics of the massacre much has been written and the numbers are now grimly familiar. Eight people dead and many others wounded, some in serious conditions. So it will be interesting to spend a few words about the ways the population responded to this, and the actions that the government will take to prevent further similar things. As always, the cameras were quickly turned off after having filmed some parts of the sidewalk, and some spots of blood on the asphalt.
So let’s start from the government, and especially from the Minister of Interior Mr Daniel Lipšic: a proposed revision of the law [number 190/2003] on gun ownership, with the following restrictions, and a reduction of licenses from ten to five years with some severe and really close psychological exams, which were removed not long ago because of the powerful lobby of hunters, some say. However, everything will happen very soon, probably by the end of September.
According to information provided by the newspaper Slovak Spectator, in Slovakia there are currently about 157,500 holders of a firearms licenses, which represents more or less three percent of the population [but -says the president of an army association- the number does not count the holders of air guns, sporting guns or similar amenities. Things easily convertible into objects able to create serious trouble to citizens becoming targets.] And this bring us at the population, the civil society; the «delicate container of victims and victimizers.» One essential note: always, after a massacre like the one of Devinska Nová Ves, we read that it will emerge among the people some kind, more or less honest, of collective self-examination with questions like: «…does this bloodbath also say something about me? Or the system in which I live?» Of course it is difficult to determine the outcome of such thoughts, especially in the short period. Some analysts wrote that these kind of questions have not been so evident in the Slovak society but -despite the ethnicity of the victims, those Roma who have generated much discussion in the area- there was a deep and real disturbance, some kind of pain which emerged with ambiguous slides, although less than expected (the most feared reactions such as «surely the victims were were selling drugs or they were too noisy», riding the most used stereotypes about the Roma minority in Slovakia.) In other words, something in the middle happened: it seems that also the reaction to the massacre was silent here in Bratislava. Maybe too much? Maybe this slight ambiguity has something to do with the composure above, someone says. Many people wonder about this. The new government, led by Mrs Radičová, will monitor the situation. The loss of innocence, the entrance into the adult world, must happen only once, say the fans of these kinds of parallelisms (not Julius and František.) More then once and the body might not be strong enough to resist; that would be big trouble for a nation.