Safe chat room for mutual understanding

Safe chat room for mutual understanding

Through cultural debate, Andrea Kotlikova will create safer spaces for minorities.
Photo: Claudio Castillo

(Exclamation point in Slovakia): In a small room in the center of Bratislava, Andrea Kotlikova and her family strive to create security and mutual understanding between different cultures in Slovakia.


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Kutlikova is an advocate of education and a cultural worker, and she was personally involved, among other things, with the plight of the Roma, having lived herself with a Roma background.

On a daily basis she runs the Kalapp Cultural Institute, which focuses on dialogue between Slovakia’s minorities and the majority population.

She runs the center with her partner, sister and husband who was a language teacher for ethnic Slovaks in Romania.

– As a Slovak majority person, I was unaware of the problems Roma faced in the country. Only when I had a roommate, a roommate, did I get personal ownership of his challenges in the community, she told Otrop.

Counterweight to the far right

The center started six years ago, after increasing voter support for far-right parties.

– Not only in Bratislava, but also throughout the country, ideas promoting xenophobia and intolerance experienced a revival. We thought that creating such a center could act as a counterbalance. We noticed that most people rarely talk about or with minorities, and then often as part of a cultural activity that takes place once or twice a year in a public forum. We wanted to make this something more common.

Events that take place in the cultural center often have old and young people as target groups.

– We have workshops for school children and seniors, so that they can get to know better about issues related to ethnic minorities.

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Immigration date unknown

In Clapp, there are many activities and artistic encounters.

– We are also trying to cooperate with other NGOs, because we believe that joint efforts will help combat the intolerance prevailing in Slovakia. Intolerance is common because we don’t know “others” and our immigration history.

The organization also cooperates with Slovak associations abroad.

– In Serbia, there are about 50,000 people of Slovak origin, which is unheard of here. I think it has to do with the fact that a lot of people have the idea that minority status is something you “choose”. When it comes to the Slovaks now living in Serbia, it comes down to the fact that they have lived in the same place for several generations, since the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867-1918).

Borders are changing, and we have to think of ourselves more as citizens of the world than as citizens of a nation, you think.

Refugees and sexual minorities

Refugees and asylum seekers, as well as persons with disabilities and people with LGBT+ background are also other groups involved in the activities.

Slovakia lags behind other European countries in general when it comes to the inclusion of various minority groups. So it’s important for us to put things on the agenda, whether it’s movie nights, reading evenings or other activities.

She believes the chat room has already been expanded during the pandemic.

The closure put an end to physical activities and all travel activities. The solution was to do everything we could do online, especially blogs and online galleries. We gained more followers from outside Bratislava, not least from Slovaks abroad.

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Immigration art exhibits

Inside the room, Kutlikova proudly shows us several paintings that are shown several times a year.

We call this “the art of immigration.” Many Slovaks who live abroad have some kind of dream idea about the country, so when they come here they get a kind of culture shock and reality oriented. For them, art is a way to find a connection to Slovakia. Grandparents or great-grandparents often told them stories of what it was like.

Artistic contributions come from the small town of Kovacica, located in northern Serbia, which was famous for its naive style. Serbian and Slovak cultural authorities are trying to place minority art under UNESCO protection.

– One of the funniest things is that the paintings are not made by professional artists, but by people who work in agriculture or on completely different things.

Brings forbidden topics

The cultural center looks almost like a house with a living room and kitchen. Something that Kutlikova believes is intentional.

– People should feel at home here, especially considering that we are dealing with things that are often taboo subjects in the Slovak context. Things like extremism, racism and sexual orientation. Here, you should feel able to feel safe and open to talking together. We feel it is important not to focus too much on whether you have a background or another background, but instead have a human focus.

Reading as a tool for empathy

Examples she cites are book evenings, where dogs often invite young people with some form of minority (Gypsies, refugees, homosexuals), usually students, along with the older Slovak majority.

– Even during the pandemic, this was a common procedure, as people met via online platforms. Before the pandemic, we read, among other things, a book in which a young gay man was the main character, and experienced that this gave conservative, older readers an opening to a world they did not know.

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Kutlikova concluded that this is a much better way to have a discussion than simply having a “pure rights debate” with steep fronts.

By reading, we have established a common understanding of empathy. One did not have to change one’s view of the world, but through an insight into the “reality of the other” one sees the person one does not know as a human with different life perspectives. Here it is about pure humanity.

Invasion of the Ukrainians

Kotlikova believes that the immigration debate has changed since the refugee crisis in 2015.

Five years ago, I worked to integrate Syrian refugees, and the opinion was completely different then. Few of them came to Slovakia, yet they struggled to gain admission. Now thousands of Ukrainians have arrived, and the tone of the political debate is that “we must help.”

In the future, Clapp will also work with projects targeting newly arrived Ukrainians, who are fleeing the war in their homeland.

– After what happened, many Slovaks realized that you should have a more open attitude towards those who come to our country. Ukraine is our neighbor, and the same can happen to us.

This case is part of Utrobe’s study tour of the country, implemented with funding from the European Economic Area

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Dalila Awolowo

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