This piece is my translation from the Slovak of an unpublished essay I attempted to place in the Pravda daily’s opinion section. The editor deemed it not timely enough.
In 1984 Bonnie Tyler sang, “I need a hero…” She was expressing the American character. Heroes abound there especially in tough times when inspiration for progress is needed. Heroes include wounded soldiers, firefighters at the Twin Towers, or the middle-class advocate Senator Warren. Not to mention historical personas like the Founding Fathers, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Neil Armstrong. For all occasions there’s also the men Bat, Spider, and Super. Though on occasion it seems there are too many heroes out there and the word begins to lose its meaning, every American can find his or her own hero.
In Slovakia, we don’t discuss heroes. Aside from the legend of Milan Rastislav Štefánik or from our athletes, who anyway are ‘ours’ only when they’re winning, the pantheon of contemporary Slovak heroes stands empty, if such a structure exists in the first place. After all the regimes and scandals we no longer trust anyone. We are victims of history and political machinations. The more things change here, the more they stay the same. The atmosphere springing from this attitude does not favor heroes.
Many before me have attempted to locate the cause. Whereas Americans admire the hero and want to be like him (or her), Slovaks, as the popular song goes, want to cut off his head so he doesn’t stick out of the crowd. Or, put differently: if my American neighbor Mr. Jones gets a new car, I will work my butt off to have an even better one, but if I, Peter, find a dead goat in my Slovak village pen, I wish to see two of my neighbor’s goats perish.
Roma Chatterji says the hero is a symbolic expression of each and every one of us. Peter Gibbon writes the hero is our higher self. The absence of heroes in Slovakia points to the real problem.
Let’s awaken our heroes, it isn’t too late.