The title of Jan Gebert’s documentary When the War Comes (Až přijde válka) might suggest a military conflict, but the film is instead a portrayal of the war of political ideas in the Western World. Against the political background of Brexit, Trump, Putin, Orbán and Duda, the Slovak far-right paramilitary organization Slovak Recruits (Slovenski Braci) comes off as a small player. Unfortunantely, it symbolizes a global trend instead. The nationalists are posing a severe challenge to the political powers and demonstrate that they need to be taken seriously, regardless of how absurd their ideas sound to many of us.
Tyranny and populism
The film is constructed around its main character Peter Švrček, a young nationalist, who obviously identifies himself with the influential leaders of the past. After receiving military training in Russia, he becomes the founder of an ambitious project called Slovak Recruits – an organization whose proclaimed goal is to protect the Slovak state in a case of war or other exterior threat. In a relatively short time, the paramilitary group manages to gain a visible position in the Slovak society. Its members are even allowed in schools to teach children patriotism based on Slovak Slavic origins.
The democratic opposition, which questions the organization’s real intentions and criticizes its members for liking such Facebook pages as The Voice of Russia, Donbass Revolution and Stop Islamization of Europe-march, doesn’t manage to hinder Peter and his followers. The young nationalists are not only succeeding in the battlefield but also in populist speech. Some of the things proclaimed by the main hero are surprisingly similar to the announcements made by the current president of the United States.
«The young nationalists are not only succeeding in the battlefield but also in populist speech.»
When asked about the refugee crisis, Peter answers: «First we need to ensure the safety of Slovak and EU citizens.» This resembles Trump’s «America first» to a great extent. Moreover, after an interview the protagonist further claims: «There is no such a thing as bad publicity. If they make us sound like fascists, so be it.» Let´s not forget that in the case of Trump, this dangerous idea worked out surprisingly well.
In spite of publicly expressing support for democracy, the young leader Peter manages to minimize all democratic structures within his organization. The proposition that he and his closest supporters should be appointed for lifetime is unanimously approved. The power leads to implementation of despotic ideas – the recruits need to be broken down in order to stand up on their feets again. That includes calling recruits by numbers not names and humiliating them during training in ways that are similar to the ones in feature films about military. As the main protagonist is getting ready to enter politics, audience is faced with a question: would Peter be ready to implement authoritarian structures in the government as well?
Ready to be humiliated
«The power leads to implementation of despotic ideas – the recruits need to be broken down in order to stand up on their feets again.»
The documentary is successful in portraying its lead character, my only wish would have been to get closer to the other recruits as well – the ones who stand in the lower hierarchical levels of the paramilitary group. Who are these young men, willing to be abused and called by numbers? What drives them to spend their free time in humiliating trainings instead of enjoying life? The same questions came to my mind when I first saw a Russian military recruitment video that was released during the peak of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. The video disparages a normal way of life – nicely captured scenes of friends and young couples are dismissed, instead, battle with anonymous, robotic-like fighters is praised: «Here pain makes you stronger, scars are a daily occurrence… without an enemy there is no battle, and without a battle there is no victory.»
Who are the target audience of this Russian army recruitment video? Do they have similar motivation to the young men joining Slovak Recruits? Maybe these people even experience similar frustrations that Western men stepping to fight for Islamic State do? We live in times when more and more people are becoming disappointed with neo-liberal economics. The growing gap between the rich and the poor leads to a search for another kind of truth, but some can be misled by false prophets.
«Who are these young men, willing to be abused and called by numbers?»
When the war comes reveals how vulnerable our constitutional systems are. Our freedom is increasingly threatened by extremist groups that are not an enemy from other parts of the world, but instead comprised of members of our own society. It seems as we are not ready for the political debate that is taking place – not at round tables, but on the streets. Election results all over Europe and in the USA show that the influence of the far-right is growing. It is important to meet nationalists face to face and to challenge their motivations. Ignoring them will not help. In order to win a sociopolitical war one needs to learn to fight back. The question is how.