The Hainburg March, 14 years on


14 years ago, almost to the day, thousands of people marched across the border between Slovakia and Austria at Hainburg on the river Danube. It was the first time many of them had done so since the Iron curtain went up decades before. One of the initiators of the Hainburg march was Martin Butora - who's now running as a candidate for the upcoming presidential elections in Slovakia. Martina Grenova talks to him about how Slovakia has changed over the past decade and what he imagines the countries future role in the EU to be.

For many people living here it was a great experience simply to look at their city from the other side of the Danube. At that time, people still needed special allowances for visiting a western country. Martin Butora and his friends asked the authorities to allow a visit to Austria without having this special allowance.

"It was moving. In the middle of the Danube there was a boat and famous protest singer and former editor of Radio Free Europe Karel Kryl was singing. On the other side of the Danube, in Devin, there were about 3000 people who had there about 100 metres long tricolor. People were looking at each other, there were a lot of speeches and it created I think a strong emotional experience and a conviction that simply we could do it, that we could become a part of the West."

Have we done it?

"Yes and no. Yes, we are entering the European Union, we successfully caught up, jumped at the last minute in the train leading us to enlarged Euro-Atlantic community. But besides this formal membership, which will take place next May I think we still have to do a lot because the situation will be very different. And the question is: what can we bring to this enlarged home? How can our companies, our firms succeed? How far can they be competitive? And not only how can we succeed, what can we get from Europe but also what can we bring to Europe. I think this country has great potential, we have a lot to contribute, we are an interesting, dynamic, developing country with smart people, with a lot of talents. But if we organized the Hainburg march now, we probably should visit some Roma villages because at that time it was about freedom to travel, freedom to express our opinions and our views, about freedom to vote. Now it is about freedom to live a dignified life."

You are a representative of the civic perspectives of this country. As such you are running for the presidential post. Do you think that the Slovak society is mature enough to vote for you who don't have any political support?

"I have been in politics in one way or another for 40 years. But I have never been a member of the Communist party and I have never been a member of any other party. And I think this is important for the next period, which also is a sort of historical period for Slovakia. I think it is good and useful to have on the highest political representation someone who can communicate with political parties but who doesn't represent just one lobby or who doesn't have any connections to any special lobby or any special group. If you look at the current developments, many people are questioning the way how the political parties are dividing the public space and many citizens would certainly welcome to have someone there who can both represent the country, who can serve as someone who can unite different forces in the country and then who can also inspire and motivate and encourage citizens to do more."