New book explores historical background of Slovak myths

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Slovakia might be a young independent nation but its people have a long shared national memory. That memory has become part of the creation of Slovak identity. Another important element in creating national identity for Slovaks is mythology. Significant events, people and places become sacred for its citizens and their values. A new book looks at the truth behind Slovak myths.

Eva Krekovicova is one of the editors of the book dealing with famous Slovak myths:

"All nations were created by somebody, usually by the elite of a society. We can speak about modern Slavic nations since the French revolution at the middle of the 19th century. And it was necessary to construct the memory of these nations too."

The title "Our Slovak Myths" could seduce a reader into expecting a collection of myths similar to ancient Greek books. But the concept of the editors of the Slovak book was definitely different. Eduard Krekovic, husband of Eva Krekovicova, another editor and the initiator of this book:

"Well, the book came into being because I had been thinking a lot about the discrepancy between historical facts and stories known to the public. Some questions which are clear to historians, sociologists and ethnologists are legends in the eyes of common people. Some historical facts have become myths and I wanted to shed some light on the historical background of these stories."

The myths were first published in a newspaper. The book consists of 21 so called myths which are still present in the so called national memory. Eduard Krekovic gives the following pars pro toto example:

"We can mention a very popular myth about the 1,000 years of Slovak suffering under the Hungarian oppression. This is complete nonsense because we cannot speak about oppression of a nation in mediaeval times. There were classes of noble men, craftsmen and townsmen. If there was any oppression it was from the side of nobility towards vassals no matter what nationality representatives of both classes were."

The book "Our Slovak myths" thus does not present legendary stories but rather the rational historical facts which gave rise to the myths popular with the Slovak public today. The concept of its authors was to show the well known personalities and events from the point of modern sociological, historical and ethnological research.

"On the other hand, it is necessary to say that national myths are very important. If it were not for myths, we might not have existed as a complex social subject. Our book was written with the aim to show what a myth is and what the historical reality is. And if it is not the same, we should know where the difference lies."

People do not like losing illusions. They might react unpredictably. What has been the reaction to a book undermining the illusion of national myths? Eduard Krekovic:

"I haven't come across any aggressive reaction. There was an Internet discussion posing also the question of the reason behind this idea. There we found some reactions accusing us of shooting ourselves in the foot. But our goal was to show that although myths are important or used to play an important role in some historical period, we have to realise now what was and what was not the truth. We wanted to show that some myths are now old fashioned and that we need new ones. Nevertheless, we have to realise that these are only myths and not the general truth."

The task of writing about the historical truth behind the myths was fulfilled by renowned experts. And it seems the Slovak public is willing to learn about its real history: for more than a half year, the book "Our Slovak Myths" has topped the best seller list in Artforum, the largest book chain on the Slovak market.