Banska Bystrica We heard an interesting presentation by Martina Strmeňová, one of the CKO or Center for Community Organizing staff, at their headquarters in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. It’s not a model, and many might have done it differently, but it was an important campaign coalition that was assembled to oppose the threat posed by a rightwing, neo-Nazi candidate leading what my India organizers refer to as a “party-of-one,” that had taken power, much to everyone’s shock and surprise, of the regional government in this area in the center of the country. As importantly, their efforts combined with many others, was successful, so let’s celebrate and learn from the experience.
The heart of their effort, begun in the early months of 2017 after evaluation of the devastating impact of this quasi-populist anti-immigrant, anti-Roma, anti-anti-government was to convene and organize a coalition that eventually numbered more than twenty-five groups and prominent individuals to hash out a program and strategy to oppose the party in the November 2017 election. The groups included university and church officials as well as other community-based groups. Martina was frank that the coalition was unwieldly, as these kinds of formations often are, as they worked to meld together diverse interests, agendas, and ambitions.
Much of Martina’s case study focused on their efforts to decide on a strategy and a way to insert their efforts into the campaign. They elected, after much debate, to go positive, and to focus on an internet-based effort that was most affordable. Their slogan and campaign name were a product of the strategy, “Together, There is More of Us” was meant to appeal to the fact that the neo-Nazi was not the real region. They adopted a very conservative posture, basing the effort on “values,” that identified with rock-bottom notions of how Slovakians saw themselves rather than this posture of hate and opposition: family, church, country, and so forth, the classic themes.
The heart of their internet strategy was a crowdfunded campaign that raised two-thousand euros and allowed them to put a part-time comedian and personality out around the region to do more than twenty videos doing “man-on-the-street” type interviews, conveying the message with a little spice and attracting attention. Their work culminated in a rally of 350 in the square of the regional capital, attended by the three major opposition candidates, though only coalition members spoke.
Behind the scenes they tried to counter a shrewd strategy by the right that had amended election rules to go from a second primary decision to a first-past-the-post election system that would have allowed him to maintain power as a minority voice. They joined others in trying to force the three major candidates to coalesce around one candidate, and when finally, successful this turned out to be the key to victory.
Their efforts as well as the deep popular animosity to the controversial leader led to a doubling of the voter turnout from 20% in 2013 to 40% in 2017, and saw him turned out of office.
Like all organizing campaigns, this is the beginning, not the end. One battle has been won, now the task for CKO and the Together coalition will be whether or not they can win the war in central Slovakia.