October 18, 2022 - 1:50pm

The murder of two men outside a gay bar in Bratislava has prompted soul-searching over Slovakia’s culture war around progressive values. The 19-year-old killer took his own life after the shooting, and a vigil for his victims was attended by 20,000 people this weekend. Slovak police say the attack was motivated by hatred for sexual minorities and on Monday they officially reclassified it as terrorism.  

The shooter published a now-deleted 65-page “manifesto” entitled “A Call to Arms” on social media hours before the murders. The document was filled with homophobia, racism, and calls for violence against LGBT people and Jews. The document reportedly rails against “brainwashing” by mainstream media and credits Jews with the “invention of homosexuality.”

In the days since the attack, public debate has moved beyond these unhinged theories into a wider discussion of the relationship between the killer’s ideology and Slovakia’s political war between conservatism and progressivism. Politicians and activist groups are calling for greater protection for the LGBT community, arguing that the tone of Slovakia’s political debate is partly responsible for the tragedy. A wave of fury has also been directed at MPs who tabled a motion — rejected by parliament just a few weeks ago — to ban the display of rainbow flags from public buildings. 

It would be unfair to suggest that these broader currents of social conservatism can be blamed for the acts of a madman. Yet while we should be wary of drawing too-simplistic conclusions, we must also be consistent when calling for an examination of the ideological context in which acts of hate and terror take place. 

There is an understandable tendency for those in any way ideologically or culturally related to a killer — no matter how distant or tenuous the connection — to turn a blind eye to all potential ideological similarities. It causes significant frustration among the British Right, for example, when leaders of the Muslim community refuse to engage with questions over the religious motivation of attacks such as that on Salman Rushdie in New York this summer. 

Clearly, anyone who carries out such atrocities is mentally deranged, and crackpot ideologies must not be used to score cheap political points. Yet, just as conservatives point out the responsibility of the Muslim community to reflect on all Islamic terror, Eastern European social conservatives must now reflect on events in Bratislava last week.  

The killer’s vengeful attitude towards LGBT people within a twisted anti-Semitic narrative was nothing like any mainstream political movement. Nonetheless, an othering of the LGBT community has become an ideological hallmark of eastern European social conservatism. There’s a strain of regional thought which sees modern LGBT culture as not only dangerous, but also as a fundamentally alien Western import. This is encouraged by mainstream politicians including the governments of Poland and Hungary, Slovakia’s neighbours to the north and south respectively, which portray LGBT culture as a vehicle for Western cultural imperialism. 

This othering can result in a political urge to scapegoat “LGBT ideology” at the expense of the individual claims to liberty of members of the LGBT community. As the Bratislava shooting shows the dark extremities to which an increasingly tribal divide over LGBT rights may lead, now is the time for Slovakia, and the wider region, to reflect.

William Nattrass is a British journalist based in Prague and news editor of Expats.cz