I am a French living in Slovakia. I have a message to Slovak people

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

It has now been almost 3 years that I live in Slovakia, and as a matter of fact, this country is rushing head-first into neoliberalism*, following blindly the Western economic model.

Right now I can see that people are more and less fine with the economic system. I think it is generally accepted that getting away from communism to embrace the neoliberal model was a good deal. I also think it actually was. But unfortunately it is already time to change.
I want to warn Slovak people before you go too far in this logic: economic growth** is unsustainable and following it will cause more harm that you can imagine. The apparent increase of well-being and betterment of material conditions due to a favorable economic growth is an utter illusion.

Right now you don’t see it because there is still quite a strong economic growth.

However, this economic growth is like a comfortable mattress made of ice: it’s nice and pleasurable but sooner or later the ice melts and you hit the hard ground. Just like economic growth will slowly melt because it is unsustainable. And by the time you wake up on the hard ground, you will have destroyed much of you social, cultural, and natural capital, making it even harder

Let me explain.

Today, like every week, I went to the farmers’ market to buy my seasonal locally ecologically produced food. The farmers I talk to are all older than 50. Most of them probably more than 60, sometimes 70. In few years they will be dead and the family farm or small farm they take care of will perish since no one wants to take responsibility of the farm anymore.

Two farmers selling food in a covered market

Farmers in Žilinská market, Bratislava

The only younger farmers, those under 50, had to become industrial farmers to make a living, to adapt to the economic model. I see their abundance of fruits and vegetables regardless of the season, all alike, with no flaw, shiny, like in a supermarket. That is an illusion too.

To simplify, the small farmers shape balanced landscapes, full of biodiversity, stock CO2 in their soils, and don’t pollute the environment. On the other hand, industrial farmers cut trees down to increase their fields and to ease the use of larger machinery, use biocides and fertilizers that reduce biodiversity and pollutes the environment, and their farming practices reject more CO2 in the atmosphere than they stock.

Two (schematic) farming methods that lead to the same result: food in the markets, and supermarkets (for industrial farmers). But economic growth doesn’t care if the food tastes and looks different, if the environment is damaged, if the biocultural landscape of a country is wrecked, if farmers are poorly paid. At the end of the day for the system what matters is that food is produced, and hopefully consumed.

Don’t let your small-scale farmers die.

Supporting teachers and nurses is great. Supporting family farmers is greater still

Most of you, unlike French people, have parents or grand-parents with food gardens or small farms. Don’t let this die out because in few years they will become the most precious resource.

In France, the trend goes that more and more people want to grow food again, but nobody knows how it works anymore, we have lost connection with the soil. Sometimes literately: there is only concrete, and nowhere to plant anything. And worse: we literally loose soil, the origin of our life, due to industrial farming practices. Unfortunately concrete is more profitable than trees. The economic system based on economic growth doesn’t have much room for ecologically sound practices in farming. It is true in France, it is also true in Slovakia. But you have not lost this connection with earth. Not yet. Don’t let this knowledge and practices go extinct the way we did in France, because you, or your children and grandchildren, will have to get back to it anyway, inexorably.

Don’t let go of your traditions, don’t cut yourself from who you’ve been and who you are, don’t uproot yourself.

Slovak girls in traditional costume turning around, dancing

This is still living in Slovakia, I would not say quite the same for France.

I am not saying the past is better than today. I’m only 25, and I am not nostalgic at all about the “good old days”. My point is, if we want a sustainable progress, it is better to keep the things that are still existing now and that we know are more sustainable.

Think about it this way. Going on with the example of agriculture, in the West we have explored the way of industrialization of agriculture and its heavy reliance in toxic chemicals. We are realizing now that it is a dead-end and we are trying to find other ways. You, Slovakia, don’t need to follow the very same way, you see it, it is a failure. Spare yourself 50 years of wrong “modernization”, spare yourself this trauma. Progress no longer means economic growth. Be smart, innovative: skip this step, it is not necessary to take it. Just go one step further. Get inspired if you want from our own innovative solutions (urban agriculture, community supported agriculture, permaculture, agroecology, sharing economy…) that we are forced to imagine because of our shitty situation, but please don’t repeat the same mistake.

Why did I choose to live in Slovakia?

As a French living in Slovakia, every single Slovak asks me why the hell I live in their country, supposedly so bad compared to France. I usually answer with a list of stuff that I like, but deep down there is one simple, radical answer.

I live in Slovakia because I find more roots here than in France. I see more of the past France in the Slovak roots than there is in France itself! I have found more fertile ground here than in France to personally grow. Humans, like plants, need roots to grow. By roots I mean communities, traditions, historical culture, popular customs. Basically, roots means knowing and embodying where you come from.
In France, and especially in Provence where I’m from, it’s mostly gone. In many places, highways, roads, and cars have taken over the landscape. Customs are mostly lost, traditions long forgotten. The only bits of identity that survived are those which could be merchandised, most of them sold to the rest of world to show what France is. But no, it’s actually showing what France was. I think that France is now none but the shadow of itself, trying to get reborn from its ashes. But I’m still hopeful for France: the civil society is waking up and is bringing thousands of alternatives, new ways of living, more social, more ecological.

If you want to follow a model, follow this one, the one of the silent forest that is growing, not the one of the gigantic tree that is falling down.

And in Slovakia? Well, this country is definitely going into the wrong direction yet I believe it is not too late. This country is still much more resilient than France to face economical, financial, or environmental crisis. And that is another reason why I’m choosing this country. In the long term, I think it is a safer place to be.

In France, many things need to be rebuilt. In Slovakia, things are not entirely destroyed.

Water is and is most likely to remain clean and abundant, lands are still mostly fertile, forests are covering about 40% of the territory, the local food is tasty and diverse, culture is rich and (still) alive, and most people haven’t lost touch with earth. These are your assets. They are all going to be increasingly valued in the future, yet they are all threatened by the economic model which Slovakia is following.

In a neoliberal economy based on economic growth, there is no room for things that cannot be sold.

No, it is not Arabs and Muslims that threaten “Your Slovakia”. Slovakia needs protection against the powers of money that would see you forests sold and cut for investment companies, your environment polluted, adverts in every corner of the cities, art, culture, education, or health funds cut for political reasons. The greedy powers that would see shopping malls, savage urbanization, and parking lots eating public space, parks, and fertile lands. And finally the tragedy of the Slovak youth that concerns many of my good friends: they are forced to leave the country or to have a boring job that they don’t like in international corporations such as IBM or Amazon.

That’s why I warn you, don’t follow the West. We have shown what way NOT to take. If you really need to follow someone and copy a model, then get inspired from what we, the French civil society, try to tend to, not from what we try to end.

Leave neoliberalism, and the irrational faith in economic growth.

* I define neoliberalism as an economic model characterized by the predominance of privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, and free trade. It also promotes the reduction of the influence of the public institutions in order to develop the role of the private sector in the economy.

** Economic growth in this context is what neoliberalism is based on. It implies the notions of productivism and consumerism, two sides of a same coin, and both necessary to fuel economic growth.

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31 comments on “I am a French living in Slovakia. I have a message to Slovak people
  1. gordim2014 says:

    I am wondering how many of your slovak friends have read this article to the end.

    Like

  2. Jana says:

    Hello, your article seems You know life in Slovakia pretty well. I appreciate you willingness to share with Your feelings and knowledge. It is very important to address mostly yound people who more or less copy west.like way of life and scorn their parents’ words of wisdom. We shall see what happens with our country or taking my age into account I will not see it. However this does not mean I dont care, I care wery much, i tried to explain my children what is wrong, but it was and is like fighting with wind-mills. You cannot win the war with universal media.

    Like

    • I think we can. Otherwise I would not write about it 🙂
      Throwing the TV away is probably the best start.
      Not everything is wrong the modern society, and not everything is great with past ways of life. We just need to combine the best that there is of the two. And leave what undermines our chances of survival in the long term. That is the challenge…

      Like

      • Jan Kukulsky says:

        Thank you for your article. I come from Slovakia and under financial pressure i am stil thinking about to leave Slovakia. My Friends doesnt understand why I am still here when I speak english, german and have experiences from Great Britain, Germany and I am quite skilled man, so in short time i could earn enough money to become so to say succesfull person. But I feel there is something what holds me here, and don´t alove me go away. They are the roots you are writing about.

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  3. Cécile says:

    Bonjour, Nicolas. Contente de savoir que tu vis dans la même ville que moi. Je comprends bien le fond de ta pensée. Je ne l’aurais pas exprimé en ces termes, mais je respecte la diversité et je t’encourage à continuer.

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    • Merci. J’apprécie tout retour, qu’il soit positif ou négatif 🙂 N’hésite pas a me dire ce qui ne t’a pas plu dans ma maniere de dire les choses.

      Like

      • Cécile says:

        En fait, la réflexion est intéressante. Cependant, je pense que si la capacité des gens à apprendre de leurs propres erreurs est discutable, celle d’apprendre des erreurs des autres pose encore plus question. Le ton de l’article (bienveillant et conseilleur) me fait penser à la discussion d’un parent qui veut éviter que son adolescent commette les mêmes écueils de jeunesse que lui. Ça part d’un bon sentiment, mais du coup comme lectrice, je me sens un peu comme une ado qui pourrait être plus tentée de faire la sourde oreille que de tenir compte de la sagesse paternelle.

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    • Merci. C’est de loin la critique la plus constructive que j’ai recu jusque la 🙂
      J’en tiendrai compte a l’avenir.

      Like

  4. Douglas Hyde says:

    Nicely written Nicolas, I am an Australian who has been living in (rural) Slovakia for over years now. I share and speak many of these great ideas. I looking forward to your next writing.

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  5. Hello, Nicolas! Thank you for your own opinion in the article. I am living here almost 2 years, and I am totally agree with your every words)). Thank you

    Like

  6. lamarmotte says:

    Very good article. Nice thoughts.
    I still think France has more advantages, but in this case it doesn’t matter.
    Slovak roots doesn’t feed you. Many Slovak work in abroad to feed their family, many just prefer the other country. This you won’t change. Are you able to take a good care of your children in svk? Good for you.
    Why ,,so many” French live in Slovakia?
    You can’t stop the system whatever you do.
    (Slovak traditional danse gives just a headache)

    Like

  7. Jana FR says:

    Bonjour Nicolas,

    je suis une slovaque qui vit en France, et je suis assez d’accord avec la critique constructive de Cécile 😉

    A part cela, je pense que tu as assez bien saisi la problématique slovaque…ais crois-moi, en France, ce n’est pas si mal que ça…

    Sinon, à part le problématique que tu évoques, ce qui manque le plus aux pays de l’Europe centrale, c’est l’ouverture au monde, aux autres cultures…ce n’est évident nul part, mais chez nous, on atteint les abysses…

    Like

    • Je suis malheureusement assez d’accord avec ce que tu dis.
      J’espere bien que dans d´autres régions de France ce ne soit pas si mal que ca. Pour ce qui est de la Provence, la ou j’ai grandi et vécu jusqu’a mes 20 ans, c’est le néant. Ou alors j’attends quelqu’un qui me démontre le contraire.

      Like

  8. Hi Nicolas I like your article – especially he conclusion:) Just one note on the part of agriculture old and new EU countries – try to look into EU agricultural subsidies. This is the biggest cheat old EU did on us. Promised to be equal by 2013 in the accession procedure – still not happening (but systematic destruction of our agriculture and food industry has been going on since 90ties – now people are happy there is a chain supermarket in every village with waste from the west – often more expensive than in the west). Maybe some explanation why you do not see true young farmers (mostly they are just resellers – I do not like words like bio, organic, etc…consider it just a marketing “bullshit” strategy, plus do not forgt, we are more north, dryer climate and not so fertile soil – to stay realistic) on the Zilinska market. But yeah, hopefully we reach the turning point soon.

    Like

    • Thank you for your comment. Looking into the EU policies is excellent idea. I remember a Slovak friend had told me that EU wanted to make Slovakia the potato producer of Europe, and started to subsidies potato crops. As a result, many farmers abandoned their traditional crops for potatoes, resulting in big loss in agricultural biodiversity. ..

      Like

  9. Jaro Baran says:

    Hi Nicolas,
    Thank you for sharing the ideas. It is difficult to disagree. However, The economy of Slovakia is by now dependant on neoliberalism. Our biggest industry by a huge margin is car manufacturing. For export, of course. We already import most of our food and there is a discussion about having at least 50 % of the food in shops produced locally in Slovakia.
    I made the trip the other way from Slovakia to a rural French-speaking environment. What I see in France is a much greater continuity of farming and an appreciation of farmers. In Slovakia, traditional farms were (semi)forcefully collectivised in the 1940s and 50s, creating communal farming. The smaller farms that you see now all sprung up in the past 25 years, they were not there before.

    Like

  10. Miki says:

    excellent point. i am slovak btw, lived in france, switzerland and austria, and i cannot agree with you more. i am trying to get your point across here for all my life…that is my primary mission. but it is very hard to convince my people, working in ibm seems like paradise to these fools. completely brainwashed. but yea i still have a spark of hope too.
    we need to embrace our ancient ways. may god help us.

    Like

  11. Lenka says:

    So Nicolas, this is nothing new to the world, right? pardon me, but are you farming in Slovakia?
    have you seen life outside Bratislava, how people live and what they do? If not, you would be surprised by how many people are coming back to small productions etc… they are trying!

    Yes you compare this all to the life in France, where all small shops disappeared and farmers are in an enormous troubles because of the french system ( I will not comment more on this)
    For me, you said nothing new, we all know it but the trend and the system is different, for small producers it is very difficult. There is a lot , like a lot of poor people in Slovakia and Bratislava also creates quite an amount of poor people due to the fact that people buy properties and they live to pay them, they have not enough money then to support products which might be better and by buying them to develop the trade and farmers, bla bla.
    I remember times when people from villages went to buy a chicken to Tesco even tho they had farmers selling home fed chickens, just because it was cheaper. And there is plenty of examples.
    I lived in France, Ireland and now in south of Spain and trust me the problem here is the same! I am at the market and local people who have not enough money maybe 25 euro per week for food will buy mango or tomatoes from costa rica and not from the village here because it is more expensive.
    So unless there is complete change of a system which will completely support the trend, the market and people, there will be a lot of articles like this written on blogs.
    And founds from EU, pfff ok….
    It is not enough. However if you have an idea on how to change the system, to give people work so there is a strong labor force who has money, I will support.

    Merci et bonne journee!

    Like

    • lucia says:

      we should consume less and we would not have problem with more expensive local, home made food .. but the problem is that our society is consumption oriented .. yeah, I can see what other people have in their baskets, they should stop buying unnecessary, mostly processed food and focus on better nutrition and find local sources

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  12. […] z anglického originálu “I am a French living in Slovakia. I have a message to Slovak people” so súhlasom […]

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  13. Salut,Nicolas,j’apprécie trop ton article – je l’ai lu en version slovaque et en fait une idée est venue spontannément en ma tete 🙂 pourrais-je recevoir de ta par l’autorisation de le traduire en hongrois (quie est ma langue maternelle, ici en Slovaquie langue minoritaire ) et de l’envoyer a un site indépendant? Etant donné que le cercle de tes visiteurs est limité ici,sur ton blog,j’aimerais que grace a cette traduction ton message puisse avoir plus de lecteurs 😉
    Et en revenant a nos moutons….je ne suis pas tout a fait d’accord avec toutes tes phrases,car pendant mon séjours d’un mois dans le banlieu de Paris au mois de mars,j’ai vu pas mal de petit trucs que j’ai trop aimé et que je manque ici, chez nous,en Slovaquie (les marchés,les boutiques de producteurs locales….) mais en principe,bien sur je suis d’accord avec toi…mais cela sera plutot a un longue débat;) si jamias tu n’as qu’a fair pendant un weekend,prends ton vélo et viennes ici,dans ma région,a l’est de la Slovaquie,20km de la frontière ukraïno-hongrois ;))))

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    • Salut Gabriella,
      Bien sur, je serais tres heureux que tu le traduises en hongrois 🙂
      Mon site est sous licence Creative Commons, alors n’hésites pas! 😉
      Bien sur, chaque région a ses specificites, et tout n’est pas si mal en France.
      Malheureusement mon experience en Provence me conduit a ses conclusions.

      Like

  14. Daniel says:

    Salut Nicolas,

    I really appreciate you pointing out the strategic assets Slovakia still has. As much as I am critical towards my homeland, I too must say, that there are a great deal of youngsters in my generation that has already adopted your thoughts into everyday life :). Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Like

  15. Dusan Sebo says:

    I am very thankful for such a words, Nicolas! I completely agree with your ideas. I think, for us, as Slovaks, is very important to get feedbacks like this. Especially for those, who never lived in western countries for some period of their lives.
    Nice sentence at the end …then get inspired from what we, the French civil society, try to tend to, not from what we try to end.

    Like

  16. Stephane says:

    Bonjour Nicolas,

    L’idée est fort louable de pointer l’importance des petits producteurs, de la diversité des produits, de résister à une uniformisation du goût. Malheureusement, j’ai l’impression de lire une sorte de “mythe du bon sauvage” transplanté à la Slovaquie.

    Que ce soit le “néolibéralisme” ou le “communisme” passé ici, tous deux participent à une uniformisation rentable et ce que tu as pu constater d’un peu typique (moi aussi, les grand-mères qui vendent leurs légumes et leurs fleurs de jardin à 1 euro, cela me touche) n’est en fait qu’une exception ou marque juste le fait que les anciens essaient de survivre en vendant les produits de leur jardin ou bien les familles qui améliorent leur quotidien en faisant des bocaux.

    En fait, tu as dû le remarquer depuis qu’il n’y a pas vraiment cette diversité que tu salues. En tout cas, dans mon marché slovaque, avec toute ma bonne volonté, c’est un peu la misère l’été : des poivrons et des tomates et peu de choses d’autres même si cela paraît être un pays de cocagne (ça pousse)… C’est en France au contraire que je vois cette diversité sur les marchés des petites villes (en Rhône-Alpes par exemple) et le retour des légumes anciens, négligés auparavant. Certainement parce qu’on a eu une culture de résistance à l’uniformisation et un ras-de-bol récent qui a vu se développer le réseau de sauvegarde des graines, les AMAP, la vente à la ferme…

    C’est au contraire la perspective d’attirer une clientèle inquiète pour sa santé, à la recherche du bon goût, de valeurs “authentiques”, la proximité, le lien social qui verra se développer des petites entreprises locales qui proposeront des produits de qualité. Achète le magazine slovaque “Profit” (oui, j’ai un peu honte de l’acheter parfois avec un nom comme cela 🙂 et tu verras plein d’initiatives louables de la part de jeunes entrepreneurs ou d’entreprises familiales. Et puis, il y a des retours à la terre comme on en a régulièrement chez ceux qui veulent échapper un peu au “système” – sauf qu’on en a besoin là aussi de ce système pour survivre (les stages écolo pour citadins fatigués : )

    Il est certain que les Slovaques ont à protéger les éléments typiques de leur culture, mais cela passe aussi par une économie de marché – cette culture, elle est en grande partie muséale ou représentative – on danse beaucoup plus trad’ en Bretagne dans les fest noz, qu’ici où cela se passe surtout sur scène ou lors des mariages. Et, sauf à revenir à une société rurale où ces marques culturelles ont indiqué une position sociale ou une différence entre les villages – cette culture du costume folk, de la danse qui salue les récoltes a moins lieu d’être. C’est au contraire le marché qui permettra de transmettre les éléments ornementaux typiques qui se retrouvent chez les stylistes du pays par exemple. Ou bien encore la confrontation avec l’extérieur, car c’est là en rencontrant l’autre qu’on parle de son histoire, de sa littérature, de ses coutumes. C’est ce qui aide à se rendre compte d’un héritage, d’une esthétique, d’un relation ancienne à sa terre dont on se souvient et qui a évolué.

    J’écris après avoir lu ton billet il y a quelques mois déjà (cela m’avait un peu agacé par ce qui me semblait erroné), car je le vois se propager encore aujourd’hui – tant mieux malgré tout car cela fait réagir : ) Bonne continuation !

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    • Bonjour Stéphane,
      Merci pour ton commentaire.
      Peut-être que mon article exagère effectivement les bons côtés de la Slovaquie. Notre expérience française et slovaque est assez différente, et cela explique ton impression que ce que je dis est erroné.
      D’un côté, à Bratislava du moins, on trouve assez facilement cette diversité que tu décris pour les marchés français. Même si ça reste minoritaire. D’un autre côté, mon image de la Provence correspond plus à un quasi néant à ce niveau là. C’est cet écart qui justifie mon article. Je vois des choses qui existe à Bratislava qui n’existent plus du tout, ou presque, en Provence.
      La tendance heureusement s’inverse en Provence. J’y suis retourné il y a 3 mois, je vois que ça bouge dans le bon sens.
      Mais en Slovaquie, ça me semble être l’inverse. D’où mon appel à rejeter la dynamique de laquelle la société civile française essaye de s’extirper.
      Ensuite, par rapport à la seconde partie de ton commentaire, tu sembles décrire ce que je dénonce dans mon billet: la marchandisation de la culture. Je dénonce l’idée selon laquelle tous les aspects de la société humaine doivent entrer dans le cadre de la rentabilité et du “Profit” justement (le nom de ce magazine est sans équivoque 🙂 ).
      A mon sens, oui, il convient de revenir à une société rurale, et réduire la taille des villes. Nous n’aurons d’ailleurs à mon avis pas le choix. Mais ici je pourrais développer sur toutes les idées des objecteurs de croissance, et le programme de la décroissance en général. Cela fera l’objet, à n’en pas douter, de plusieurs autres billets sur mon blog.

      Like

  17. Eve says:

    Bonjour Nicolas,
    Je suis tombée sur ton article alors que je cherchais des marchés bios en Slovaquie. J’habiterai pour un mois près de Ruzomberok et j’aimerais acheter bio et local. J’ai fait une petite recherche internet, et pour l’instant, rien ne sort vraiment. Pourrais-tu me donner la traduction de marché bio ou farmer’s market en Slovaque? Aussi, de ce que je comprends, les produits seraient souvent bios de toute façon étant donné la manière dont les Slovaques travaillent le sol, est-ce exact? Si oui, comment s’en assurer? Je sais qu’en Pologne, où j’habite actuellement, ils arrivent que les gens disent que leurs produits sont bios même si ce n’est pas le cas. Merci beaucoup!

    Like

    • Bonjour 🙂
      Alors ici les marchés bios n’existent pas, seulement des marchés tout court.
      C’est vrai qu’il faut se méfier, beaucoup d’agriculteurs locaux utilisent engrais chimiques et biocides de manieres a faire un maximum de profit (ce qui est compréhensible quand on ne gagne deja presque rien). Certains agriculteurs utilisent des biocides juste quand une maladie menace trop de récolte, et certains adoptent vraiment un démarche 100% bio, permaculture ou autre. Il faut discuter avec eux pour savoir, et regarder l allure de leurs produits. Ils peuvent toujours mentir mais ca se voit en general dans les yeux et l’intonation de la voix. Demande “farmarský trh”. Pour savoir, tu peux aussi demander la surface cultivée. Plus c’est petit, et plus c’est plausible s’ils disent qu’ils sont bio. Bon courage!

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About me
I'm passionate about sustainable lifestyles and urban agriculture. I believe that community-supported initiatives and bottom-up policies are key to foster necessary societal changes. I'm an advocate of degrowth, agro-ecology, sharing economy and participatory democracy. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, I like learning, reading, writing, sharing, hiking, dancing, eating, and celebrating.
Nicolas Giroux
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