Abstract

In Slovakia as in other Visegrád countries, the question of whether to accept asylum seekers polarized the public sphere in 2015 and continues to cause controversy, with proponents and opponents standing irreconcilably against each other. This article focuses on historical encounters with otherness that are recounted and utilized argumentatively in this debate, examining the diverging cultural approaches to difference that underlie the two positions. Building on ethnographic fieldwork in the Slovak asylum system, and taking a close look at public discourse, the article analyzes the four historical references that are deployed most frequently in such arguments: the Ottoman conquest, the social situation of Roma, Slovak emigration, and multiculturalism in the interwar period. The interpretations of history generated from these episodes differ: not only in their moral evaluation of difference as something desirable or dangerous but also in their base assumption with respect to whether diversity is normal or an anomaly and whether it is something that can be prevented or reversed, as opposed to something that must be acknowledged and managed.

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