Zuzana Firgánková is one of the founding members of the civic association ASU – African-Slovak Union. Zuzka briefly studied social anthropology at the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at Comenius University and holds a Double Master’s degree in Global Studies from the University of Freiburg and the University of Cape Town. After graduating in 2019, she returned to Slovakia and, in addition to working in the field of international relations, has been fully engaged in running the ASU. In today’s mini-interview, Zuzka describes in more detail the main idea behind the association, as well as its future plans.
We would appreciate the help of young and passionate anthropologists who would like to put their hand to the work…
Could you tell us more about ASU? What is it? What led you to it? What inspired you to engage with it?
The path that led us to the establishment of the organization was more or less quite spontaneous; I am not the only founder. At first, we, the five founding members, only planned to organize meetings, but later we decided to commit to it properly, and so we established a non-profit organization. We are still a young organization – we are only a little over a year old. Our goal is to provide Slovaks with an unbiased, comprehensive view of Africa and Africans living in Slovakia. The second goal is to bring the African community closer to Slovakia and Slovakia closer to Africa and Africans. We strive to be helpful to both sides.
The main idea of ASU is to introduce the idea of diversity and inclusion to Slovak society. We think that it is still missing in Slovakia. The situation is changing; however, it is not changing fast enough. At least not as fast as we would hope.
We are raising awareness and trying to show people that diversity is not bad and that it does not mean that we have to give up our own identity. Moreover, we try to show that openness to foreigners is not a threat to our own culture. On the contrary — it can be enriching! We can learn something from it, as we can learn something from each other. On the other hand, this does not mean that we will accept other people indefinitely and without limits. Of course, even those who come to Slovakia must adapt to local conditions; they must respect the country and the people they come in contact with. However, overall we believe that it is important that we approach foreigners more openly, with respect, and without an a priori judgement just because they look a certain way.
What led you to this? How did it all start?
I have always had a close relationship with Africa and had an interest in it. After returning to Slovakia, I missed the international community, and I also wanted to meet Africans living in Slovakia. The other people who joined me had a similar motivation. We started organizing small events to get the Slovak-African community to meet each other. Later, we decided to organize our activities more formally and do things more systematically, and so we agreed to establish a proper NGO.
You have mentioned that you were raising awareness and that things were moving too slowly… What methods do you use to raise awareness of inclusion and diversity?
The first and most important method is our project, which has been running for more than half a year and is called “ASU Talk”. There, we translate the main idea into reality through interviews with guests from different fields who are somehow connected to Africa or the overarching idea of inclusion and diversity. Discussions take place at monthly intervals and on a bilingual basis (one month in Slovak and the next one in English) on our Facebook and Youtube, where people can also watch them retrospectively. The interviews can also be listened to as a podcast on Spotify and Buzzsprout. We also have a website, www.asu.sk, where people can find all the details about our activities.
So you organize the ASU Talk. Do you pursue any other activities?
Yes, we do, even though we are currently facing financial constraints. Therefore, we occasionally organize small meetings, such as gatherings for mixed families in Slovakia, and recently we also held a mingle meet for individuals. We also took part in the International Day organized by the non-profit organization Mareena, where we co-created the program. We certainly want to expand our activities and have more reach, but it takes time and patience. We are aiming quite high, so let’s see :).
So what are your plans?
We are certainly planning to continue organizing our main activity – the ASU Talk – because we have received a very positive response, and the event has been met by a pretty good following. We also want to organize a four-day event, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself – it really depends on how much funds we manage to raise.
I would like to return to some of the things you have mentioned earlier. You said you gather Africans in Slovakia. How does it work in practice? How do you communicate?
Yes, we meet a few African friends who either study or work here. However, these are Africans living mostly in Bratislava.
For this reason, we would appreciate the help of young and passionate anthropologists who would like to put their hand to the work and help us identify African communities or individuals through demographic research. We plan to establish more intensive contact with Africans in Slovakia that live outside of the capital, to find out where they are from and what it is like for them to live here, to know their story and needs, but with the appropriate preparation and research that should precede. At ASU, we also have space for creatives who enjoy writing, creating graphic content, or social media. You will find more about the internship offer in the description… We will be very happy with any interest expressed by students of anthropology. Feel free to contact us!