Director: Jan Gebert
Words: Josh Senior
When the War Comes is a startling look at the rise of neo-fascism in Slovakia, and in particular the young paramilitary group ‘Slovak Recruits’ and their firebrand leader Peter Švrček. The Recruits are a small group of young men who style themselves as radical patriots, and protectors of Slovakian freedom.
Director Jan Gebert was offered unprecedented access to the group over a three year period and we see them conducting military training in the forest, clashing with law enforcement and coming under fire for their right-wing political values.
The film is an unsettling look at a figure who is part narcissist, part comedian. Švrček is an almost pantomime figure in the mould of other alt-right statesmen such as Donald Trump, Nigel Farage et al. His personal goal with The Recruits is to enter into the political arena to advance his views on society.
We begin with witnessing how Švrček and his band of followers recruit new young men to their cause, and their methods of training in the Slovakian wilderness. They force the men through gruelling physical regimes which feature punishments and ridicule in abundance. However, the men seem to thrive off the camaraderie and Švrček’s charisma. He can be their friend one moment and their tormentor the next.
Throughout he works hard to raise the profile of his movement, performing comical political stunts and giving interviews to keep The Slovak Recruits in the public consciousness. We see the effect this has on those around him and how they begin to imitate his routines and behaviour.
The parallels with Nazism are frightening, The Slovak Recruits parade in military uniform and hark back to Slovakian heroes from decades gone past, they are also anti-refugee, LGBTQ+ and any other minority group you can think of. Yet despite their surface level tomfoolery we need to remember that they are a group of intelligent educated young men who are far more calculated than they appear.
Švrček’s influence is so allencompassng that when he suggests to the other leaders of The Recruits that they abolish elections for 25 years so that he can remain as the Chairman he is backed with unanimous support. There is no discussion and the collective will is to follow Švrček and his ambitions without question.
You can laugh at this film, but it’s the kind of nervous laughter you hear when people are beginning to take the person they’re watching seriously; whether he’s getting a precession of men to swear allegiance to his cause by touching a silver axe or dancing drunkenly in the middle of an empty dance floor. Characters like Švrček are endemic of a Western society that has now accepted political awakenings like Brexit and Trumpism as part of everyday life.
The political swing to the right has produced more characters like this the world over, and it’s important that a mirror is held up to them now, hopefully before they can exert any further influence on global politics and history. Be afraid, be very afraid.
You can see When The War Comes at Sheffield Doc/Fest, info and tickets available here: