This profile was prepared when Martin Kovác was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996.
The New Idea
Martin Kovác is promoting the repair of historic buildings and monuments in Slovakia by building coalitions between members of Slovakia's new private business sector, local and national governments, concerned citizens and, sometimes, the owners of the properties. His work challenges the common belief that their repair is the sole responsibility of the government and that insufficient funds make the task impossible. Martin is convinced that if people can recapture a sense of value for their historic sites and learn some skills of community planning and coordination, they will be able to find the necessary money. His work demonstrates that key individuals working in concert to preserve a monument do make a powerful team: business people often have access to sources of capital or have experience in raising money; though public funds may be short, government officials bring whatever support they can; and citizens' organizations provide contact with the local community surrounding any historic site. Martin's work is consciously modeled after the well-known British National Trust for historic structures. Two features, however, distinguish its adaptation to the Slovak context. First, Martin has transcended a pervasive mistrust that is a legacy of the country's totalitarian past: the coalitions he builds between social and economic sectors are new for Slovaks. Second, though his project secures preservation for its own sake, Martin believes it has implications far beyond that end. By developing mechanisms to involve the public with their local conservation projects, he hopes to channel growing nationalist tendencies among the citizens of the newly independent country into healthy patriotism.