MIROSLAV Lehký, one of the founding members of the Nation's Memory Institute (ÚPN), worked his last day on May 31. In explaining his decision to quit, he claimed that director Ivan Petranský is emphasizing historical research over documentation, and threatening the mission of the institute. If this charge is true, then it is indeed bad news for the ÚPN. Historical research in Slovakia has become a synonym for camouflage.
In the last 20 years, Slovakia has undergone revolution, reconstruction, Mečiar, Mečiarism, separation, privatization, democratization, integration, and now regression. Who can make sense of this exhausting catalogue without a guide to put it in historical context?
But despite the social importance of their work, Slovak historians have had nothing to say to the public on matters of consequence, such as the phenomenon of Mečiar, what became of former top communists and ŠtB agents, who privatized what, or the social and political forces that produced Robert Fico.
Instead, these questions have been left to journalists and publicists to answer, in works such as Marián Leško's excellent Mečiar a Mečiarizmus (Mečiar and Mečiarism, 1996), Ľuba Lesná's Únos Demokracie (Democracy Kidnapped, 2001), Miloš Žiak's Slovensko Medzi Napredovaním a Úpadkom (Slovakia Between Progress and Decline, 1998), and even such fripperies as Mečiar a jeho Ženy (Mečiar and his Women, 2000) by a pair of journalists with the Nový Čas tabloid daily.
By comparison, international historians have thoroughly explored other events that occurred in the same time frame, such as the First Gulf War of 1990-91 (as well as the second), the Clinton years in Washington, the rise of militant Islam, and even (embarrassingly) the 1989 revolutions and the fall of the Soviet Union.
Historians in Slovakia will tell you that not enough time has elapsed to allow a historical treatment of the last two decades. This may be interpreted to mean that they intend to wait until everyone who could possibly be inconvenienced by their research is dead.
That kind of delicacy may be acceptable in history departments, but it will be disastrous if applied to the ÚPN's work, which is by definition confrontational and uncomfortable.
Lehký claims that the ÚPN under Petranský will spend more time (not) writing articles for specialized historical journals about communism and fascism than documenting the crimes that occurred. If that is true, then he was right to protest. Only time will tell if he was also right to leave the institute to its fate.
By Tom Nicholson
4. Jun 2007 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson