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EDITORIAL

Six years on: The Internet and old-guard Slovakia

Loathe as we are to add a new diversion to people's lives, we simply must spill the beans about www.orsr.sk , Slovakia's new Internet site featuring a searchable business registry. March 1 marks the sixth anniversary of the founding of The Slovak Spectator, and few other changes we have seen over this period say so much about where the country is heading, or what has gone before.
The site, which is entirely in Slovak, can be searched by the name of the person whose business activities you want to inspect, by firm or by each company's ID number. Records are kept by region, meaning you have to know (or search) which of Slovakia's eight regions contains the information you are looking for. You can see either currently valid information, or records stretching back to 1993. In other words, who owned what, or sat on which company boards, and when.

Loathe as we are to add a new diversion to people's lives, we simply must spill the beans about www.orsr.sk , Slovakia's new Internet site featuring a searchable business registry. March 1 marks the sixth anniversary of the founding of The Slovak Spectator, and few other changes we have seen over this period say so much about where the country is heading, or what has gone before.

The site, which is entirely in Slovak, can be searched by the name of the person whose business activities you want to inspect, by firm or by each company's ID number. Records are kept by region, meaning you have to know (or search) which of Slovakia's eight regions contains the information you are looking for. You can see either currently valid information, or records stretching back to 1993. In other words, who owned what, or sat on which company boards, and when.

Lest this seem an idle fetish for information junkies or crusading journalists, let us give you an example of what it means. Last weekend, the leadership of one of the oldest political parties in the country - the Democratic Party (DS) - was won by a man whom the old guard called a crook. They had no proof, but drifted around parliament in the next days making insinuations. When a reporter with this paper suggested that they check www.orsr.sk to give muscle to their claims, they responded as if such clerical concerns were beneath them. They just knew.

If you check the business registry for the activities of new DS head Ľudovít Kaník and his four new vice-chairmen, you find that they do in fact seem to be connected by business interests in real estate or construction companies (1. Národná aukčna in Bratislava, the Tatra Development Group and the Ski Jasna firm in the Žilina region, etc.). Nothing conclusive, but more than the "I just know" nonsense.

But the important thing here is that the question of whether these connections are evidence of what the disgruntled DS deputies allege as Kaník's 'business lobby' connections and his corrupt, clientelist tendencies is now up to everyone who has access to the Internet to decide. It's not fool-proof - the Ski Jasna firm where Kanis and one of his vice-chairmen figure also bears the name Ivan Šimko, one of the leading figures in PM Dzurinda's SDKÚ party. But a late night call to that politician (answered by his daughter) establishes that Ski Jasna's Ivan Šimko is not the absent MP.

Overall, the site may offer little real evidence of lobby group activity, but if you simply take a members' list of each political party, you get a fairly solid idea of who represents whom. Just like Noam Chomsky says, all information that intelligent citizens need about the truth of public affairs is available in the public domain - one just has to look.

This means that in Slovakia, where personal contacts rule all business and political dealings, the nature of such contacts are available to all, not just an elite whose interests have always been served by keeping them quiet. It also means that gossip and hearsay, which has been used by the current government and its media friends first to hasten the downfall of the Mečiar regime (a worthy aim) and then to slander political rivals, will no longer suffice to convince a better-informed public.

This, more than any other government declaration, is the true birth of the 'information society' in Slovakia. People have been bitterly disappointed that the Dzurinda government did not slam the door shut on corruption and clientelism as it promised in 1998; now they have a tool which will tell them why, which is that in such a small country in Slovakia, everyone knows everyone else, and any politician who claims to be bringing 'new faces' to politics is a liar. Just check the Internet.

If www.orsr.sk heralds the birth of a wiser and chastened electorate, it also means that politicians are now held accountable, even for the epic thefts that occurred during the 1994-1998 years of Vladimír Mečiar government. By the way - people with the surname Mečiar own 42 companies around the country, but JUDr. Vladimír Mečiar is not among them (his three children figure prominently). The former PM is nowhere listed, even on the supervisory board of a lousy state company. Almost as if he knew that full disclosure was coming, and was too smart to leave fingerprints.

The Internet has delivered on few of the hysterical promises made by its adherents, but as a new consumer of working time it may yet beat the coffee machine or trips to the washroom. It sure beats the sly insinuations of ill-informed politicians, and the murk that has surrounded lobby group activity in Slovakia for the last six years.

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