For a newspaper that never seemed at a loss for words during its eight years of publication, the opposition-friendly Slovenská Republika left newsstands for good November 30 with a sad absence of fanfare.
It's with sincere regret that we see them go, since there was always something indomitable about Republika and its daunting mission of defending the muddled policies of the HZDS party of Vladimír Mečiar. At times shrill, at others sinister, the paper pulled no punches and was always an entertaining read, if not always for the reasons its editors intended.
An April 19, 1998 referendum in the southern Slovak town of Štúrovo, for example, offered Republika a vehicle for one of its classic front page opinion pieces. The ballot, which asked citizens to vote on NATO entry and direct presidential elections but which had been banned by the Mečiar government, was at the time a rare expression of civic courage in the face of a heavy-handed state apparatus. But for Republika ("The truth is different!" blurted the editorial),
"... it is a deliberate and long-planned move by irredentist magyars [Hungarians] aimed against the territorial integrity of the Slovak Republic... This is our house, and we know its nooks and crannies the best. If one of these nooks becomes damp, we have to take action if we want to prevent a cancerous mould from destroying the whole building. The Slovak Republic is our country! We have whispered it in our prayers and have sung songs to achieve it. If necessary, we can stand up for it in other ways as well... [That's why] we call on Defence Minister Ján Sitek to order the Army be put on a high state of alert."
Slovenská Republika always viewed other media with some suspicion, if not hostility, and The Slovak Spectator was taken to task several times for perceived faults. Republika's misgivings about us in 1995 ("If you grant The Spectator an interview, you can't change your original quote, you can only add a remark or statement. In other words, everything you say may be used against you...") by 1997 had ripened into the dour satisfaction that comes from having one's worst fears confirmed:
"It is very unlikely that there is another democracy where a limited liablity company [ie. The Slovak Spectator] would allow itself such arrogance and start a campaign of incitement against the constitutional bodies of the state in which it is operating."
Everyone in Slovakia knew who such opinions appealed to - cross old people wearing wrongly-buttoned cardigans - but it was always something of a mystery as to who actually wrote such fustian.
Republika reporters were a strange breed, for whom one couldn't help having a sneaking regard. They were never popular among their peers, and were sometimes even jeered or whistled at when they tried to ask questions at press conferences - a fate suffered by Ladislav Uhrin, the reporter assigned to cover the Štúrovo story in 1998 for Republika. But they always asked what they had come to ask, no matter how leading or tendentious the question, and seemed to derive a kind of spine-stiffening strength from the scorn they encountered.
Národná obroda, the Slovak daily which bought out Republika, has decided to take on most of the latter's staff save its political reporters and commentators. It's probably a wise move, since obroda has more to lose in alienating its own readers with Republika-style journalism than it has to gain in wooing the cross cardigan crowd. But it's not a decision appreciated by Republika writers, one of whom lamented in the paper's last editorial that "They [journalists] didn't expect that in return for their daily exposure of the injustice, incompetence, idiocy and sometimes even immorality of those in power who caused this [Slovakia's 18.8%] unemployment, they themselves would be cast out on the street."
It's enough to bring a tear to one's eye - until, that is, one catches a glimpse of the November 29 edition of the daily Nový Deň, whose lead article informs readers that Republika folded after businessmen refused to advertise in it, "for fear of retribution from the coalition.
"The demise of Slovenská Republika clearly shows that the space for open and critical coverage of the policies of the government coalition is narrowing... Understandably, we warmly welcome new readers who prefer opposition politics to total apathy and resignation... Nový Deň will be your tribune."
Let's hope the welcome is as warm for journalists who prefer opposition politics, and that Republika reporters don't swell the breadlines after all.
Vive la difference.
1. Jan 1970 at 1:00