Five extortionists who since 1997 had collected over 800,000 Slovak crowns ($15,500) from the owner of the Bratislava Hysteria pub and night club in return for 'protection', were apprehended by police on October 4. Thus began an attack on the Bratislava underworld, said Police Presidium head Ján Pipta five days later, an onslaught which would cripple local Mafia groups.
"The police will take certain steps," the police chief said, "to break up [the local Mafia groups] within the next six months."
Two weeks later, Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner met with his eastern European counterparts for a conference to discuss a common strategy in combating regional organised crime. At the meeting, Pittner said that organised crime represented the biggest challenge for security forces since the end of the cold war.
Ministers of Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland therefore agreed to initiate a joint anti-Mafia body to deal with international smugglers of firearms, nuclear material and illegal immigrants. They also agreed to meet again in Budapest at an undetermined date in the future for further cooperation.
The results of the recent flurry of activity by Slovak crime fighters has Pittner and the Slovak police now saying that they are making headway in their fight against the Slovak Mafia.
At an October 23 press conference in Bratislava, Pittner warned the country's underworld groups that their days were numbered as investigators and police had made great strides in mapping and monitoring their activities. Pipta too said that Mafia groups would be subject to a war waged against them by the police.
But when pressed by media for details, Pipta said only that the plan was a secret. When contacted by The Slovak Spectator, Jozef Sitár, the Interior Ministry's spokesperson said he had no information about any particular plan to act against the local Mafia.
"Maybe there is something going on, but you know, these things don't usually get to my ears," he said. "I assume it's because the plan is secret and it would be highly unprofessional to 'go hunt rabbits with a drum'."
Nor would other police representatives and Interior Ministry officials offer specifics about the prepared action, causing citizens to question the seriousness of the plan.
"We've heard this so many times before and nothing yet has happened," said Ivan T., a 46-year old Bratislava resident. "I don't know if I can take their plans seriously anymore. I have serious doubts that anything will change."
Miroslav Kusý, a political analyst at Comenius University in Bratislava, said that although some positive steps had been made since the new government came to power in 1998, state officials together with the police should remember that they cannot keep the public content with vague 'plans of action'.
"Some results must be seen soon," he said. "Promises and secret plans with no visible results won't keep the people happy forever." Crime and security, according to polls, have consistently been among the top three concerns of Slovak citizens since 1996.
But in an October 24 interview with The Slovak Spectator, Police Presidium Vice-President Imrich Angyal also refused to give specifics on Pipta's plan of action, saying only that more people had been hired to the Bratislava organised crime department.
He added that the public should be more patient, that it was unrealistically expecting quick results without understanding either the complexity of the police's efforts or the difficulties policemen face in their battle as a result of inadequate equipment and an acute shortage of qualified staff.
Angyal added that the police had been held back from investigating crimes during the 1994 to 1998 government of Vladimír Meeiar. "In Slovakia, the police sections fighting organised crime were discouraged from pursuing their activities under the former government," he said. "We were obstructed by the government, especially after we began investigating the kidnapping of Michal Kováe, Jr. [the son of Slovakia's former president, who was kidnapped to Austria in 1995 - ed. note]."
"Since 1996, only 26 people have worked in the Police Presidium's organised crime section," Angyal continued. "With that little manpower, no miracles can be expected of us." Compounding the problem, he said, was the country's lack of state-of-the-art crime-fighting technology and properly trained policemen.
Slovakia's current secret service (SIS) head, Vladimír Mitro, agreed that the country's crime-fighting tools needed improvement. "In a way, there is a race going on [between the Mafia and the police] in terms of investments in crime and crime fighting," he said. "If the state wants to eliminate these [underworld] groups, it can't allow itself to lag behind the Mafia."
According to Minister Pittner, 29 organised crime groups currently operate in Slovakia: five in the Bratislava region, 12 in the outlying western Slovak regions, four in central Slovakia and eight in eastern Slovakia.
Angyal said the police had discovered financial crimes by these groups which had cost the country nearly 40 million crowns ($775,000) through the first nine months of 2000, although he could not provide statistics for previous years. Sitár explained that the illegal activities of the Mafia included extortion, drug dealing, smuggling of illegal immigrants, prostitution, car theft, tax evasion, and black market dealing.
Fighting these groups, Angyal said, was a difficult task and one he hoped Slovaks would have patience with. "We are doing our best, and I think that in many cases the media have discredited the police by picking only the negative examples of our work."
Additional reporting by Zuzana Habšudová
5. Oct 2000 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová