How fitting that November 17, the twelfth anniversary of the revolution that brought communism down in Czechoslovakia, was the date chosen for the election of a new boss for the former communist SDĽ party. Few other events could have captured so neatly the millstones which remain about the neck of social progress in Slovakia.
The man who appeared likely to take the SDĽ leadership on the eve of the party's national congress was Agriculture Minister Pavol Koncoš, a slump-shouldered Goliath with the dynamism of a tree stump.
While no one could really be worse than current SDĽ leader Jozef Migaš, who has unerringly steered his party from a 1998 election result of 14.3% through corruption scandals to low support in the single digits today, Koncoš at least invites the question of whether the SDĽ wouldn't be better off without a leader at all.
Koncoš is the one who refused to give the ethnic Hungarian SMK party a senior role in the Slovak Land Fund, or to hand over to municipalities land that was nationalised in 1948 but not claimed by its former owners. In defying the Hungarians, Koncoš was not only flouting the government's own 1998 programme, but also fuelling pointless tensions in an already shaky coalition.
Recently he has been in hot water again for ignoring a government order that all money distributed by ministries from taxpayer-financed state funds be listed on the internet - who got the money, how much and why. Although the Agriculture Ministry originally promised to have the information available by July 1, to this day it has not complied.
But after it was revealed earlier this month that two agricultural collectives in which Koncoš owns shares - the Rimagra-Natural and RD Klenovec firms - received public money from the Agriculture Ministry, pressure on Koncoš to make funding decisions public intensified. This was what he said in defence of his decision to keep them secret:
"I myself was the one who came up with the idea that we publish this information on the internet. But as soon as we even hinted we would be taking these steps, we received information that the Mafia was beginning to act. Businessmen would receive subsidies on their bank accounts, and in a few days a group of big, shaven-headed men would show up and say "Either you split the subsidy with us or we'll destroy your pond". We published such information only once or twice in the Roľnické noviny agricultural newspaper, and the Mafia reacted immediately."
Koncoš also maintained that an independent commission decided what subsidies to issue, even though the ministry's guidelines says the minister himself decides all funding.
Clearing up the confusion has not been easy, largely because Koncoš' minions have the same flexible attitude towards the rule of law as does their minister. When Sme daily paper reporter Peter Kunder contacted Miroslav Moncoľ, the ministry official in charge of the commission which approved the subsidies for Koncoš' companies, he got the following response:
Q: Under last year's Freedom of Access to Information Law you are required to provide me with the information I am requesting.
A: Information which I decide is appropriate and good for you.
Q: Would it be such a problem just to fax me the membership of the commission over the last two years?
A: It wouldn't be any problem, but unfortunately the trust between us has been violated, my dear sir.
Q: I have a right to this information under the law.
A: You are a propagandist. If I don't give you the information, will you lay a complaint against me?
Q: Of course.
A: You see?
Q: I have a right to the information. Parliament passed a law saying this.
A: Sure, sure. But the information law is worthless, just like many laws parliament has passed.
Q: But it's a valid law.
A: Many other laws are ignored in this country, and in far worse circumstances.
The SDĽ party, or at least the part of it which supports Koncoš, has changed very little since it shed its former Communist Party skin in 1990 and wriggled back onto the political stage. Its beliefs comprise almost an antithesis to the hopes of people who flocked to the public squares of the capital 12 years ago: that the public has no business knowing how the country is run, that people in power need not even pretend to take the law seriously, and that to speak or write about corruption in high places is to be a subversive propagandist.
While few people in Slovakia sympathise with the SDĽ's approach, the same can't be said of those who actually make the rules in parliament or the state bureaucracy. For those who believe the opposite and wait impatiently for the promise of 1989 to be fulfilled, Koncoš is yet more evidence of what every good gardener and revolutionary knows - that if you don't get all the roots, the weeds just grow back.
19. Nov 2001 at 0:00