Arms control in Slovakia is a dirty, disorganised business which could threaten the country's integration hopes. But rather than clean it up, state bureaucrats are either furiously denying the problem or ducking for cover.
Members of the arms export license commission have supervisory roles at private arms traders, which is apparently not illegal under Slovak law but is definitely not a confidence booster for Nato members. The chairman of the commission, Deputy Economy Minister Peter Brňo, told this newspaper that he wasn't aware of the fact, a scarcely credible claim given that commissioner and Economy Ministry section director Vojtech Pánik makes no secret of his defence industry ties. On the other hand, if Brňo really doesn't know what his commissioners are doing, he has no business chairing the country's sole arms export control mechanism.
Brňo also apparently isn't aware of how many people actually sit on the commission. First he says five, then after mentally counting seven. His press department says nine. The problem is that people who leave the commission take up to two years to be officially recalled by the government. Another problem is that heavily compromised Mečiar-era commissioners somehow were reappointed by the new cabinet in March 1999, with Army general Leopold Bilčík hanging on to his post until October 10, 2001.
Another member of the commission said he also didn't know the composition of the license agency, while an ex-commissioner said he was fed up with the whole business, and that if he went public with what he knew, the fat would really be in the fire where Slovak integration was concerned.
Ladies and gentlemen of the commission, this isn't good enough. Those of you who know of illegal practices are obliged by law to report this information to the police. Those of you with private arms interests are required by the rules of ethics governing society to step down. Those of you claiming not to know who sits on the commission, or what is done in its name, are bound by the nation's best interests to open your eyes and have a peek in the business register.
It's not as if there's a shortage of suspicious arms deals and traders. Sources tell The Slovak Spectator that an Mi-24 helicopter gunship flown into Bratislava in 2000 for refitting and then export to embargoed Liberia was met at the airport by Russian arms smuggler Alexander Islamov.
License commissioners truly interested in discovering how the Slovak arms trade works might ask why Russian arms monopoly Promexport has a stake in the firm B-Hermes along with Slovak arms trader Hermes, which is the Defence Ministry's official partner for the arms trade with Angola. They might be interested that Hermes' turnover has increased from around Sk600 million in 1997 and 1998 to Sk2.2 billion under the Dzurinda government in 1999, the year Hermes exported 200 T-55 tanks to Angola. Or that former Defence Minister Pavol Kanis allowed Hermes officials to visit a Slovak air force base to check out six MiG29s they were interested in buying, even though the government had never discussed selling them. They might want to ask about the interest of the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ) and the Christian Democrats (KDH) in the arms industry, and address their questions to Brňo (SDĽ), Defence Minister Jozef Stank (SDĽ), Deputy Defence Ministers Jozef Pivarči (KDH) and Rastislav Káčer (appointed on Stank's suggestion).
For good measure they might also take a look at airline Slovtrans Air of Piešťany, owned by one Mohamad Ahmad Saad of Lebanon according to the business register. From 1994 to 1997 Slovtrans ran two airplanes they had obtained from Omega Air, a firm flying basically Dublin/Liberia routes. One of those planes later wound up on the Liberian registry, another on the Congo registry. Slovtrans was the firm running the Boeing that crashed with a load of arms at Bratislava airport in 1999, although this time with a Cyprus registered plane.
Ladies and gentlemen of the commission, if you aren't going to let the public know what arms exports you authorise and why, you have demonstrate that you have the country's best interests at heart, and that you're doing your best not to let criminals fuel global conflicts with Slovak weapons. Answers such as "I don't know", "it's his problem" and "there is no problem" damage such public confidence and demonstrate only the collective irresponsibility and ignorance of the license commission.