Slovenská Republika readers have always been avid supporters of Vladimír Mečiar's HZDS party, and the paper has vowed to stand by them.
photo: Peter Brenkus
HZDS Vice Chairman Rudolf Žiak said on September 21 that the party's decision had been taken on the basis of recent changes at the daily which, the HZDS feared, would turn the paper against its former sponsors. Žiak said that Republika's owners had refused to meet party representatives after an ownership shuffle in early September, adding, "we know for certain that they are not HZDS-positive people."
Žiak added that his party would soon launch a new HZDS-backed daily, which would effectively take the place of the estranged Republika.
But Republika's new management refuted Žiak's statements. Republika's new editor-in-chief Eduard Fašung, who held the same post two years ago, said that the paper would remain a "HZDS voter- and sympathiser-focused paper," but added that other parties would be given press space as well in an attempt to bring objectivity to Republika's pages. "We do not want to be a daily which only spreads one-sided information," he said.
Political professionals, however, say that the HZDS has no real quarrel with Republika, and that the party is simply trying to widen its public exposure. "When the party was in power [from 1994 to 1998], it controlled many media channels, including Slovak Television," said Luboš Kubín, a political analyst at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. "Having lost STV, the party is trying to find more room to present itself to the public."
Ján Fule, the president of the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists, said he was confident that Republika would not be changing its political colours. "In Slovakia, no daily newspaper is more party-oriented than Slovenská Republika," he said. "That's why I was surprised by Žiak's declarations."
Žiak blamed the recent ownership changes at Republika on pressures exerted by the current ruling coalition. These changes, Žiak said, were part of the government's effort to silence the only opposition daily in Slovakia and thereby deprive the HZDS of a friendly media outlet.
On September 3, Republika reported that it had been bought by a company named Maduco, which is owned by the former director of Slovak Television and HZDS member Igor Kubiš. The paper then did an about-face and said that due to "discrepancies" in the company's finances, Maduco was not, and had never been, a Republika owner. According to the SITA news agency, František Marko and his publishing company R-Press returned to the fold as owners.
Fašung replaced Jaroslav Rezník as editor-in-chief; Rezník left the daily in early September to become an advisor to Slovak President Rudolf Schuster. These changes, say party officials, have created a rift between the party and the paper, prompting the HZDS to seek a media voice of their own.
This is a view strictly refuted by Republika management. According to Fašung, the daily has never departed from its "hard-line approach of opposition and pro-HZDS policy. If a group within the HZDS believes that these changes will affect the style or orientation which our readers have grown accustomed to, it is a fantasy which misinforms even HZDS boss Vladimír Mečiar," Fasung said.
He also denied Žiak's allegation that the new leadership had refused to meet HZDS representatives. "I am the CEO at R-Press, and I have led repeated intensive talks with Žiak. At the same time, I am in constant contact with the HZDS leadership," Fašung said.
Judging from Republika's September issues, Fašung's loyalty to the HZDS would not seem to be in question - the same political commentators are still in full voice against the government, while interview space is reserved for members of Mečiar's previous governments.
But Žiak says that plans for a new pro-HZDS daily continue apace. No official date for the paper's debut has been set, but Žiak said the new publication would not be "just a political daily serving HZDS promotion only, but an opposition daily fed by financial circles close to the HZDS."
STV director Kubiš has repeatedly expressed interest in the job of publishing the new daily, but HZDS officials have not taken the bait. HZDS Spokesman Marián Kardoš said on September 22 that "launching a new daily is Kubiš's private initiative - one he has not discussed with the Movement. Kubiš is not even an employee of the HZDS apparatus. [The new publication] will be none of Kubiš's business."
Kardoš added that the daily had not yet been given a name, and said the party was still searching for a suitable editor-in-chief. Asked if Dušan Kleiman, the former director of the TASR news agency, was being considered, Kardoš did not exclude the possibility, but dubbed it unlikely, saying Kleiman was "devoted" to his new career as a lawyer.
Additional reporting by
4. Oct 1999 at 0:00 | Chris Togneri