Broken by a razor blade
If history could be erased, and the crimes of the past four years in Slovakia obliterated, many former government members would not need Mečiar for protection any longer. Instead of an eraser, however, these people found former members of the secret service - the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) - who were willing to talk. Only three months after investigations were launched, two key men from the SIS are already sitting in custody.
One of these men, former deputy SIS boss Jaroslav Svěchota, has already squealed on his former colleagues and confessed to his own role in the kidnapping of the son of the former president. Why did Svěchota break? We can't be sure, but after 2 months in isolation, in 'protective custody,' he received a present from an unknown benefactor - a book, which contained a razor blade to warn him against spilling the beans.
The razor blade achieved quite the opposite effect - apart from confessing to the abduction, Svěchota also gave the names of the people who had organised it. Nobody has officialy confirmed that the names Mečiar and Lexa appear on the list of culprits, but attentive listeners may already have found these names between the lines of public statements by the Interior Ministry's Chief Investigator, Jaroslav Ivor.
What else could the HZDS Chairman do in such a situation but accept his party's nomination to run for head of state? After all, it is politically inappropriate to prosecute a presidential candidate.
Mečiar's bag of amnesties
By the end of May, Slovakia will once again have a president, the country's highest constitutional representative, after almost 14 months without one. In the meantime, the investigation of the Michal Kováč Jr. kidnapping and a host of other SIS crimes may have advanced to the point at which Mečiar's prosecution is inevitable.
On this train to Europe, which the current goverment has dispatched, there is no place left for Mečiar, either as a politician or as a president. Thus one has to ask, why has the HZDS nominated Mečiar when he is almost sure to lose?
The answer is almost surely tied up with the Presidential power to confer amnesty, and the bag of pardons that Mečiar could distribute if, by the wildest possible chance, he became president.
Who would stand to benefit from any such amnesties? Lexa, of course, and maybe other hitherto unknown gentlemen who have hitherto unknown crimes on their consciences. According to Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, the SIS was not the only intelligence service that functioned in Slovakia over the last four years, and is not the only spy ring now. A parallel service, the minister says, was erected during the 1994 to 1998 Mečiar government and was guided by someone who was in contact with organized crime in the east of the country. This person, in addition to Lexa and Mečiar himself, is naturally anxious for the HZDS Chairman to become president.
Schuster brings hope
Lexa's demeanour was so confident on the day he was taken into custody - "I am prepared, both mentally and physically," he said to reporters, flourishing a toothbrush - that some nasty suspicions have been raised about the possibility of an amnesty being extended. An amnesty, that is, not from President Mečiar, but from President Rudolf Schuster.
The HZDS fears a new president only if the following conditions obtain: if the Constitutional Court does not decide that Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's revision of the amnesty Mečiar extended in March 1998 to Lexa and co. is against the law; if the future president is not willing to give the SIS bad guys a pardon; and if the new president is equally unforgiving of Mečiar.
With candidates like former president Michal Kováč and former actress Magda Vášáryová, the chance of clemency can be dismissed out of hand, but with Schuster it is not so sure. For one thing, he has been spotted by coalition politicians in a friendly talk with Lexa, and for another, he has consistently refused to make a clear statement on whether or not he would amnesty the people involved in the kidnapping and the marred 1997 NATO referendum.
If the Constitutional Court decides, as is likely, that the Dzurinda amnesty revision does not contradict the constitution, Schuster will have nowhere to hide from the question. But even then, there will be plenty of time before we get to the first court hearing even in Lexa's case, even up to a year or two. By that time, Slovakia's social situation may have greatly changed, and its political constellation along with it. As the next national elections draw closer, the public's attitude towards such amnesties or pardons may not be the same as it is now.
If Lexa is indeed counting on this, we may suppose that it was he who insisted and eventually managed to persuade the HZDS Chairman to run for president. Mečiar's 20% support, as the polls show, will secure him an easy win against any of the independent candidates, and will guarantee him a showdown in the second, run-off round with the coallition candidate, Rudolf Schuster. Then we will see what we will see.
We will see, for example, if all police investigators, voters and politicians suddenly go stone blind.
Milan Žitny works for Radio Free Europe. This article first appeared in Domino Fórum, No.16, April 22 to 28.