After two weeks of unofficial press reports and political in-fighting about the public's right to read the February 12 report on the secret activities of the SIS under former Prime Minister Mečiar, current SIS head Vladimír Mitro decided last Wednesday to declassify most of the document.
It was the largest development in a week of continued hype about the long report, which details illegal activities of the SIS from 1995 to 1998. The report charges that the Russian-oriented SIS was involved in the kidnapping of former President Michal Kováč's son, sought to defame Slovak church officials and intimidated and terrorized journalists and political opponents.
The service is also accused of working to stir up anti-minority sentiments among citizens of Slovakia and neighboring countries in a play to hurt their chances of EU and NATO acceptance.
Government officials had threatened to prosecute newspapers and other media which revealed sections of the confidential report, such as daily newspaper Sme, claiming they illegally published state secrets. But after the declassification, the private station TV Markíza broadcast a report saying the media would not be prosecuted for violating the ban.
Talk of punishing the papers had garnered heavy criticism from members of the government coalition, as well from the newspapers themselves.
The Democratic Party, which forms the right wing of the SDK government coalition party, issued an official statement which said that an attempt to prosecute journalists and politicians who revealed the report details would "mock" the efforts to clean the SIS of similar practices.
"Journalists and media who published the report were only fulfilling their duty and were working for the public's benefit," the statement read.
But the goverment's own Interior Ministry thought otherwise. Vladimír Benček, head of the Interior Ministry Department of Confidential Matters Protection, said on Feburary 22 that media who exposed a state secret by publishing information from a closed session of parliament should be prosecuted. So should those who leaked the information, he said.
"If it turns out that people eligible to view state secrets provided the information to journalists, they will also be penalized," Benček said.
Some coalition deputies defended the media and their parties from being prosecuted for informing the public of law violations of the former government.
"Politically motivated activities must not be classified as state secrets," said Ivan Brndiar, deputy for the ruling coalition SDK party.
Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda appealed February 22 to the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) boss Vladimír Mitro to publish those parts of his report that would not harm state security interests.
SIS conspiracy in Czech denied
Meciar responded on February 19 to the "Black Book"'s allegations by writing a letter to the Czech Premier, denying his secret service caused any harm to the country.
"I declare on my honour and conscience that neither the government of the Slovak Republic, nor its members, its defence council or any other bodies, conducted any activities against the basic interests of the Czech Republic, especially when we [Czech and Slovak Republics] had common interests," Mečiar wrote.
On February 18, the Czech daily Lidové Noviny had reported that the Czech Intelligence Service (BIS) was checking through its agents to find out if some of them had been closely tied to the former staff of the SIS.
One senior police officer who requested anonymity went further, saying that such agents were still employed in the BIS, the paper reported.
"People with Slovak background work with BIS. Today, these people travel to Slovakia, and there is risk that they could reveal [confidential] information," the daily quoted him assaying.
The following day, Jaroslav Bašta, a Czech Minister who oversees the BIS and other intelligence services, confirmed that the Czech cabinet had information about SIS activities in the Czech Republic under the leadership of Ivan Lexa, head of the SIS under Mečiar.
But Mečiar claimed that Mitro's report was full of intentional lies attempting to win support of certain Czech political powers in a time of internal political battle in Slovakia. "From this point I consider the report an intelligence game," Mečiar wrote.
Regardless of the truth of the matter, the Slovak cabinet decided on February 25 to issue a formal apology on the nation's behalf to its neighbours - the Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria - for having interfered in their domestic affairs.