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Ivan Mjartan: "We don't make our celebrities, we destroy them"

After the 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Ivan Mjartan worked for the state-run Slovak Radio as a journalist. In 1992 he quit the station to run in the 1992 elections for the HZDS party of Vladimír Mečiar in the former Czechoslovak Federal Parliament.
After the split of the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993, Mjartan was appointed Slovak Ambassador to Prague. In 1998, he left his ambassadorial post and entered the HZDS for the second time to manage the party's election campaign. Surprisingly, after Mečiar's defeat in the September national elections, Mjartan left the HZDS and announced his intent to form a new party with a modern social-democratic orientation. The Slovak Spectator met Mjartan on February 25 to discuss his planned new party and his view of Slovak politics.


Ivan Mjartan, former Slovak Ambassador to the Czech Republic.
photo: Courtesy Ivan Mjartan

After the 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia in 1989, Ivan Mjartan worked for the state-run Slovak Radio as a journalist. In 1992 he quit the station to run in the 1992 elections for the HZDS party of Vladimír Mečiar in the former Czechoslovak Federal Parliament.

After the split of the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993, Mjartan was appointed Slovak Ambassador to Prague. In 1998, he left his ambassadorial post and entered the HZDS for the second time to manage the party's election campaign. Surprisingly, after Mečiar's defeat in the September national elections, Mjartan left the HZDS and announced his intent to form a new party with a modern social-democratic orientation. The Slovak Spectator met Mjartan on February 25 to discuss his planned new party and his view of Slovak politics.


The Slovak Spectator (TSS): What's your opinion on the Krajči case?

Ivan Mjartan (IM): I think that what happened in parliament did not help Slovak politics, but rather harmed it instead. The case was politicised for no reason - one side politically accused and sentenced, the other side refused this judgement. But neither had the right to do what they did.The whole point was lost, and what remained was the theme, from which both sides tried to profit.


TSS: In the declassified report on the Slovak secret service, there is evidence that the Slovak Information Service operated in the Czech Republic to harm that country's chances of NATO and EU membership. Did you as an Ambassador have any information about their activities?

IM: The Slovak Embassy in Prague never had anything to do with any intelligence service. I personally had no information that any of the Embassy employees had contacts with the intelligence service. Even the Czech side could refute the connection between the Embassy and activities [of the SIS].


TSS: Going all the way back to the beginning of your political career in 1991, what was your involvement in the creation of the HZDS?

IM: We attempted to form a modern leftist-liberal grouping, and with regard to the contemporary political situation, we thought it should be formally established as a movement. That means that it wasn't to be a standard political party, but a grouping on a wider part of the political spectrum.


TSS: How long did you work with the HZDS and what was your position?

IM: My actual membership lasted from June 1992 to January 1993. I didn't have any post in district, regional or national committees of the HZDS, I was just a regular member. In 1993, the government decided to send me to Prague as the Slovak Ambassador. Even the President Michal Kováč supported this idea. After I returned to Slovakia [in 1998], I resigned from the post of Ambassador, and two or three days before the [September national] elections I entered the HZDS.


TSS: Why did you leave the HZDS after the elections?

IM: All of a sudden, I found myself in a movement which was full of people who were new to me. I couldn't find anyone who had the same philosophy, the same opinions and ideas about how Slovakia should go on. Even our opinions on election strategies differed, how to address voters, and so on. I would like to stress that before my return I didn't have bad relations with the HZDS, and I watched political life [in Slovakia] only through the media. But when I came back I found that society had been traumatized and polarized. The disappointment I experienced when I saw the real situation made me say "Enough!" Because I imagined modern European politics differently, and had different ideas about how politics should be praticed. That was the reason why I left the HZDS.


TSS: Vladimír Mečiar said some time ago that the main problem of Slovak politics is not the opposition, but the fact that the opposition is weak. Do you think that this is still valid with respect to the current opposition?

IM: I think that the Slovak political scene needs standardization above all else, which means that leftist and rightist parties should be clearly defined, as well as the principal and the marginal political powers. Today, the way it works is that someone founds a political party and in the first three years of its existence he tries to work out where his party belongs [on the political spectrum].


TSS: You said that Slovakia lacks parties with clearly defined political orientation. Do you think that people are ready to vote for the kind of party that you are going to establish, which, as you said, will have a precise political orientation?

IM: You have to ask yourself if your aim to create a standard political spectrum or is the aim to win the next parliamentary elections by hook or by crook? If the first option is what you want, you have to count on the possibility that you won't succeed in the next elections. But you won't change your ideology either. At the moment, there is just one politician who - at any cost - sticks to the ideology of his political party - Ján Čarnogurský [Justice Minister and chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement]. It's interesting to see people behave like totally rightist politicians in a leftist party, and at the same time right-wing groupings with a social, and indeed almost socialist orientation. A clarification of ideologies must come; it awaits only someone to start the process.


TSS: Will you wait for existing parties to 'clarify' the spectrum or will you enter the scene with clearly defined party?

IM: We, which means my friends and I, want to found a party whose ambition is not to succeed in the next elections. We won't even aim to go against this government and harm its stability. I thought that my challenge was clearly understood. But in Slovakia, whether you say something good or wrong, it's always unacceptable for someone. It's the same problem with finding two or three people with clean records, who could run in direct presidential elections. We don't say that [Rudolf] Schuster is a smart mayor, we say instead that he had his house built in a shady way. And it's the same with all the other candidates. We don't make our celebrities, we destroy them. This is due to Slovak people's lack of self-confidence.


TSS: Who have you talked to about joining your new party from among the current parliamentary deputies?

IM: In Slovakia it's very dangerous to say with whom you spoke. You meet a politician, and immediately there's a scandal. For example, [SDĽ deputy] Róbert Fico - I felt as if Mr. Fico couldn't meet Mjartan, even though I don't understand why. I don't want to cause problems for anyone, but I can say that I talked to people from practically every parliamentary party.

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