Lieutenant Columbo, called in to solve the mysteries of the Mečiar era, waits patiently to interview former secret service boss Ivan Lexa on his alleged involvement in high-level crime.
Here's a brief re-cap of what we know so far: The SIS intimidated, attacked and beat up journalists and put politicians from both sides of parliament under surveillance; it conspired to remove President Michal Kováč from office by kidnapping his son; it orchestrated the invasion of private TV Markíza last fall by armed men; it used Slovak underworld figures to carry out its dirty work; it conducted a campaign in neighbouring countries (the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland) to discredit their governments and derail their processes of EU and NATO integration; it launched a domestic campaign to turn Slovaks against NATO and towards Russia.
That's quite a list already, and there will be more to come as former SIS boss Ivan Lexa loses his parliamentary immunity and is pressured to squeal on his old pals.
The amazing thing in all this is that we know so much. New SIS chief Vladimír Mitro read his report on the activities of the secret service on Friday, February 12 in a closed session of parliament. The session was in camera, he said, because the report contained classified information which, if leaked, could prejudice the course of investigations. A gag order was thus issued to MP's, and the report locked away from prying eyes.
But before the weekend was half over, TV Markíza had broadcast large chunks of the SIS report to a rapt audience. Daily papers like Pravda and Sme carried interviews in which MP's blithely confirmed the most shocking elements of the study. "No more questions and no more answers" said Vladimír Palko, an MP with the government Christian Democrat party, after spilling his guts to Sme.
Don't expect to see anyone go to jail for revealing classified information, though the government intended all along that the report should be made public.
In the Vladimír Mečiar era, whenever Slovak people were presented with a shocking piece of news about their government, they responded with a shrug and a fatalistic sigh. The 1997 referendum scandal, the 1997 actors' strike, the 1998 amnesties, endless privatisations - all of these events appeared and faded from the media for lack of public concern, almost as if their implications were to disturbing to consider.
Clearly, it was important for cabinet that the SIS report remain lodged in the public consciousness long enough to generate sufficient momentum for prosecutions and investigations. How better to achieve this, cabinet may have reasoned, than by shrouding the report in a spurious cloak of secrecy?
The producers of the American TV detective serial Columbo have known for ages that people are fascinated to see how the good guys go about catching the bad guys. Almost every installment of Columbo has the murder at the beginning, followed by Columbo's dogged pursuit of the culprits in his farting Volvo, and for good reason - viewers get both the security of knowing who dunnit and the spectacle of finding out how.
By leaking details of the SIS report, MP's have briefly transformed political life in this country into an imitation of Columbo's art. Everyone who reads a paper or watches TV now knows that Lexa dunnit, from subversion to surveillance to sabotage. Now they get to sit back and watch the culprit wriggle as Inspector Columbo gets his man.
21. Feb 1999 at 0:00