At three o'clock on a November afternoon , a coal barge on the Danube River could be seen from the windows of the Slovak Parliament building. The boat was struggling upstream through the mist, while the river, swollen with sediment and fall rains, was in full spate.
The Slovak Parliament has also been in flux this month. A tide of government policy statements has swept away the information barriers erected by the former Mečiar cabinet, leaving dirty laundry and red-handed crooks above the water line. The halls of the parliament building smell fresher and cleaner than they did two weeks ago, and the air is crisp with excitement at what has already occured.
Virtually all ministries have been swept clean of the political appointees of the former ruling parties. Particularly stiff brooms have been used at the Culture, Privatisation and Health Ministries, leaving deputies from the opposition HZDS party whining about the "undemocratic methods" of the new government.
Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner has spoken of the existence of a shadow secret service, one that duplicated the official Slovak Information Service (SIS) but which maintained strong ties to the underworld. Pittner has promised to pursue agents who participated in this shadow SIS, and has also vowed to strip former SIS director Ivan Lexa of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution if he is found to have been involved in criminal wrongdoing.
The Minister of Justice, Ján Čarnogurský, has mooted another possible prosecution, that of former Premier Vladimír Mečiar. Mečiar could be taken to court, Čarnogurský said, if he was found to have been involved in any of the political crimes of the past four years, but was more likely to be given amnesty from prosecution by the next Slovak President, possibly Rudolf Schuster, the head of the SOP party, a minor coalition partner.
Heads at large state companies have also started to roll. Economy Minister Ľudovít Černák wasted little time on November 5 in dismissing Ján Ducký, a former HZDS deputy and boss of the giant Slovak Gas Industry (SPP), while speculation is mounting as to whether Slovenské Elektrárne boss Tibor Mikuš will see out the year at his current salary.
HZDS appointees have been booted out of media control board seats, meaning that state television (STV) and radio (SRo) may soon be returned to their public service function. The new Slovak Ambassadors to Ottawa, Vienna and Washington have also been yanked, and more deserving rumps installed in their still-warm chairs.
Delegations of cabinet representatives have been furiously touring the European Union, trying to mind their manners and look like democrats. Economic and Finance Ministry officials have begun to bow and scrape appealingly before foreign investors. Domestic newspapers are packed every day with tolerant words for minorities.
And beyond the efficient bustle of government, members of the former Mečiar cabinet wander the halls of parliament. Once inviolable, they now seem reduced and desperately vulnerable to retribution after four years of misrule.
Change is everywhere in Slovakia these days, but its very pace has made reflection impossible. The nation is hurtling towards EU integration, foreign investment, democratic government and respect for the rule of law, and its path has been prepared by a gush of positive government communiqués. One wonders, however, if the strength of the propaganda current has not discouraged the coal barges of dissent that are necessary to every healthy democracy.
16. Nov 1998 at 0:00