"Those planning to mar my commands or not comply with laws will be prosecuted."
General Jozef Tuchyňa
Told that Slovak Army Chief of Staff Jozef Tuchyňa was still the highest military authority in the land, the soldier nodded, a grim smile on his lips. "That's good," he murmured. "I stand behind Tuchyňa and his leadership."
Only hours earlier, on August 19, Slovak parliamentary speaker Ivan Gašparovič had recalled Tuchyňa and appointed a new chief of staff. The new man, Colonel Marián Mikluš, was immediately assailed by Tuchyňa and Slovak political opposition parties as an inexperienced candidate who had been illegally nominated.
But on August 20, Mikluš was sworn in even as Tuchyňa warned the army not to obey the orders of the newcomer. "Since recalling me was illegal, I continue to be Chief of the Slovak Army General Staff," he said for independent TV Markíza. "Those planning to mar my commands or not comply with laws will be prosecuted."
The irony of the stand-off was that Tuchyňa had asked months earlier to be released from duty before the natural expiry of his term as chief on September 30, due to his intentions to enter politics. Tuchyňa is presently in 9th spot on the candidates list of the former communist SDĽ party.
But the transition between Tuchyňa and his successor was legally flawed, said political and army critics. According to Slovak law, the new chief has to be nominated by the Defense Minister, currently Ján Sitek of the nationalist SNS party. Mikluš, however, had been nominated by Premier Mečiar. Sitek, before he left for a holiday in Mexico, nominated General Emil Vestenický, a candidate who was not acceptable to Gašparovič.
The curious tale took yet another turn when Mečiar said that Mikluš had been recommended to him by the state secretary at the Ministry of Defence, Jozef Gajdoš. At a press conference in Trenčín on August 20, Gajdoš told reporters that he "gave no suggestions to the Prime Minister'," and then launched into a furious tirade against Sitek and Tuchyňa.
"Don't let [Tuchyňa] make these kinds of statements against me in the media, or I'll begin evaluating his merits in the observance of laws in this country," said Gajdoš. Agreeing that Sitek's handling of the Ministry was incompetent, Gajdoš warned "don't let the SNS...provoke me, or I'll start to talk about the real merits of Defence Minister Ján Sitek and his portfolio, and then we'll get to some very serious home truths."
In the end, both government and opposition politicians pinned the blame for the fiasco squarely on the holidaying Sitek. SNS vice-chairperson Anna Malíkova said that "the party is against these methods of ruling," while Ján Čarnogurský, a deputy with the largest opposition party, the SDK, called the timing of Sitek's holiday "irresponsible," and said that the appointment of Mikluš "has brought chaos into the Slovak Army and seriously damaged its functioning and reputation."
Tuchyňa, who is also on holiday, in the spa town of Piešťany, said he would not break off his vacation "unless illegal acts take place."
Meanwhile, in a little-noticed ceremony at Bratislava castle on August 20, Speaker Gašparovič appointed seven new Majors-General and five new Lieutenants-General.