This was how the car driven by Žilina police inspector Miroslav Hlinica looked after a bomb placed under the driver's seat exploded, killing the officer.
The police retaliation was a reaction to what is widely perceived as the latest violent uprising by Slovakia's criminal underground. But unlike before, when mob elements surfaced to vent their fatal fury on fellow mobsters, the latest killings indicate that organized crime has redirected its campaign of death and destruction to upholders of the law.
On April 28 in Žilina, a bomb was detonated under the car seat of 29-year-old police inspector Miroslav Hlinica. Three days before, another cop was killed in the Petržalka section of Bratislava. In that case, an unidentified individual fired four bullets from close range into the head of a 28-year-old second lieutenant, known only as Radek L., while he returned home from his nightshift not far from his apartment.
Slovak Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar reacted to the killings, saying the government has "picked up the glove that's been dropped," meaning that it was more than ready to fight back. First, it announced a one million Sk reward for information that would lead to the killers' arrest. Then it began to act.
Before he died, Hlinica allegedly told his colleagues who killed him. A few days later, police raided the city's restaurants, public places and some private apartments in an attempt to flush out the murderer. They lost on two counts: first, they were unsuccessful in finding the killer, and second, their tactics backfired.
According to statements from some of the raid's victims who said they were too afraid to give their names, the officers acted brutally - yelling, kicking people in the crotch, hitting them in the face and beating them. The local hospital's emergency room treated and released almost twenty people with bashed heads, contusions, broken ribs and wrenched necks. Two people were hospitalized.
Peter Ondera, spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the police acted within the rules and centered their raids on spots where people linked to the underworld often gather. Ondera called the use of force "mild," adding "no guns were used in any of the cases.'' According to Ondera, during the raids "some people tried to tear off the policemen's masks, or tried to put their hands in the inside pocket of their jackets."
"No one can tell whether a citizen will take out an ID card or a 9 milimeter gun," Ondera said, adding the raids would continue ''until the regional police headquarters considers them unnecessary."
Ondera said that any citizen who is harmed or feels that the police used excessive force - which during such raids "cannot be entirely excluded," - can turn to the authorities. Three complaints alleging excessive force by the police during the raids had been filed by May 10, Ondera said.
Ján Slota, Žilina's mayor and chairman of the Slovak National Party, termed the raids "adequate" given the seriousness of the situation. "I can't imagine how those who now criticize the police would react if the bomb blast hit a group of high school students passing by,'' Slota said. The president of the police corps Jozef Holdoš - nominated to the post by Slota - ordered that special troops, trained in fighting terrorism, be part of the raid forces. Many experts said this was unnecesary.
According to Béla Bugár, a parliamentary deputy with the Hungarian coalition who focuses on fighting organized crime, the raid is indicative of a wider problem infecting the nation's police corps - that of incompetence or being linked to the underworld. "In the region where I live [Dunajská Streda], there have been two police raids in the past ten days, but the mobsters got away before the police hit the place," Bugár said. "Apparently, they had been warned."
"If the [interior] ministry had different leadership, I can imagine Slovakia would put an end to the use of mob-like methods," Bugár continued. "But under the current leadership, which covers up many mistakes, I strongly doubt it."
Last December, Bugár along with Ladislav Pittner and Ján Langoš, colleagues from other parties opposed to the government, carried out a parliamentary inspection of the interior ministry and discovered ''serious transgressions." However, Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči said that what they found out was classified.
Ondera does not believe the Slovak police is corrupt. "If the gentlemen have proof, they should present it,'' he said.
"We are responsible for security in this state, which is not sufficient, and the same politicians always criticize us for it," the ministry's press spokesman added.
Ondera said that if a policeman orders "hands up" or "against the wall," people must obey immediately and silently.
Pittner, a former interior minister from the opposition Christian Democratic Movement, said Krajči has placed bad advisors around him and he himself has no experience with such work. "If the police's leadership does not stand behind them and does not protect them from political pressure, they do not respect their superiors and the police as a whole ceases to function."
The interior ministry refuted any link between the two murders. But even after two weeks of searching, the police have not found the culprit.
22. May 1997 at 0:00 | Zita Sujová