Turf marks. Recent bombs in Bratislava have been linked to underworld battles between rival criminal factions.
The first bomb exploded in a car parked at Šancová ulica 72 on August 25 but caused no injuries; at three o'clock the next morning a bomb blast at a money-exchange booth near K-mart blew the leg off a plainclothes policeman who bled to death five hours later. A third explosion ripped through a car parked at Muškátová ulica on September 3, causing extensive damage to adjacent cars and buildings but no injuries. "It really is out of the ordinary now," said Ján Kosťov, chief of the Interior Ministry's Department of Investigations.
Police Department statistics show an alarming upward trend in bomb blasts in Slovakia from two in 1992 to 23 explosions last year. Police say that of 20 such cases reported this year, they have solved one. Police spokesman Dušan Ivan says most of the bombs in Bratislava are deployed in vicious turf disputes between money-changers or against their common enemy, the licensed operators of exchange booths like the one bombed near K-mart last month.
Speaking the day after the September 3 bomb attack, Interior Minister Gustáv Krajči referred to a drop in police discipline, while Police President Jozef Holdoš announced that the government and the police were "preparing measures" to stem the outbreak of explosions. Neither offered details.
The second blast
In the August 26 blast at the exchange booth inside K-mart, the Czech news agency ČTK reported that a second policeman is now being investigated for plotting it. While declining to discuss the allegation, Kosťov conceded that such reports make it "hard to regain the people's trust."
"The bad thing today is that older policemen can no longer communicate their sense of responsibility to the younger officers," Kosťov told The Slovak Spectator. "Policemen employed since 1989 have no pride in their profession. There are people in the police, like everywhere, who are good, worse and also bad. Unfortunately there are some who damage the police's reputation."
Marián Lenčeš, the former owner of the K-mart booth (which he sold shortly thereafter), told the weekly magazine Plus 7 Dni that he repeatedly complained to the police of losing business to shady "entrepreneurs" hustling hard currency in the area near his booth. Lenčeš said he watched as his illicit rivals enticed scores of tourists with attractive exchange rates only to short-change them with a well-timed distraction, and observed other riffraff picking the pockets of tourists and passers-by.
Asked if the police had ever heeded Lences or tried to discourage the money-changers engaged in brisk trade near his stand, Ivan said there was little the policemen who routinely patrol the area could do. "There are ten police patrols in the area of K-mart at almost all times, but we have to be realistic and accept the fact that if somebody wants to kill or blow something or somebody up, the police must take extraordinary measures," Ivan told The Slovak Spectator.
"We are not able to protect shopkeepers or money-changers around the clock," Ivan continued. "Although [Lences] had hired a night-time security guard, even he couldn't prevent the bomb going off at his booth. We have to realize that those who want to plant bombs are professionals who know what they're doing."
Kostov said steps the government has taken to halt the bombing include reviewing all the cases from the last two years, with the aim of establishing a "methodology" for tracking down bombers, creating new special police units with sniffer dogs, and urging citizens to "keep their eyes and ears open, so we can all breathe and sleep better."
Bombs with a new look
Traces of explosive found at bomb sites in the last three years show while some bombs are home-made, more widespread are those manufactured for industrial, military or construction purposes. Traces of danubit, a type of explosive used for quarrying, were found at the site of the first of last month's Bratislava bombs. This type of explosive is commonly found at worksites, warehouses and supply depots, where Ivan said the police must cooperate more closely with construction and mining companies to safeguard security and stamp out corruption.
Ivan insists that the best solution to the bomb blast wave is to add a paragraph to the Slovak criminal code cracking down on bombers. The law, he said, inflicts a maximum punishment of eight years in prison, no matter how destructive the crime.
"We are in the process of preparing major changes to the criminal code," Ivan said. "I personally believe that stronger punishment will improve this situation."
Of the explosions recorded outside the Slovak capital, Kostov said the majority also stem from money-changer disputes, but suggested it was anyone's guess whether the recent triple burst of violence marked the beginning of a nationwide incendiary trend.
"We don't suppose that there is any connection among individual cases in Bratislava and the rest of Slovakia," Kostov said. "It's hard to say if it's just an accidental and abnormal number of explosions, or if it's going to spread in the future."
24. Sep 1996 at 0:00 | Tom Reynolds