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Smolec stuns many by leaving Slovenská Republika

Ján Smolec, the colorful and controversial editor-in-chief of the pro-government daily Slovenská Republika for the past two-and-a-half years, is leaving his post to concentrate more on his obligations as a member of Parliament. He will be replaced by Eduard Fašung, the current editor-in-chief of the daily Práca, starting September 1. "Yes, dear readers, it's time to leave," Smolec wrote in early August. "I've increased the paper's circulation and shaped the paper to what it is now. Presently, my position of a parliamentary deputy does not allow me to do my job at the newspaper properly, so I have decided to choose between the two."


As chief editor, Ján Smolec gave Slovenská Republika a boost.
Peter Brenkus

Ján Smolec, the colorful and controversial editor-in-chief of the pro-government daily Slovenská Republika for the past two-and-a-half years, is leaving his post to concentrate more on his obligations as a member of Parliament. He will be replaced by Eduard Fašung, the current editor-in-chief of the daily Práca, starting September 1.

"Yes, dear readers, it's time to leave," Smolec wrote in early August. "I've increased the paper's circulation and shaped the paper to what it is now. Presently, my position of a parliamentary deputy does not allow me to do my job at the newspaper properly, so I have decided to choose between the two."

Smolec's written resignation stunned many, since Slovenská Republika under Smolec's tutelage had become a passionate backer of Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in a journalistic environment that many in the government complain as being geared against them. Yet, Smolec has been a HZDS deputy since October 1994, and his double duty as newspaper chief and MP had not been an issue until now. Asked to talk about his decision, Smolec turned down an interview with The Slovak Spectator. "He does not want to talk about it," Smolec's secretary said.

A colleague at Slovenská Republika, however, gave some insight into the change. According to columnist Jerguš Ferko, the main reason for Smolec's departure was probably the conflict of interest in being both a deputy and an editor-in-chief and taking two salaries.

The job of editor-in-chief requires a "whole man," Ferko said, implying that Smolec's splitting duties kept him from devoting himself fully to the newspaper. Yet Ferko thinks that Smolec will contribute from time to time. Smolec "as an author will certainly not disappear from Republika's pages," Ferko said.

The news that Fašung would be Smolec's replacement was also surprising, since Práca could be described as politically neutral if not moderately critical of the government.

Asked whether Fašung's nomination would change the paper's style, Republika's deputy editor-in-chief, Milan Rusko, said cryptically that "once this change takes place, you will notice it." Ferko said he did not think there would be any change in tone. Fašung was on vacation until the end of August and could not be reached for comment.

Smolec was appointed editor-in-chief in early 1994, almost a year after Slovenská Republika started up on April 1, 1993, by the Slovak news agency TASR. When Slovakia became independent from the Czech Republic in 1993, most of the newspapers criticized the split and the then Mečiar-led government.

Slovenská Republika supported both independence and Mečiar. Its timing was also good, considering that it sprang up shortly after Koridor, the only daily celebrating Slovakia's sovereignty, went bankrupt. In its first months, the fledgling newspaper lost buckets of money. With circulation at a little over 10,000, Republika seemed to be heading the same direction as Koridor.

Smolec's arrival turned Slovenská Republika around. A paper that was described as not witty and boring suddenly became a juicy read for Mečiar and HZDS supporters. Smolec soon became a very popular personality at Mečiar's political rallies. Slovenská Republika's circulation never stopped climbing, reaching 60,000 in 1995. The paper claims it is 80,000 now.

Capitalizing on his and his paper's popularity, Smolec ran for Parliament on the HZDS ticket and won, thus becoming the only journalist in Slovakia who could attend government sessions. Slovenská Republika's purposeful condemnation of anyone with a different opinion than the government has earned it scorn from its critics, who call the paper rabid and say it is worse than the old Communist propaganda.

"We have to write the way we do," Smolec had said in a friendly chat in the parliamentary buffet late in 1995. "Our readers like it and they want it that way."

Almost 20 libel cases have been filed against the newspaper since Smolec came on board; the first is to be deliberated this fall. All of these tidbits make the real reason behind the turnover at Slovenská Republika an even hotter item of speculation throughout the journalistic community. One rumor pegged Smolec as becoming ambassador to Italy. "I don't know about that," Smolec told the opposition daily Sme. "I consider this rumor."

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