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EDITORIAL

Lest we forget: Kováč Jr abductors still at large

AS THE COURTS don't seem interested or able to keep former SIS secret service boss Ivan Lexa in jail, people still wanting - oh, you sad idealists! - to know whether the SIS kidnapped the former president's son in 1995 or not are having to find out for themselves.
One of the most convincing versions of the event to have surfaced in the public domain is an indictment filed in November 2000 by Bratislava region state prosecutor Michal Serbin with the Bratislava III district court. The 25-page indictment, which was published on the Internet in July, accuses 13 people of having organised and participated in the kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr, and describes in minute detail (car license plates, mobile telephone numbers) how the crime was allegedly carried out.

AS THE COURTS don't seem interested or able to keep former SIS secret service boss Ivan Lexa in jail, people still wanting - oh, you sad idealists! - to know whether the SIS kidnapped the former president's son in 1995 or not are having to find out for themselves.

One of the most convincing versions of the event to have surfaced in the public domain is an indictment filed in November 2000 by Bratislava region state prosecutor Michal Serbin with the Bratislava III district court. The 25-page indictment, which was published on the Internet in July, accuses 13 people of having organised and participated in the kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr, and describes in minute detail (car license plates, mobile telephone numbers) how the crime was allegedly carried out.

The first accused is Ivan Lexa, who at the time of the kidnapping was head of the SIS but later became a member of parliament for the HZDS opposition party when HZDS leader Vladimír Mečiar vacated his seat in Lexa's favour. The move gave Lexa parliamentary immunity from prosecution, in addition to the protection afforded by a blanket amnesty in the kidnapping issued by Mečiar in 1998.

Serbin writes that Lexa "within the vertical structure of SIS leadership gave a verbal order to Michal H., an SIS officer from the defence, security and training division, on a day not precisely known during the summer months in 1995... to create an organised group of civilians to perform special missions for SIS needs; this group was created, and was used to seize Michal Kováč Jr on August 31, 1995."

Michal H., the report continues, in August 1995 organised a group of four people who were to carry out the kidnapping. Three, Serbin says, were police officers who left the service the day of the kidnapping, while the fourth was a doorman at a strip club.

After monitoring Kováč Jr's movements for several days, Serbin writes, the group intercepted their target while he was driving to Bratislava alone on August 31. With several cars they forced him off the road, demanded he get out at gunpoint, and when he refused forcibly removed him and stuck him in the back of a Seat Toledo.

They then cuffed him, put a blue hood over his head, and when Kováč Jr tried to escape from the car punched him in the face and gave him a "paralyser electric shocks to his sexual organ and forced him to drink from two bottles of whisky, probably Ballantines, which brought him to the state of intoxication." Michal H. all the while was keeping Lexa informed by mobile phone, Serbin writes.

Kováč was then driven across the border to Austria by two SIS special ops officers, the report states, and eventually left outside the police station in Hainburg in the mid-afternoon. Although Kováč was at the time wanted on an international warrant in connection with a fraud case, the Austrian authorities eventually returned him to Slovakia because his constitutional right not to be forced to leave his homeland (Article 23, para. 4) had been violated.

Almost seven years later, no court verdict has been issued in the case, partly because of the legal chaos created by Mečiar's amnesties, and partly because the courts are full of judges appointed by the Mečiar government (i.e. Supreme Court Chief Justice Štefan Harabin) who naturally don't want to see Ivan Lexa miss any more church masses than he has to.

The fact that no verdict has been issued means that we cannot say with certainty who did it or what politicians were behind it. Nor, more importantly, can we gain a concrete understanding of how political and economic power functioned under the Mečiar government, with names figures and dates attached.

Instead, Lexa and co can blithely - and truthfully - say that nothing has been proven against them. Mečiar can go on pretending the kidnapping was nothing to do with him (the HZDS, wisely, has stopped insisting Kováč kidnapped himself), and almost one in three Slovaks can go on believing that the 1994-1998 Mečiar government was a period of sweetness and light.

What's worse, the rest of the country has largely given up hope that the truth about those frightening, dark years will ever be revealed. In the absence of such truth about the past, people are less apt to look for or trust the truth about the present. In such a climate dangerous lies flourish, among them that politicians Mečiar, Fico, Rusko or Gašparovič care one jot for the future of their country when their own interests are at stake.

Dzurinda's government has been faulted for not ensuring the punishment of Mečiar-era culprits. It's worth remembering, however, as elections near, that no government member tried harder than Dzurinda and Justice Minister Ján Čarnogurský to have Lexa brought to book, and that no party tried harder than the HZDS and former communist SDĽ - those with most to hide - to frustrate these efforts.

Slovaks as a nation tend to be forgiving, to prefer that sleeping dogs be allowed to lie rather than be hauled off to jail. But if forgiveness is to be healing for both sides, and not just a bandage on an abcess, we need to know the truth, and to elect politicians who at least try to ensure we hear it.

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