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EDITORIAL

Lexa and Remiáš: A coming of age

THE JAILING of former intelligence service chief Ivan Lexa on charges he ordered the 1996 murder of a former policeman has had the effect of a strong wind, dispersing the gathered mist to reveal a terrible and long concealed secret about independent Slovakia.
Police now say they have evidence that Lexa ordered the murder of Róbert Remiáš through the criminal underworld, adding weight to the theory that Remiáš was killed because he was helping prove that Lexa's SIS service had kidnapped the president's son in 1995.
The many criminal charges (despite the many fewer court sentences) against people who purchased assets privatised under the 1994 to 1998 Vladimír Mečiar government have demonstrated to Slovak citizens that their property was looted in an organised manner by their own leaders during these years (the business weekly Trend calculated in 2000 that Sk76 billion in assets sold during these years had fetched only Sk7.6 billion, or 10 per cent of their market value).

THE JAILING of former intelligence service chief Ivan Lexa on charges he ordered the 1996 murder of a former policeman has had the effect of a strong wind, dispersing the gathered mist to reveal a terrible and long concealed secret about independent Slovakia.

Police now say they have evidence that Lexa ordered the murder of Róbert Remiáš through the criminal underworld, adding weight to the theory that Remiáš was killed because he was helping prove that Lexa's SIS service had kidnapped the president's son in 1995.

The many criminal charges (despite the many fewer court sentences) against people who purchased assets privatised under the 1994 to 1998 Vladimír Mečiar government have demonstrated to Slovak citizens that their property was looted in an organised manner by their own leaders during these years (the business weekly Trend calculated in 2000 that Sk76 billion in assets sold during these years had fetched only Sk7.6 billion, or 10 per cent of their market value).

But as Štefan Hríb points out in the Domino Fórum weekly, murder is a crime of an entirely different order, and gives rise to an entirely new picture of the early years of the Slovak state.

The latest charges, if proven in court, suggest that the country's secret service, and possibly other state organs including the government, regarded the Mafia as a partner rather than a foe. They suggest that Slovakia was ruled by people who, if they didn't actually countenance murder, at least tolerated the presence of people who committed murder; who, if they weren't actually prepared to cover the murder up, were at least ready to ensure it wasn't investigated.

This new vision of Slovakia is, as the Slovaks say, strong coffee.

Like any other apprehension of the truth, however, these charges also have the power to heal. They confirm the gut feeling many had about those years, that democracy was in peril and a descent into dictatorship never out of the question. They confirm at the same time the value of the struggle waged by opposition forces, whether political, social or cultural, and the importance of the victory over Mečiar in 1998 elections. They justify the stance taken by Western countries against Mečiar, and the tactics used to ensure he didn't return in September elections this year.

The charges also explain much of why Slovakia is not further ahead 10 years after independence: That the communists never truly left, and that their methods were never truly identified and discredited.

They even serve as a warning of how blind voters can be, how ruled by fear of change, how susceptible to demagoguery when the evidence of evil was everywhere. For the roughly one million Slovak voters who cast ballots for Mečiar in 1994 and 1998, Lexa's jailing may finally open their eyes to the truth about their idol, and provoke some long-overdue reflection (if, that is, the charges aren't again dismissed as a vicious fabrication by Dzurinda's minions).

What these charges are not, however, is a general judgement on the independent Slovak state and the people who live in it. Even if Lexa is convicted, murder cannot be seen as woven into the fabric of statehood, nor the fact of independence stained by blood. The murder will remain an act committed by criminals, to whose presence the public was blinded by naivete, insecurity and four decades of moral erosion.

If this were not so, Slovakia would never have found itself invited to Brussels two months running to accept entry invitations to Western alliances. The country's police would never have found the courage or political backing to lay the charges in the first place. The electorate would not have turned out in strength in both 1998 and 2002, despite the disappointments of the past four years. Newspapers like this one would not have survived, nor commentary of this tone suffered to be written.

Lexa is in jail not just because he is suspected of having ordered a political murder, but because the forces of decency, responsibility and courage in Slovak society ultimately proved stronger than the bitter heritage of communism.

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