BORN in 1934 in a village near Bratislava, Ladislav Pittner was imprisoned by the communist regime at the age of 16 along with his father, for alleged participation in anti-state activity and espionage.
The youth spent three years in jail, during which time he says he was subjected to psychological and physical abuse.
"The interrogation methods they used were the worst. They interrogated me while beating my father and interrogated my father while beating me, so that we could see each other. It was not about physical pain as much as about psychological violence," Pittner said.
After his release in 1953 he worked as a manual labourer. In 1965 Pittner managed to graduate from high school, then he attended the University of Economics in Bratislava, where he studied economic mathematics. In the following years he worked in a number of related positions.
Pittner moved into politics and soon became a leading member of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), on whose ticket he was appointed interior minister in 1990. He stayed in office until June 1992, only to return during the period between the fall of Vladimír Mečiar's government in March 1994 and parliamentary elections in September of that year.
Between 1994 and 1998 Pittner was an MP for the KDH. During that time, he headed a civic commission formed to look into the abduction of President Michal Kováč's son, Michal Kováč Jr, for whom an international arrest warrant had been issued due to allegations of fraud, was kidnapped and taken to Austria in August 1995, where he was held in custody for some time.
The commission found that the Slovak Information Service (SIS) was involved in the act. Then-PM Vladimír Mečiar, who had clashed with President Kováč on numerous occasions, later issued an amnesty on all crimes related to the abduction.
As an opposition politician, Pittner claimed to be receiving information from members of the SIS.
"I never made any secret about the fact that I get information directly from the SIS, specifically from workers who do not agree with using the powers of the SIS to commit criminal acts," said Pittner in 1996.
Before the end of Mečiar's rule, Pittner was subject to various threats. In April 1998 the daily SME reported that a plot was afoot to assassinate Pittner. In July of that year someone poured an unknown substance on him as he was getting into a friend's car in front of his house.
"I don't know whether it was urine, but it really stank. The liquid got on my head, my suit, and the car. On July 7 I gave the parliamentary security men a package that I had not been expecting. An explosives expert had to open it because of concerns that there are explosives inside, but in the end it turned out to be filled with horse manure," Pittner said.
Following national elections in September 1998, Pittner was once again returned to the Interior Ministry, which he headed until his resignation in 2001.
In November 1999 Pittner ordered an investigation into the financing of his own party, the KDH. Other KDH representatives said that the police were being used to fight political battles within the party. There were no reports of other parties being investigated in a similar manner.
Pittner left the KDH in January 2001 to form the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) with other former KDH members.
Pittner's legacy at the Interior Ministry is patchy, with many of his colleagues expressing disappointment at his track record.
"I think that the conclusion of all cases is lagging very much behind. I think Pittner raised expectations too high, and those expectations have not been met," said coalition MP Peter Tatár in February 2001, a few months before Pittner stepped down.
Among his best-known failures was his inability to put disgraced SIS chief Ivan Lexa behind bars. Even worse, Lexa managed to flee the country. However, in Pittner's eyes, this was a success of sorts as it proved Lexa's guilt.
"The escape of Lexa proves that the investigators were successful in resolving and concluding the case," Pittner said in July 2000.
Although Pittner claimed to know where Lexa was hiding, the former spy boss was captured in South Africa only in August 2002, over a year after Pittner had left the ministry.
The criticism reached such a peak at that time that head of the Hungarian Coalition Party Béla Bugár, who today supports Pittner's appointment as SIS boss, declared openly that Pittner should go.
"In a normal country this minister would no longer be a minister," he said in February 2001. Pittner finally resigned on May 14, 2001.
He returned to parliament, where he stayed until the elections of September 2002. After that, Pittner served as the head of the Confederation of Political Prisoners of Slovakia.
Compiled by Lukáš Fila
7. Apr 2003 at 0:00