SO THERE is a new, improved Vladimír Mečiar. The three-time former prime minister has been scrubbed whiter-than-white and paraded in public.
No more washing Slovakia's dirty linen in public? It is too good to be true.
His attempts to appear as a democratic statesman alongside the leaders of Slovakia's other political parties in the run-up to the EU referendum, were on one level admirable, in the sense that they probably ensured a few more percentage points in the perilously close turnout.
Unofficial results suggest that more older people voted than young people, and these are Mečiar's traditional supporters. It was interesting to see how many of those voters echoed Mečiar's own words when he said he was voting for his granddaughter's sake.
Perhaps he really did something good for Slovakia. But the question nevertheless arises (as it often does when Mečiar does anything that appears civic): What's in it for him?
It is difficult to take anything that Mečiar does at face value when he decides to pop up in public without abusing television presenters or hitting reporters.
This is, after all, the man widely believed to be behind the kidnapping of the president's son in 1995 when he was prime minister - the same man whose authoritarian tactics Western nations objected to, stalling Slovakia's NATO hopes in 1997.
Indeed, members of his own party have been leaving in droves since last summer with the same complaint.
There is no doubt that had the referendum failed, not having given his support to the government would have made it difficult for him to say not enough had been done and thereby gain political capital. By supporting the government he hedged his bets.
And Mečiar could well be looking to next year's presidential election. It certainly would not harm his chances of success to be seen encouraging EU membership, which was supported by 90 percent of those who voted.
The thought of Mečiar as the next Slovak president is a disquieting one.
Too cynical, not forgiving enough? Possibly, but this country has a lot to forgive and too much to lose by letting Mečiar back into power.
It would take a strong sense of forgiveness to give a thief the keys back to the house he has already cleaned out once. And an even greater one to give the keys to someone who still has half a gang outside waiting for an opportunity to finish the job they had already started three times.
26. May 2003 at 0:00