BEFORE December 2002 most Slovaks believed that intrusive government tapping of private communications was a ghost of the communist era, having completed its final death throes with Vladimír Mečiar's exit from power in 1998.
Instead, during the Christmas holidays the press revealed that phone conversations between a leading politician and a journalist had been tapped by the state's shadowy security apparatus.
To make it worse, the recent investigation into the scandal has found that it was not New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) leader Pavol Rusko who was the target but the editorial offices of the daily SME.
The international media community has rightly dubbed this bugging by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) an undue harassment of journalists and a violation of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
It would be naive to think that the SIS only listened to phone conversations between journalists to gather data. In this society there is still certain paranoia about sharing confidential information over the phone and it is unlikely that "secrets" unknown to the SIS would be passed on by journalists.
Instead, it seems more likely to be another example of a post-communist government reluctant to give up the trappings of totalitarianism. The very awareness that communications were monitored led to a high degree of self-censorship, providing a level of control that was desirable to those regimes.
However, Slovakia is no longer a communist state. The illegal bugging of telephones by state organs has no place in a modern democracy, and is a gross violation of basic human rights. It is a demonstration of complete arrogance by those who think they can still run the state from behind the scenes.
As if to add insult to injury, investigators into the scandal found that they themselves were subject to illegal monitoring and intimidation by the very service under suspicion.
Under the management of Vladimír Mečiar's close ally Ivan Lexa, who already has spent several months in jail for misdeeds as Slovakia's spy boss, the SIS was a synonym for abuse of power, operating as a private secret police beyond and above the law.
Regrettably, Lexa's long-awaited (re)incarceration has not sparked any real change. Slovaks, particularly journalists, still feel the shadow of "big brother" falling across everyday life.
The Slovak Spectator joins the protests of the media community against violations of press freedom.
21. Jul 2003 at 0:00