IN THE FALL of 2002 most Slovaks would have been surprised to learn that the recently imprisoned tycoon Jozef Majský, implicated in a long list of serious offences, would be walking the streets freely 22 months later; surprised by the fact that he wouldn't have been freed earlier.
Given Majský's former influence, wealth, and ties at all levels of society, his case was always going to be as much about politics as about the crimes of which he was accused.
The Slovak public has grown accustomed to the fact that the prosecution and punishment of political elites is rare. The phenomenon of the current political establishment, which in effect controls the actions of the judiciary, respecting the former social and political order, is very common in Slovakia's modern history. It's equally common to see former leaders make impressive political comebacks after some time spent away from the public eye.
After Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia in the summer of 1968 to thwart efforts to reform the communist regime, the leader of the reform movement, Alexander Dubček, lost his status both in the party and government, but was left to live a quiet life.
Eventually, Dubček's legacy made him one of the heroes of the Velvet Revolution, which brought the communist oppression to an end in late 1989.
Gustáv Husák, who was Czechoslovakia's president at the time the communist regime collapsed, is a good example of the ups and downs of Slovak political life.
He participated in the Slovak National Uprising during World War II, and became a prominent member of the Communist Party, but fell victim to a purge in the 1950s when he was imprisoned. He was later not only rehabilitated by the regime but also given the highest office of state.
After the fall of Communism he retired and his funeral was attended, among others, by Christian Democratic leader Ján Čarnogurský, who had been imprisoned for his anti-communist activities under Husák's presidency. Vasiľ Biľak, former Secretary General of the Communist Party, who oversaw the period of socialist 'normalisation' after the Soviet invasion, is enjoying his retirement, while his son-in-law is active in parliament as head of the re-vitalised Communist Party of Slovakia. To date no one has been convicted for any of the crimes committed by the communist regime against its citizens. The same is true of former authoritarian Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar and his cronies. The public has never learned how Mečiar raised the finances to build his luxurious villa, nor has his involvement in illegal activities by the security forces ever been fully explored.
Indeed, Mečiar is now slowly turning into a political ally of PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, a former strident critic of Mečiar's authoritarian methods. Dzurinda is now so desperate to find parliamentary support for his minority cabinet that Mečiar may yet find his way back to a top position. However, the last blow of losing the presidential race seems to be a tough one to absorb. Mečiar had to watch his critic, and onetime party colleague, Ivan Gašparovič take the presidency
There is also the story of former intelligence chief Ivan Lexa. Several serious charges have been raised against Lexa and his alleged abuse of the secret service. Lexa was first taken into pre-trial custody in April 1999 and spent several months in prison. He was then released and fled the country.
He was found in South Africa in July 2002, just months before parliamentary elections, and handed over to Slovak authorities. Despite spending a number of months behind bars, Lexa, who is now awaiting trial, is, like Majský, a free man. These are just a few examples of the lenient way in which Slovak leaders treat their enemies.
There are a number of reasons why this may be the case.
Firstly, there is size. Small countries such as Slovakia are characterised by dense ties that exist between various political and economic interest groups. Bratislava is truly a city where everyone knows everyone. A complete change of the proverbial guards is therefore almost unthinkable, and these complex mutual relations to a great extent prevent dramatic political clashes. Secondly, a non-confrontational policy ensures greater stability in any political system, even when it is larger than Slovakia's.
The Slovak political scene, exhausted by 15 long years of transformation, seeks that stability. Majský fits perfectly into this pattern.
Like many before him, he has several acquaintances in the country's elite who, at least to some extent, owe their success to him. If he decided to break his silence and reveal the extent to which his past dealings involved Slovakia's current leaders, it could be very damaging to the stability of the country's political system, a system that already finds itself in turmoil. It remains to be seen whether Majský will manage not only to exculpate himself, but, like so many before, also return to the ranks of the country's elite.
By Lukáš Fila
16. Aug 2004 at 0:00