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EDITORIAL

Outing the previous order

THE VELVET Generation, the young students and activists who demonstrated in Slovakia's squares in 1989, are now in their mid-thirties, and they have learned a thing or two about revolution. First, a distinct line dividing the old and new regime does not exist.
In the blinding light of revolutionary fervour, in the deafening sound of falling walls, one cannot immediately see how much will survive from the previous order.
When a new regime is built, it is constructed on the remains of the previous one. If a nation fails to understand what remains from the previous regime, if it cannot see through the disguise the surviving phenomena takes, generations to come will have to eliminate them - and pay the price for doing so.

"A revolution only lasts fifteen years, a period which coincides with the effectiveness of a generation."
- Jose Ortega y Gasset

THE VELVET Generation, the young students and activists who demonstrated in Slovakia's squares in 1989, are now in their mid-thirties, and they have learned a thing or two about revolution. First, a distinct line dividing the old and new regime does not exist.

In the blinding light of revolutionary fervour, in the deafening sound of falling walls, one cannot immediately see how much will survive from the previous order.

When a new regime is built, it is constructed on the remains of the previous one. If a nation fails to understand what remains from the previous regime, if it cannot see through the disguise the surviving phenomena takes, generations to come will have to eliminate them - and pay the price for doing so.

Some of the leading figures in the November 1989 revolution say that the Velvet Generation should have been tougher on communists, many of whom shed their allegiance on the day communism ceased to be the officially sanctioned ideology.

In fact, many of the Velvet revolutionaries are bitter. They say that political corruption since November 1989 has matched if not exceeded the conduct of many communists in their heyday.

They say that the policy of "letting bygones be bygones" brought more harm to society than a radical condemnation of all active communists would have - a move the communists themselves would not have hesitated to carry out had the tables been turned.

Still, all active communists did not present a danger to post-November politics, least of all the orthodox communists, many of whom are members of the contemporary Slovak Communist Party (KSS). These members continue to fan the flame of communist political folklore and often serve as museum pieces for former comrades who have come to comprehend the absurdity of party slogans.

The real danger comes from those who deny the part they played in the communist political machinery, those who have again climbed the political ladder to join the elite in post-communist countries.

Slovakia's post-revolution governments have been unwilling to openly take action against former communist leaders who promptly picked up democratic manners after 1989.

The so-called "coupon-privatisation", the invention of onetime Czech Prime Minister Václav Klaus, allowed top managers of communist-friendly corporations to privatise their firms and promptly forget their communist past. An instant justification was at hand: managers had joined the party only in name, not in spirit. How could they have served the good of their companies otherwise?

After 1989, the policy of letting bygones be bygones allowed young communist party members to exploit the harsh criticism of their older party peers, using the calumny to exonerate them and validate their new image as "reformers".

Apparently, with a general renunciation of communism, former party leaders have transformed themselves into "businessmen".

In Slovakia, not one former communist party leader has served jail time for his crimes.

For now, only General Alojz Lorenc, the last boss of the ŠtB (the communist-era secret service in Slovakia) was prosecuted for communist crimes. He is now a successful businessman in Slovakia. General Lorenc ended up with a symbolic 15-month suspended sentence for abuse of public office. He was held responsible for keeping opponents of the communist regime in detention between 1988 and 1989.

Former Christian Democratic Movement leader Ján Čarnogurský proposed in 1998 to establish a Justice Ministry department to document the crimes committed by communist leaders. He wanted to archive materials that could one day serve as evidence against the former regime.

Hence the Institute of National Memory was born. To celebrate 15 years of democracy since the fall of communism, the institute initiated the first of a several phase Web project: publishing files maintained by the ŠtB on the Internet. The online expose, which debuted November 16, consists of information kept by the former ŠtB on citizens between the mid-1950s to 1989. The first phase published 20 books of information on those people who were living in eastern Slovakia during that time.

Political analysts are apathetic about the potential of the files to cure the memory loss demonstrated by former communists.

The red past of former President Rudolf Schuster has been discussed the most. However, Schuster never really showed any remorse for enjoying the privileges of the communist nest.

Former PM Vladimír Mečiar is another official who has helped fan the flame of totalitarian manners; he regularly plants the seeds of partocracy - corruption built on the political bargaining principle: "You do things for the party and the party does things for you."

Mečiar rewarded political loyalty by installing cronies to leading economic posts even though they lacked expertise and competence.

In fact, Schuster and Mečiar represent a strange transition between the country's past and present, creating a kind of political oxymoron: the "totalitarian democrats."

Several Slovak politicians have been using communist rhetoric to express democratic thoughts, which only deepens the nation's mistrust in its politicians - a mistrust that is among the highest in Europe.

It is interesting to note that a screening process to determine if a government official once colluded with the communist-era secret police is not in place, despite a strong suspicion that several politically active officials were spies for the ŠtB.

Perhaps the Velvet Generation has not learned as much as it thinks.

By Beata Balogová

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