THE EXPANSION of organized transnational crime and the increasing sophistication and diversification of the mafia activities have become truly alarming.
As far back as a decade ago the United Nations called on countries not to turn a blind eye to this trend and take some effective action, including adding legislation that would help erect some barriers to this mafia flood.
The conventional understanding of organized crime, which evolves around gangsters and mafia-type organizations that take over a metropolitan suburb no longer represents the potential of this vast underworld.
Mafia-type people are no longer emissaries of shadowy godfathers that grant protection to those who pay, and punish those who do not.
This perception is grossly outdated and no longer correct.
Countries that design national policies to keep archaic notions of godfathers under control will lose the fight against organized crime.
Criminal groups can take the guise of trusted corporations enjoying the protection of public figures and by so doing, infiltrate national and international political systems.
Organized crime has an uncanny ability to unite people - and with much greater efficacy than any charity or social organization.
Organized crime never seems to discriminate based on race, gender or ethnicity, and it appears to cross boundaries more freely and easily than ideas.
Slovakia has, in fact, taken on the obligation to adopt measures to cut the tentacles of organized criminal groups.
But when a group of parliamentary deputies managed to strike certain sections of the draft Penal Code legislation that would place supporters of crime groups outside the grasp of the criminal justice system, Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic felt that it was a dark day indeed in the fight against organized crime.
Based on today's valid Penal Code, any who establishes, is a member of, or is active in or supports a criminal group is punishable under law.
After parliament meddled with the new draft legislation, which would have updated the 40-year-old crime law, only those who establish a criminal group could be punished by law.
All this makes it unclear what society should do with those who actually are members of - or covertly associate with - criminal groups.
Lipšic said that if he had not withdrawn the Penal Code draft legislation, parliament, with its changes, would have turned Slovakia into an "Eldorado for the mafia".
Opponents of the new Penal Code draft bill wanted to remove the entire paragraph of the section referring to the establishment of crime groups, not just strike portions of it. They argue that in the six years since that particular section of the Penal Code has been law, the state has not sentenced a single underworld figure for establishing a criminal group in Slovakia. Some say the paragraph simply has simply been ineffective.
Certainly, the question of whether is it better to have a seemingly ineffective measure on the books or remove it entirely is a valid one.
At the same time, if the new Penal Code goes through with a weak paragraph on organized crime, it would be the worst possible signal that Slovakia could transmit, especially at a time when Europe has decided to wage war against organized crime.
In fact, SDKÚ member Peter Miššík, in a piece written for SME, argued that his proposal came after the parliamentary constitutional legal committee approved the possibility of removing the whole paragraph from the legislation.
He said that in fact, he prepared his proposal to change the problematic paragraph in order to prevent the removal of the entire paragraph.
However, the approval given by the parliamentary constitutional committee to remove the paragraph outraged many who said that such a move would make a pariah of Slovakia, which has an international obligation to join the multinational fight against the underworld.
The changes made by parliamentary members ahead of the vote came as a surprise to the bill's authors, since the ruling coalition had previously agreed to the original draft bill. Consequently, many have interpreted parliament's failure to pass the new Penal Code as an indication that the ruling coalition agreement is dead.
They say parties are bound together by a flimsy partnership that falls apart every time a new problem is unveiled or the parties' interests do not match those of their ruling coalition colleagues.
In the noise created by the ruling coalition's spat, it almost passed unnoticed that opposition Smer party, led by Robert Fico, silently voted in line with the HZDS and SDKÚ to soften the paragraph referring to founders and supporters of organized crime.
Not only does Fico often accuse the HZDS and the SDKÚ of being fed by criminals, but he claims to have started the crusade against organized crime.
The new Penal Code had its controversial points and weaknesses - including the Justice Minister's intention to erase the paragraph on the "Auschwitz Lie" which made the denial of the Holocaust punishable.
The fact that the new Penal Code failed will probably give the minister more time to think over the wisdom of removing the Auschwitz Lie paragraph from the code, especially in light of how the older European nations feel about the issue.
On the other hand, by softening the Penal Code draft bill ahead of the vote, Slovakia's deputies no doubt transmitted a clear message to the underworld that the state has a tendency to go easy on organized crime, which can only increase the arrogance of the criminal elements.
By Beata Balogová
14. Feb 2005 at 0:00