MANY turned a blind eye to a particularly disturbing piece of news. Intent on following the maths test debacle, papal elections and the departure of another disobedient deputy from Mečiar's party, journalists failed to react to a survey published in the daily SME.
According to the MVK agency, its survey suggests that 70 percent of Slovaks feel that the mafia is involved in politics.
The mafia phenomenon has engaged sociologists, historians, writers and filmmakers. Even linguists have explored how the word "mafia", originally describing a criminal organization from Sicily that opposed tyranny, evolved into a term defining 19th-century organized crime in Italy and the US. The word infiltrates numerous languages of the world.
Camp, clique, coterie, crime syndicate, gangdom, gangland, in-group, inner circle, mob, underworld - the word's linguistic richness and its variety of synonyms reflects the insidious presence of mafia in our lives.
Politicians promptly rejected the findings of the poll, suggesting that no gangland figures are holding a gun to their head when they make policy decisions, draft laws or sell state property.
Sociologist Pavel Haulík of the MVK agency admitted that the survey's respondents probably had a vague definition of mafia in their heads when reacting to the questions of the poll.
According to Haulík, people tend to ascribe the word mafia to organized groups that do not necessarily possess a criminal background but strive to gain certain advantages.
Even if respondents were defining the word mafia in its loosest terms, the poll transmits a very serious message:
The public feels that state officials and public figures have made only feeble efforts to tear down the veils that shroud their activities; and that transparency is not among those tasks marked as urgent on the political calendar.
Although the parliament adopted a new law regarding party financing in early February, the legislation will not become effective until 2007 at the earliest. That means that for the next several years, no checks are in place to crack down on party finance abuses or provide a window into the political process.
Parliamentary deputies from all political walks of life have been reluctant to weaken their immunity from criminal prosecution. They cling to this privilege as though the threat of jail hangs over their heads constantly.
Opposition party Smer's Robert Kaliňák said that the media influences the public, creating the impression that the mafia is everywhere, even in politics. He also argued that the definition of mafia is very vague.
Last year, in an interview with Format weekly, Police Vice President Jaroslav Spišiak said that organized crime had penetrated parliament.
"We know of some specific people. We only have operative information about some others. We are seeking evidence that would be acceptable to the courts and are trying to eliminate these [criminal] links," he said.
Spišiak's words obviously angered some deputies, including Ladislav Polka, a former Movement for a Democratic Slovakia deputy and a current independent who denies having links with the underworld.
Robert Fico, leader of the opposition party Smer, hurried to support Spišiak's statements, saying the police vice president knew what he was talking about and would soon provide evidence.
The parliamentary Calvary of the draft Penal Code shows that deputies themselves have managed to aggravate the public's trust by striking certain sections of legislation that would have placed supporters of crime groups within the grasp of the criminal justice system.
Several deputies took exception to the clause because it would have made the following punishable under law: anyone who establishes, is a member of, is active in, or supports a criminal group.
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 are punishable by law.
Justice Minister Lipšic said it was a dark day indeed in the fight against organized crime and he withdrew the legislation from parliament.
In early March, the cabinet approved the revised penal code, which was a product of compromise.
Lipšic managed to insert the clause on criminal responsibility of companies into the law and reshape the part on organized crime groups in a way that it remains effective.
The survey revealed other insights as well. To the question of whether they encountered organized crime in their daily lives, 32.9 percent of those polled said yes. The respondents are mostly people with university education, mainly managers from western Slovakia, according to the poll conducted for the daily SME.
Even if the survey communicates the level of mistrust in politicians and the way they operate, it is a serious enough warning.
A total of 31.1 percent of the respondents thought that the police would not be able to protect them from the mafia. An interesting phenomenon is that younger and older respondents are equally pessimistic over the mafia issue.
Several MPs are currently facing conflicts with the law. Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) MP Libuša Martinčeková is accused of establishing a crime group. Gabriel Karlin of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia is under investigation for corruption.
The public's mistrust is more than paranoia. Last year the police charged 443 people with organized crime and closely monitored the activities of 22 criminal groups, which commit mostly violent and economic crimes and 65 groups involved in human smuggling.
By Beata Balogová
26. Apr 2005 at 0:00