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Baring the Slovak elite and its "fascinating past"

WERE you ever curious about what job a Slovak prime minister held during Communism, but didn't know how to find out? Did you ever wonder why a certain businessman and politician seemed so friendly, but had no way of checking if they attended the same high school?

WERE you ever curious about what job a Slovak prime minister held during Communism, but didn't know how to find out? Did you ever wonder why a certain businessman and politician seemed so friendly, but had no way of checking if they attended the same high school?

For people interested in the origins and inner workings of Slovakia's elite, the Leaders.sk Internet project offers an unprecedented database of information.

Launched on October 10 as a joint project of the Petit Press publishing house, the Trend business weekly and The Slovak Spectator, Leaders.sk offers subscribers access to almost 800 structured profiles of Slovak leaders, as well as over 1,000 of the most interesting articles that have been published about them in SME, Trend, and The Slovak Spectator, as well as other sources.

Ivan Štulajter, editor-in-chief of Leaders.sk, said the database addressed one of the deepest failings of the Slovak media - its short memory.

"Slovak politicians and entrepreneurs often have a fascinating past, and knowing that past can help you understand the ties between various people and give you better insight into current events," he said. "Unfortunately, few journalists have the time or the determination to keep track of these things, so we're doing it for them."

Besides journalists, Štulajter said he expected that Leaders.sk would appeal to "anyone who needs accurate information on Slovak leaders, including businessmen, analysts, researchers and embassies."

The selection of people in the database was done by the staff of the three participating publishing houses, including renowned Slovak political commentator Marián Leško of SME and business experts from Trend. Leško also provides original analyses of top leaders for the project. Some documents are in English, and some in Slovak, so the database also offers translation services, which registered users can order on-line.

Leaders.sk also provides custom-made analyses on any topic or person for interested clients.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, said such projects helped improve transparency in Slovak society. "This is something that was lacking in Slovakia until now," he said. "Especially in the 1990s, society lacked sufficient information about who formed the elite and where they came from, and this project fills this gap in a modern and professional manner."

About 800 people were asked in the project's first phase to voluntarily provide their data. Over 250 did so, while the remaining profiles were compiled from publicly available sources."The main issue we had to solve before we started work on the project was whether we could gather and publish information on public figures without their consent," said Štulajter. "We have official confirmation from the Bureau for Personal Data Protection that the project is legal, so we're not worried."

People who visit Leaders.sk can see a sample profile on the home page, as well as click on a letter in the alphabet bar to get an idea of who is in the database. Registration for one year costs Sk4,800 (€123) for the Slovak version and Sk9,800 (€252) for the combined English and Slovak versions.

Some of the resumes that have been compiled from open sources (i.e. because the person did not provide any personal data) are somewhat sketchy. Mesežnikov, who himself is listed, said the very refusal of current or former public personalities to provide the data "is evidence of the kind of people they are, the kind who prefer closed politics and a lack of transparency."

Project coordinator Lukáš Fila said the project aimed to double the number of profiles within one year, build in more available registers and databases, and widen the scope of personalities. He also said the profiles of people who did not provide data on themselves would be upgraded as far as available information permitted.

"We're definitely not just going to rely on information from people themselves," he said.

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