JÁN Slota, chairman of the Slovak National Party (SNS), has moved to abolish the Nation's Memory Institute (ÚPN) several days after the Slovak media published information about him that was based on material obtained from the institute.
The ÚPN makes archived files from the communist secret police (ŠtB) available to the public. Slota's files include allegations that in the early 1970s he crossed the border into Austria and that he was once involved in a shoplifting incident.
Another coalition member, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) also approves of the abolition of the ÚPN. Its chairman, former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar, has opposed the ÚPN since it was founded. But members of Smer, the senior coalition party, are divided on the issue.
The proposed amendment asserts that the institute "has not been fulfilling the social function and roles stipulated by the Act on the Nation's Memory". The bill would abolish the ÚPN by January 1 of next year. The ŠtB files and other documents would then be administered by the Military Historical Institute.
Rafael Rafaj, the vice-chairman of the SNS parliamentary club and one of the co-authors of the bill, told the public Slovak Radio (SRo) on April 24 that the five-year-old Act on the ÚPN was already obsolete.
"The original purpose of uncovering the spying practices of the criminal organisation ŠtB has not been fulfilled, while victims mentioned in the archives were often made out to be perpetrators," Rafaj claimed.
"Moreover, the ÚPN lacks files from eastern Slovakia, so the principle of equal treatment has been violated here," he added.
According to the ŠtB files, Slota left Czechoslovakia for Austria for a few days in 1971. Additionally, he and his friend Jozef Rendek allegedly shoplifted from a fabrics store in the village of Koš, near Prievidza. Later, Rendek was sentenced for various thefts and robberies. Slota's files were found in Rendek's documentation.
Slota has refused to comment on the incident.
Ivan Petranský, head of the Board of Trustees of the ÚPN, sharply protested the SNS proposal. He considers abolition of the institute, which handles crimes of the communist and fascist regimes, a step back in attempts to cope with the totalitarian era.
Petranský also refused the claim of SNS MPs that the ÚPN was not fulfilling its function. He pointed out that the institute had made many ŠtB documents accessible to the public and that it had recently produced several films and publications about the communist era.
Ironically, Petranský was appointed to head the ÚPN by the SNS.
Petranský refused to comment on speculation that some politicians or businessmen feel embarrassed by materials that were found in the ÚPN and later published.
"But the institute's activity could be dangerous to the careers of anyone found to have collaborated with the communist regime in any way," Petranský further said.
Asked by The Slovak Spectator whether the ÚPN owned other materials that could be dangerous for current top political representatives, top managers, or businessmen, Petranský answered that the ÚPN had not yet comprehensively indexed all its documents.
"For now, we cannot assess what else might be found there," he stressed to The Slovak Spectator.
Petranský also said that Mečiar told him two weeks ago that the ÚPN was in jeopardy.
"He asked me to visit him at the HZDS headquarters, citing the dissolution of the ÚPN as the reason for the meeting," Petranský recalled.
"Due to the issue and meeting site proposed, I refused," he continued. "Mr. Mečiar later told me over the phone that he would dissolve the ÚPN through an act of law."
Petranský intends to discuss the future of the ÚPN with Prime Minister Robert Fico, who is also the chairman of the governing Smer party. At a press conference on April 28, Petranský mentioned that he had not yet agreed the date of the meeting.
In an interview several hours later, Fico stated that the fate of the ÚPN was an issue that only interested journalists.
"People ask me how they will live, what about the euro, what will happen with pensions, about highways," Fico said at a press conference. "Apart from you, nobody is really concerned about this issue. So that is my standpoint towards it."
Fico said it wouldn't be right if peoples' careers were affected by unverified ŠtB files.
"For us, it is more important to give people opportunities than to deal with ŠtB files," he said. "But I am not stating a position. I repeat, for me it is simply unimportant."
The opposition has expressed outrage over the efforts to abolish the ÚPN. Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) chairman Pavol Hrušovský said that the real motive is to conceal the histories hidden in the institute's archives.
"Some politicians are haunted by their histories," Hrušovský told a press conference on April 28, as quoted by the SITA newswire. "[The effort to abolish the ÚPN] is a brutal attack on the very essence of democracy in Slovakia."
Hrušovský also said he believes it is motivated by the recently published information concerning one of its proponents.
Miroslav Lehký, a former dissident and co-founder of the ÚPN who is currently the first vice-chairman of the Czech Institute for the study of totalitarian regimes, a ÚPN counterpart, was surprised to hear of the effort to abolish the ÚPN.
"Since the very beginning of the ÚPN's existence, it was evident that it would have opponents and that they would be numerous," Lehký told The Slovak Spectator.
But Lehký thinks that no one really expected a bill to be submitted within such a short period of time.
According to Lehký, the ÚPN is a thorn in the side mainly because the Act on the Nation's Memory, enacted in 2002, gives the ÚPN the specific responsibility of analysing and describing totalitarian crimes. And Lehký believes that this specific feature is the stumbling block and the reason why the ÚPN is unwanted.
The ÚPN is not only charged with analysing specific documents concerning the activities of people who committed evil, but it also must identify those people whose activity helped the communist and Nazi regimes.
"And this is the painful thing, why this institute is unwanted in Slovakia," Lehký said.
If the ÚPN is abolished, Lehký says that it would harm the reputation of Slovakia. The ÚPN was perceived very positively abroad, and if it is abolished, this would affect the interests and status of Slovakia in the eyes of the world.
The final fate of the ÚPN will probably be decided by the Coalition Council, although a meeting on the issue has not yet been scheduled.
The ÚPN was founded on May 1, 2003. Its initiator was the former head of the ÚPN, Ján Langoš, who died in a car accident in June 2006.
Prof. Ivan Lefkovits from the University Clinics Basel, Switzerland, who comes from Slovakia and has taken part in the oral history made by the ÚPN, stressed to The Slovak Spectator that it is unthinkable that the ÚPN might be abolished.
"I can't imagine who could propose such a thing and how he or she could look in the mirror the next day, " Lefkovits told The Slovak Spectator.
"In establishing the ÚPN, Slovakia has undertaken a grave responsibility," he continued. "In my opinion, and not only mine, the ÚPN is the conscience of the nation, which a young nation desperately needs."
"When activities of such integrity were abolished during totalitarian times, our excuse was that they forced us to do it," he said. "But now we are them."