EVERY decent citizen of this country feels that something happened during the parliamentary debate over the fate of Justice Minister Štefan Harabin, whom the opposition wanted to have sacked for what it called friendly ties with a mafia figure.
Many do not really know how to define this “feeling” of something having gone terribly wrong, and so they reach for well-worn idioms or their variations, such as “they have crossed the Rubicon”. And so they have.
It did not happen during the ill-mannered parliamentary debate, but long before. Perhaps it was when Harabin was installed as justice minister. Perhaps even sooner, when Vladimír Mečiar, the leader of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), was offered a place in the ruling coalition by Smer boss Robert Fico and thus given the chance to nominate Harabin.
Harabin and his party boss Mečiar stripped the last vestiges of decency covering parliamentary discourse and outdid most of the previous idiocies and indecencies that have been aired by politicians in those halls. This is no mean achievement: they have been so many in number and intensity.
Where to start this tale of shame?
Perhaps when the country’s justice minister told his predecessor Daniel Lipšic “You will go to jail, you bastard!” and subsequently, when confronted by Lipšic, denied having said any such thing. Lipšic had taken a leading role in launching the no-confidence motion in Harabin, based on what he called Harabin’s friendly ties with Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug gang.
Then Mečiar, who has been condemned for his ruling style as prime minister in the mid nineties, rushed to defend the justice minister he had nominated by asking Lipšic whether one of his ancestors had the surname Lipstein, thereby referring to his Jewish origins. Mečiar said he was asking because his friend and HZDS figure, Augustín Marián Húska, claimed that when he worked in the Jáchymov uranium mines as a prisoner of the communist regime, he was interrogated and tortured by “a certain Mr. Lipstein”, whom Húska to this day believes is related to Lipšic.
At that point Harabin, the justice minister and formerly a justice of the Supreme Court, re-entered the stage to ask Lipšic whether he was ashamed of his ‘ancestry’. Then he told Lipšic that he reminded him of some Nazis who had Jewish ancestry and yet were able to kill innocent children, women and old people in concentration camps, just to prove their loyalty to fascism.
Printing these lines without any comments, in the same way documentaries show images without attaching any commentary in order to shock, would have been enough to show the misery of some members of the ruling coalition and how low they can sink when in the heat of debate their mask of decency slips.
What comes next for a nation which has a justice minister who hurls anti-Semitic statements at his predecessor? He is the man in charge of legislation which should protect every citizen of this nation from such statements. What comes next for a government which is co-run by people like Mečiar - or Slovak National Party boss Ján Slota, notorious for his statements attacking Roma, Hungarians and homosexuals?
Harabin did – finally and begrudgingly – apologise. But it was too late to take away the sour taste from the mouths of the many who expect at least some decency from their public officials.
To add insult to injury, Mečiar and Harabin made their outrageous anti-Semitic statements very close to Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed in Slovakia on September 9.
What comes next for a justice minister who, during a debate over his alleged friendly links with the mafia, makes statements for which he subsequently has to apologise and which outrage every decent person?
What comes next for a justice minister who is then booed by the citizens as he lays wreaths at the Holocaust Memorial in Bratislava? What comes next for a justice minister who threatens his predecessor that he will go to jail?
The sad Slovak reality is that he will return to his ministry, just as Mečiar will return to the headquarters of his party. Meanwhile Harabin even accused Lipšic of being “the greatest anti-Semite in Slovakia”, as quoted by the public service broadcaster Slovak Radio.
Prime Minister Robert Fico distanced himself from anti-Semitism and told Slovak Radio he believes that “if these [comments] emerged in the Slovak parliament they were only the results of the charged political fight and deep antipathies between the participants of this debate”.
Fico also said: “I did not become a prime minister to have in my environment people who would have racial hatred as their ideological weapons. I will never let such people close.”
But what comes next for those who no longer trust the validity of this statement and who know that the Rubicon has been crossed?