SO IS ONE of the most traumatising moments in Slovakia’s modern history about to sink into oblivion? Amnesty comes from the Greek word “amnestia”, which also means oblivion. Dictionaries suggest that the word “amnestia” has the same root as amnesia, which indeed offers a bottomless well for philosophical contemplations about the meaning of guilt, pardons, forgiveness, forgetfulness, justice and injustice.
On September 23, 2008, few Slovaks were exploring the Greek roots of the word “amnesty”. Instead they were trying to comprehend its application in the case of Ivan Lexa, the former boss of Slovakia’s intelligence agency, the Slovak Information Service, who has been enjoying this blessing, granted by his former boss Vladimír Mečiar, since Mečiar assumed presidential powers for a brief period back in 1998. Lexa was accused of involvement in the abduction of former president Michal Kováč's son in 1995.
Several other accusations – not least organising the murder of Robert Remiáš (a former policeman who was a key contact for information on the Kováč kidnapping), sabotage, treason, robbery and abuse of power - rained down on Lexa, but he was sheltered by the amnesty of the “old man”, the term of affection he occasionally used to refer to Mečiar.
The amnesty that Mečiar granted did not pertain to some petty crime committed by a gang of pranksters who underestimated the gravity of the situation: in the midst of political fight between former President Michal Kováč and Mečiar, the son of the president was forced into a car, forced to drink alcohol by four men, locked in the boot and then left in the car after it had crossed the border into Austria.
A Vienna court ruled that Kováč Jr. was abducted by a state organisation. Kováč Jr. wasn’t a terrorist or public enemy number one, but all the available evidence suggests that the Mečiar government of the day used the intelligence service to try to discipline its opponents. Upon assuming presidential powers after Kováč Sr.’s term of office had ended, Mečiar immediately amnestied everyone involved. Ironically, Mečiar had to do it twice. In fact, he had to revise his own amnesty, because the first he granted did not shelter well enough all whom he wanted to protect. Had he any political decency, he could have just waited for the courts to decide on guilt or innocence.
Mikuláš Dzurinda, as Acting President, cancelled the amnesties after winning genetral elections in 1998. Lexa was later arrested and held from April 15 to July 19, 1999.
Now, after nine years, the European Court for Human Rights has ruled that Lexa was unlawfully detained. The court decided that the amnesties could not be reversed.
There are amnesties which should have never been granted at all. There are amnesties which clearly abuse the institution of “amnestia”, in the hope that the crimes to which they pertains will sink into oblivion.
Prime Minister Robert Fico said that even if he had serious moral objections to Mečiar’s amnesties, they cannot be abolished and should be respected in order to guarantee legal security.
The prime question however is: why has Fico brought back a man who has made morally questionable decisions while in power?
Would Mikuláš Dzurinda and his team have brought Mečiar back too, if the current opposition parties had happened to win the elections?
Fico, and Dzurinda too, had the option to force Mečiar where he belongs: into political oblivion.
Yes, politics should be a pragmatic undertaking and, yes, sometimes immoral unions are created to pursue goals that in the end might benefit the public. But not in the case of someone like Vladimír Mečiar.
The Lexa case is more about Mečiar than Lexa himself. It is a traumatising heritage that Mečiar carries with him wherever he goes and with whomever he forms alliances. Affairs such as his amnesties become the baggage of his allies as well.
Mečiar’s amnesties will continue to serve as a reminder of an era when politics reached their point of furthest deviation from the hopes and ideals of 1989, when the people overthrew the communist regime.
But Mečiar has gone as far as to toy with the idea of asking the government to compensate Lexa for the “injustices” he supposedly had to suffer. Fico rejected the idea and said that the court has not asked Slovakia to do so.
What will come next? Robert Fico’s political partners, Mečiar and the boss of the Slovak National Party, Ján Slota, are ticking time-bombs.
And they are representatives of this country since they are leaders of parties in the ruling coalition.
Just to add to the gravity of the situation, the SNS has publicly floated the idea of a law on the ‘protection of the republic’ that would allow the creation of territorial militias to ‘protect’ Slovaks.
One wonders whether Fico checked the baggage of his partners when he took them aboard and if he did, does he care at all?
So far there have been no official amnesties created to excuse wrong-headed political decisions. Hopefully the public will not suffer from amnesia when it comes to recalling them.
29. Sep 2008 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová