POLITICIANS, in general, like to be heard talking about transparency. Some of them are even able to comprehend the philosophy of transparency and can perhaps envision what it would actually require in real life. Throughout the year, and especially when elections approach or they are prompted by revelations about the wealth of their political opponents, politicians are wont to make vague allusions to possible changes to the rules that guide state servants when submitting their annual property reports. And this is where the process mostly remains: at the level of vague allusions.
Then once a year, when – along with the summer – the time for submission of property reports arrives, suddenly all the good intentions about making them more transparent or adopting legislation that would effectively force politicians to prove the origin of any suspicious wealth evaporate like puddles under the July sun.
In the first week of July, the latest batch of property reports by Slovak politicians appeared on the Slovak parliament’s official website, providing the local media with fuel for fiery commentaries about the wealth and misery of Slovak politics.
This year, however, Prime Minister Robert Fico has added a small piece of coal to this fire by telling the public service broadcaster Slovak Radio: “I believe that a lot of politicians have filled their pockets during the time they ruled, be it during the previous years or even now.”
There are several unforgettable symbols of the wealth of Slovak politicians, matched only by the ludicrous stories manufactured to explain their existence. One of these symbols, which has long haunted Slovak journalists, is Elektra.
Readers should not start hunting for references to Greek mythology and assume that Elektra is the Slovak version of Electra, the daughter of King Agamemnon, or that it is a complex afflicting journalists which is in some way related to a woman’s supposed attachment to her father. Elektra is in fact a villa. Not any kind of villa: the luxurious Trenčianské Teplice villa of Vladimír Mečiar.
Years after Mečiar ceased serving as prime minister, the media kept inquiring about how the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) boss had financed his villa. The stories were manifold: some involved a Swiss businessman named Peter Ziegel who reportedly lent Mečiar somewhere between Sk40 million and Sk100 million (approximately €1 million to €2.5 million) in 1999.
Back in 2002, Mečiar got fed up with having to face the same old questions and tried to hit JOJ TV reporter Ľuboslav Choluj after he asked the HZDS boss repeatedly how he had paid for Elektra.
It is unlikely that Fico’s memory deliberately blocked out the political Electra complex when he invited Mečiar’s party to join his ruling coalition.
In his memorable comments on Slovak Radio, Fico also said: “I do think that Mikuláš Dzurinda, Ivan Mikloš and also Jano Slota – certainly I think that – have filled their pockets. But give me evidence, because I do not have any.”
Of course, it was Fico who also invited Slota’s Slovak National Party (SNS) to join the coalition and then Slota who nominated the succession of ministers who have since been sacked over suspicions of cronyism.
The SNS promptly responded that its boss every year does his duty and submits a property report in which he lists all his assets. Slota, in the property report for him which was posted on the parliamentary website this year, reported for 2008 an income of Sk726,000 (just over €24,000) from his public positions and Sk128,250 (about €4,250) from other sources, an apartment and a garden with a cottage, a personal car, a Diamond DA42 aeroplane, a motorcycle and some unspecified savings.
The aeroplane notwithstanding, this list diverges sharply from media reports about the luxury items which Slota routinely has at his disposal. The explanation he has offered is that the other items belong to his friends, who simply allow Slota to enjoy them.
Fico has already suggested that politicians should adopt legislation which would oblige them to prove the origin of their property. But this statement, like many others, has somehow remained in the domain of vague allusions.