EDITORIAL

My, what big teeth you have...

ALL POLITICIANS wear disguises. As elections near their makeup gets thicker, their rhetoric more baroque and their morals ever more elastic. Usually, politicians strike the poses they think will work best with their voters. Slovak National Party (SNS) boss Ján Slota perennially fixes his sights on Slovakia’s southern borders and frowns in mock horror. He has lately detected the Hungarian army training to cross rivers and has no doubt that this must be part of a massive Hungarian conspiracy to harm Slovakia’s territorial integrity. Slota, of course, is trying to appeal to the typical macho Slovak nationalism. His suggestion that the country’s armed forces are weak and its commanders incapable is in the same vein. It is one of the oldest stories in Slota’s book yet remains strangely effective, just as the Little Red Riding Hood tale does with children who want to be scared by the wicked wolf’s taste for grandmothers. Slota is understandably nervous because support for his party seems to be sinking and political scandals linked to his party’s ministerial nominees are continuing to attract adverse publicity.

ALL POLITICIANS wear disguises. As elections near their makeup gets thicker, their rhetoric more baroque and their morals ever more elastic. Usually, politicians strike the poses they think will work best with their voters. Slovak National Party (SNS) boss Ján Slota perennially fixes his sights on Slovakia’s southern borders and frowns in mock horror. He has lately detected the Hungarian army training to cross rivers and has no doubt that this must be part of a massive Hungarian conspiracy to harm Slovakia’s territorial integrity. Slota, of course, is trying to appeal to the typical macho Slovak nationalism. His suggestion that the country’s armed forces are weak and its commanders incapable is in the same vein. It is one of the oldest stories in Slota’s book yet remains strangely effective, just as the Little Red Riding Hood tale does with children who want to be scared by the wicked wolf’s taste for grandmothers. Slota is understandably nervous because support for his party seems to be sinking and political scandals linked to his party’s ministerial nominees are continuing to attract adverse publicity.

Recently new characters have joined the already crowded stage of the Interblue emissions quotas drama, perhaps the most notorious of the SNS-linked scandals. And with every new turn, the fairytale that the SNS serves up to the public is about having cut a good deal for Slovakia when the country’s quotas were sold to an obscure US-based firm, Interblue Group, despite this being for a fraction of the price that Slovakia’s neighbours obtained when selling theirs. In fact, the SNS was assisted in the early stages of this drama by another storyteller, Prime Minister Fico, who in April 2009 said, as quoted by the Sme daily: “No other country has made such a deal and gained the resources.”

Ironically, Fico’s words now ring true because the weirdness of the Interblue deal could hardly match other countries’ sales of emissions quotas, nor have other deals managed to attract the attention of investigators from both the United States and the Swiss federal office charged with detecting money laundering. The latter has confirmed that it is investigating Interblue Group over a suspicious bank transfer to Belize, a tax haven. The suspicion is not linked to some trivial administrative mistake: the Swiss authorities’ attention was prompted by suspicions of an attempt to legalise money acquired from criminal or fraudulent activities. All of which will make an interesting contribution to the election campaign of the SNS – and also the ruling party, Smer, which picked Slota as its coalition partner and has done very little since the scandal broke many months ago to look into promptly and thoroughly.

Any Little Riding Hood would be red with envy after hearing all the mysterious turns and seeing all the characters which this deal has produced: the Interblue representative who, immediately after showing her face to the public, claimed to have suffered a serious brain concussion in an encounter with a Slovak television crew and resigned from her post; the hotelier and the gasman, of Czech origin but with ties to Slovakia, who allegedly bought the company from a golf fan. This is not to mention the simultaneous metamorphosis of the firm itself, which turned from a US company officially registered at a lock-up garage into a Swiss corporation, Interblue Group Europe. Unsurprisingly, no one has so far produced any documents to prove that the Swiss firm is actually the legal successor of the original, US-based Interblue.

Finally, on March 24, when journalists had thought that the weirdness had reached its peak, the incomparable Rastislav Bilas threw his surprise press conference. He has already testified to the Swiss authorities over the case. He introduced himself as former project manager of Interblue Group LLC. The most talkative representative Interblue has ever produced, Bilas blithely explained that he and Norbert Havalec, who also worked as an advisor to the former environment minister Jaroslav Izák and even participated in preparation of the contract with Interblue, had represented Interblue in Slovakia and negotiated the deal with the SNS-controlled environment ministry.

He went on to explain that, although Slovakia had sold its emissions quotas to Interblue at €5.05 per tonne, Interblue had then sold them on for €8 or more per tonne. Bilas recited this information as if it were the most natural thing in the world. However, despite the fact that the media has been reporting for more than a year that Slovakia was ripped off, Prime Minister Fico has just kept asking for more evidence.

It’s a tactic that seems to be working: successive SNS ministerial heads have rolled and Fico has managed partly to wash his hands of the affair. The nation will go to the polls in less than three months and cast its vote: some, scared by Slota’s ‘wolf’, will be worried about a potential invasion; and some will be taken in by Fico’s vision of a grandmotherly state, no matter how big its teeth. But for most, Little Red Riding Hoods or not, the Interblue affair will seem too fantastical even for a fairytale.


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