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Things will never be the same

SOME say things will never be the same in Slovak politics after Gorilla, the eponymous file suggesting widespread political corruption, leaked to the public. In fact it would be the worst possible scenario if Slovakia’s political arena remained unchanged.

SOME say things will never be the same in Slovak politics after Gorilla, the eponymous file suggesting widespread political corruption, leaked to the public. In fact it would be the worst possible scenario if Slovakia’s political arena remained unchanged.

The first head has now rolled based on the Gorilla file, which reportedly documents a surveillance operation by the country’s intelligence agency in 2005 and 2006. It is already clear that the sacking of Anna Bubeníková, a nominee of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), from her post as head of Slovakia’s National Property Fund, will not be enough to restore that fragile balance that many citizens try to maintain between their fear that politics is just a cover used by some to secure a wealthier and more comfortable life and their hope that at least some individuals enter public life to make society better.

Even if all those politicians who appear in the Gorilla file are removed from positions of power and banned from politics forever, the public will not necessarily believe that the ‘new’ politicians who come afterwards will enter a system that no longer encourages shady behaviour. And financial firms and other businesses, unlikely to voluntarily forsake their influence on politics, cannot be fired or replaced by a new, perhaps more honest, political nominee.

So politicians need to take up the fight not only to clean up the smelliest messes but also to ensure that the police and prosecution can do their work independently and with zeal. No longer should these public institutions be permitted to simulate investigations by following only the most notoriously-known trails and then declare a roadblock in further progress, hoping that the memory of the masses will be short-lived.

Obviously, some political parties hope that Gorilla, with its spookiness, will force some voters to cast their votes in another direction. But the suspicions emerging from Gorilla could do much more to the electorate than that. Pollsters are already suggesting that Gorilla and similar exposés could discourage voters of all stripes and dampen the turnout for the early parliamentary elections in March.

Some analysts have suggested that the revelations coming from Gorilla will have a bigger impact on those who voted for the centre-right parties, which built their 2010 election campaigns on promises of weeding out corruption and exposing shady deals. It is hard to say whether those people will remember, during their discourse with themselves on their 2012 vote, that in the past year more than 110,000 state contracts were published online to give the public more knowledge about how their taxes are being spent – or at least make ministers and bureaucrats think twice before signing shady deals. Nor is it known whether those voters will remember the current government's efforts to let fresh air into courtrooms and prosecutors’ offices.

And the eagerly-awaited, cleaner generation of politicians, whose integrity is not only a publicity gimmick endlessly repeated on their social website pages, may not surface so easily. Jirko Malchárek, the former economy minister who is featured in the Gorilla file surrounded by allegations of serious improprieties, himself got his job as a ‘new’ politician nominated by the now-defunct New Citizens’ Alliance (ANO), which existed for only one election term.

Even if people with true integrity come, it seems as though the system they enter, tuned as it is in a way that most in power like very much, rejects them by sending the message that politics is only for those with strong stomachs and thick skins.

It seems that many Slovaks do feel a strong inner pressure to respond to the revelations that are emerging from Gorilla: to take a stand, to express disappointment and even disgust. Hopefully, they will be able to maintain public pressure on politicians, the police and prosecutors so that this case is not just swept under the rug and added to Slovakia's growing collection of notorious, and unpunished, scandals.

Though the authenticity of the Gorilla file has not yet been verified, it has been influencing those who believe its details are true, and even those who do not, in a quite penetrating way. If there is a hope for cleaner politics in Slovakia, then it is that things will never be the same now that the Gorilla has escaped from its handlers.

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