The time of secret files

HARDLY a week passes without the Slovak public being thrown yet another secret file, surreptitious recording, testimony from a ‘trusted’ source, or merely just a bad joke as though citizens are being tested on how much of the dismal state of domestic politics they can stomach.

HARDLY a week passes without the Slovak public being thrown yet another secret file, surreptitious recording, testimony from a ‘trusted’ source, or merely just a bad joke as though citizens are being tested on how much of the dismal state of domestic politics they can stomach.

A good illustration of the pre-election atmosphere in the country is a widely-disseminated email which heralded the publication of yet another batch of highly ‘charged’ materials revealing “dirt in Slovak politics”. The email stated that new recordings would be posted on a blog on February 23 if the politicians featured in the so-called Gorilla file did not withdraw their names as candidates. The email was sent to several media outlets and some then published the information.
Soon information came that the email was only a joke to test the reaction of the Slovak media while the anonymous authors then claimed that they indeed wanted to initiate a discussion about what the media will publish without thoroughly checking sources.

The next day the public was offered another set of what must have been covertly recorded conversations allegedly involving the chairman of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), Richard Sulík, and businessman Marián Kočner, whose name has surfaced in several previous controversies over the past two decades.

The set of seven short videos, apparently recorded at Kočner’s home, is the third lot of anonymously published 'documents' implying that Sulík had kept Kočner informed about internal discussions within the ruling coalition, including details about the tortuous process of choosing a new general prosecutor in late 2010. The previously published SMS messages between the two men were denounced by Sulík as dirty campaign tricks against his party.

Sulík, after the government of Iveta Radičová fell, boldly claimed that his party had always firmly backed the prime minister while the videotape shows Sulík apparently telling Kočner that he had been asked how he would respond to a government led by Ivan Mikloš and Sulík saying “if Mikloš was there, ruling would be easier”.

Of course, without the full context it is tricky to arrive at any kind of firmly-grounded conclusion. But what one can conclude is that the speaker of parliament was sitting in the home of a businessman with a questionable reputation discussing issues like alternatives to the sitting government. This is disturbing on many levels and only pours oil to the fires of various conspiracy theories about why and how the Radičová government collapsed in 2011.

Presumably some additional covertly recorded conversations will emerge before March 10. This, of course, sets the tone and style for our pre-election discourse, making many voters totally resistant to things like party election programmes while reinforcing the general belief that politicians lie in those documents anyway. But the orgy of secret documents and files will likely end by March 10. And the morning after will bring a new reality to Slovakia, with different politicians buckling themselves into crucial government seats, ready to manage the country, with voters having no clue about the programmes or goals they will pursue, other than to satisfy their personal ambitions.

The parties and their campaign teams will argue that they did try to talk about their goals and programmes but that at least half the nation was thoroughly preoccupied with the Gorilla file, named after the operation conducted by the country’s spy agency to record evidence of high-level political corruption in 2005-6.

But if the parties had done their long overdue clean-up and sent the people associated with the times and methods described in the Gorilla file to political retirement, then other issues may have surfaced and dominated the election discourse.

As it is, the political elite have offered nothing other than feeble assurances that the practices described in the Gorilla file are only reminders of a past corrupt era that has now been replaced by new, more enlightened politics.

That is why this particular election campaign mirrors the frustrations of society and has brought forth groups trying to take advantage of the public’s deep disillusionment, frustration and anger. Unfortunately, if these groups make it into power this disillusionment is only likely to burgeon.

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