SELECTING the new head of the Nation’s Memory Institute (ÚPN) proved less challenging for Slovak MPs than picking suitable candidates for several other top positions of state. Still, three parliamentary votes were needed to elect the candidate. The seat of the ÚPN board president was vacant for less than two weeks before parliament elected Ondrej Krajňák to the post.
“I thank this party, headed by its chairman, for the trust they showed,” Krajňák said, as quoted by the Sme daily, after his election, referring to Smer, which proposed him as a candidate. “I also value the big support of rightist MPs.”
Krajňák, who came from within the ÚPN, received 105 votes from the 140 MPs present in the February 13 election, 83 of which were members of Smer. The candidate of the opposition People’s Platform, Marián Gula, received 18 votes.
“I wish for ÚPN employees to be able to work in peace and to enjoy success,” Sme quoted Krajňák as saying after the election. “Today we can state that the human has again won over the partisan. It proves the maturity of our nation, which is continuously confronted with its past.”
Smer tapped Krajňák as a candidate for the ÚPN head post after dropping its previous nominee, Juraj Kalina.
“We learned about his [Krajňák’s] present work at the institute,” said the Smer caucus deputy chair Miroslav Číž, as quoted by the SITA newswire, adding that Krajňák has authored works about the prison camp in Jáchymov (established during the communist era), the candle manifestation, various documentary films and other pieces connected with the activities of the ÚPN. “It seems he could be a good candidate and that the public could also accept him to an appropriate extent.”
The ÚPN is responsible for, among other things, administering the files of the ŠtB, the communist-era secret police. Its previous leadership under Ivan Petranský, whose term expired on January 31, 2013, was seen as controversial due to some of Petranský’s actions and statements pertaining to the wartime Nazi-allied Slovak State.
Parliament held two previous votes in which it failed to elect a ÚPN head. Smer did not run a candidate in either of the two elections, and the opposition candidate, František Mikloško, was unable to win the support of Smer MPs.
With Smer’s majority in parliament, Krajňák’s victory was seen as a foregone conclusion. However, the same initially seemed true for the party’s previous candidate, Juraj Kalina, who in the end was removed from the election by Smer itself amid much controversy.
Kalina’s nomination by Smer came rather unexpectedly, with political commentators saying he is “not a typical Smer candidate”. Kalina works at the Czech Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes, and formerly worked at the ÚPN. In an interview with the Sme daily on January 23, he agreed that he could be considered a disciple of Ján Langoš, a dissident and the first ÚPN head.
Statements made by Kalina in that same interview, however, seem to have changed the way some Smer MPs viewed him. Among other things, he admitted in the interview to taking issue with the controversial equestrian statue of Svätopluk, which Robert Fico’s previous government erected at the Bratislava Castle, due to it having become a symbol abused by extremists. When asked whether he had any respect for wartime Slovak president Josef Tiso, Kalina responded “quite the contrary”.
Smer MP Jaroslav Baška later admitted to Sme that some of his fellow party MPs did in fact mind some of Kalina’s comments about the wartime president, explaining that “what colleagues said, who are bigger experts in this, was that some of his opinions did not correspond with history”.
Smer’s handling of Kalina’s nomination suggests that within the party “there are strong nationalist groups” along with people “who make no secret of this orientation”, political scientist Miroslav Kusý told The Slovak Spectator.
In response to Kalina’s withdrawal from the election, the parliamentary opposition backed an initiative proposed by the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party and offered Kalina the chance to run as an opposition candidate. Kalina declined the offer and cited personal reasons for not running in the election, the TASR newswire reported.
Finally, the People’s Platform, comprising the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Most-Híd, proposed Marián Gula, who also comes from within the ÚPN.