THE FLAG of the European Union is a symbol of occupation, and the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state was a prosperous and successful country: these are just the two most striking examples of the kind of rhetoric found in a newspaper published by the Banská Bystrica regional government since Marian Kotleba became governor.
The Náš kraj (Our Region) monthly is the self-proclaimed official newspaper of Banská Bystrica Region, published by the office of the regional government and funded from the regional budget. It is available in electronic form on the regional government’s website and distributed in printed form to households around the region free of charge. The paper has hardly any informational value, but as such it is not unique, as most of the eight self-governing regions in Slovakia publish a periodical of their own, according to a 2013 survey by the non-governmental organisation Transparency International Slovensko (TIS).
These regional papers use most of their space to promote the activities of their respective regional governor and present his activities in a positive light. Banská Bystrica Region however stands out, since Kotleba, who has a background as a far-right extremist, took power in the region. Regional elections bring extremist to power
A recent issue of Náš kraj, published on April 7 , contains articles praising the regional governor, with one about Kotleba and the head of his People’s Party-Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), Martin Beluský, donating a washing machine and a dryer to a family who gave birth to triplets on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the wartime Slovak state.
The wartime Slovak state is one of the topics that Kotleba often promotes. Contrary to the generally accepted view that the state was allied with Nazi Germany and as such sent tens of thousands of its citizens to concentration camps, Kotleba and his party praise the state as the first-ever independent state of Slovaks. The regional paper’s April issue contains a story conveying this view. The issue’s lead story praises Kotleba for his courage for removing the “occupant flag of the European Union” from the building of the regional government.
Most of the stories are authored by Milan Belička, the regional office spokesman, and former TASR newswire editor Michal Albert is the monthly’s main editor.
Regional council members, who have clashed with the governor over several issues since the November 2013 election, have complained that the newspaper is biased, saying it is wrong that a paper funded by the region’s citizens has been turned into a political pamphlet.
“It’s pure demagoguery paid from taxpayers’ money,” said Ľubica Laššáková, head of the majority caucus of Smer and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) in the regional council, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
The council is scheduled to discuss the paper at its April 11 session.
The municipal council in Banská Bystrica, the region’s capital, has also expressed concern. In an official statement, the council distanced itself from the regional governor’s statements in the monthly about liberating the nation from the EU and celebrating the 75th anniversary of Slovak statehood.
The regional governor’s office had not responded to journalists’ questions by the time the Slovak Spectator went to print on April 10.
Meanwhile, the Banská Bystrica district prosecutor’s office has started investigating the case out of its own initiative.
“The district prosecutor’s office is currently investigating the content [of the newspaper] from a penal perspective,” Banská Bystrica regional prosecutor’s office spokesman Ivan Vozár told the Pravda daily.
The crimes that might have been committed are abusing the powers of a public official (due to the promotion of ĽSNS in the regional paper) and denying the Holocaust (with the article praising the wartime state).
Kotleba not alone in this
TIS has condemned the way the Banská Bystrica regional governor is abusing the monthly. At the same time, TIS, which annually assesses the transparency of Slovakia’s regional governments, remarked that it is not unusual for regional governors to use similar taxpayer-funded periodicals for their own promotion.
“But none of the former governors have even come close to the way Marian Kotleba has turned the regional monthly, with a circulation of 240,000 for €40,000, into a propaganda pamphlet of his party,” TIS wrote on their Facebook page, calling on the regional authorities to stop using public funds to finance the monthly.
In TIS’ regular assessments of the transparency of the regional governments, the periodicals published by these governments, financed from public funds, were one of the major points of criticism.
According to TIS, five of the eight regional governments were publishing a printed periodical in 2013 financed from public money. However, only Bratislava, Trnava and Banská Bystrica Regions were publishing newspapers that were several pages in length and distributed to every household in the region.
Altogether, these periodicals cost about half a million euros a year to publish.
“At the same time, they don’t fulfil even the basic requirements of how public-service media should function,” TIS wrote in its October 2013 report. According to TIS’ analysis, the monthlies published by regional governments only write positive stories about the regional governor meeting with VIPs, handing out awards, hosting various events and being generally successful in projects the region is working on.
“A search for any criticism, either from the opposition, citizens or activists, would end in vain,” TIS wrote.
Extremist vs. protocol
Kotleba’s name has been recently mentioned in connection with the inauguration of the new president. In pre-election surveys, then-presidential candidate Andrej Kiska said he would do his utmost to avoid inviting Kotleba to his inauguration as long as the protocol allows that.
Since there is no official version of the state protocol in Slovakia, there is also no list of people who must be invited to the inauguration, according to protocol experts addressed by the Sme daily. Until now, the practice has been to invite former presidents, government representatives and parliamentarians, local and regional self-administration representatives, businesspeople, church representatives, diplomats and other VIPs.
The final decision on whether to invite Kotleba will me made by the Parliament’s Office in cooperation with the President’s Office and president-elect Kiska.
14. Apr 2014 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani