JUST months after his inauguration, Banská Bystrica Regional Governor Marian Kotleba is embroiled in conflict with the regional council. The councillors’ anger over the regional monthly newspaper, which recently began echoing Kotleba’s praise of the wartime fascist Slovak state, resulted in their unanimous decision to grant the paper “one big zero” from the regional budget, as one of the councillors put it.
After months of disagreement over the regional budget, which has resulted in the region working with only a provisional budget, the Banská Bystrica regional council passed the final version of this year’s budget on April 11. This is practically the same budget that they already approved in late February, but which Governor Kotleba refused to sign.
The recently published issue of the Náš Kraj (Our Region) monthly regional newspaper prompted the councillors to cut the budgetary expenses for publishing the paper to zero. Originally, the budget allotted €150,000 for the newspaper. The paper’s April issue features, among other things, an article that positively assesses the wartime Slovak state, and other pieces praising the new governor. Kotleba is known as the former leader of several far-right extremist groupings, including the Slovak Togetherness party, which was banned by the Interior Ministry.
The wartime Slovak state is a topic 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.
“Promoting perverse opinions about the wartime Slovak state is unacceptable,” said councillor Jaroslav Demian from the Smer caucus, who proposed the changes to the draft budget, as quoted by the SITA newswire. “This is the Our Region monthly, not Your Region, Mr Governor.”
Several councillors noted that the monthly was simply turned into a political pamphlet for Kotleba and his party, People’s Party-Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), and many claimed they were personally offended by the article praising the wartime Nazi-allied state, citing the participation of their ancestors in the Slovak National Uprising (a popular uprising against the state in 1944). Banská Bystrica was the centre of the uprising and the region takes pride in its crucial role in partisan activity.
“Praise of the fascist Slovak state offends me,” councillor Radoslav Vazan told journalists, as quoted by the Sme daily, noting that the leaders of that state in fact put his grandfather into a concentration camp. Demian too claimed his father participated in the uprising, and he himself is an active member of the Association of Fighters Against Fascism.
Following the session, during which the councillors not only cut €150,000 from the monthly’s budget, but also another €1 million for other expenses of the governor’s office, Kotleba said that his office has already contracted the publication for five issues, two of which have been published so far. That means the office is going to publish at least three more. Kotleba said he sees no problem “financing it from sources other than regional ones”, when speaking to journalists after the session.
Kotleba also claimed, however, that the budget cannot be implemented since it was passed in spite of his veto, and therefore the region might continue to operate with the provisional budget, Sme reported.
Kotleba and his office could face more than just financial problems if they want to continue publishing the monthly with content similar to the April issue. The Banská Bystrica district prosecutor’s office started investigating the paper on its own initiative shortly after the April issue was published.
“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).
Based on the Press Code, the responsibility for the monthly’s content rests with the publisher, which is the regional self-administration, according to Alena Kuišová from the office of Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová. This case may also involve the suspicion that a crime may have been committed.
“If the monthly approves of or apologises for the regime based on fascist ideology, such as the Slovak state of 1939-1945, there might be the suspicion of a crime,” Dubovcová said, as quoted by SITA.
Yet more conflict
The councillors’ session saw some council members storm out of the room in protest, while others voiced their frustration with the extremist-turned-governor over several issues.
Demian, for instance, called on Kotleba to apologise to the Ukrainians for the letter he sent to Ukraine’s then-president Viktor Yanukovych during the Euro-Maidan protests in Kiev.
In the letter, dated January 30, Kotleba called on Yanukovych to save Ukraine while he still has time, calling NATO a terrorist organisation that is only trying to shift its borders closer to Russia, and accusing the EU of only seeking new markets. Kotleba does not intend to apologise for the letter.
“If President Yanukovych, so to speak, had the balls to lead the Ukrainian people, Ukraine would not be on the verge of a civil war today,” he commented, as quoted by Sme.
21. Apr 2014 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani