A recent TV appearance by the man once dubbed the “father of the nation” was a little bit like seeing a zombie emerge from a swamp that we never wanted to revisit.
But emerge he did, once again, to defend the things that he did to this country when he granted his amnesties, and to sit there, seemingly very calm, to say: “I have nothing to fear.”
The amnesties of Vladimír Mečiar are hitting the headlines again almost 20 years after they were first granted. A movie about the abduction of the president’s son, the murder of Róbert Remiáš and the fate of Oskar Fegyveres, is screening in cinemas across the country. Yet another attempt – the latest in a string of such attempts – to scrap the amnesties is gathering pace in parliament now. Even the prime minister, who has a history of governing in coalition with Mečiar and who has always dismissed the idea of overturning the amnesties as a legal nonsense, now, after all these years, hints that he could try and find a way to get rid of them.
I represent the generation that was barely interested in politics in 1990s, when Mečiar tried to turn the country away from democracy and the transatlantic trends that its neighbours were following.
It is a peculiar place we are in, neither here nor there. It is not history for us, like World War II, for instance. Textbooks devote little more than a page to the emergence of the Slovak Republic in 1993; merely a short text, accompanied by a picture of Mečiar and Slovakia’s first president, Michal Kováč, shaking hands, and an oblique sentence about later tensions between the two. Nor would it be accurate to call this our own experience, although the things did take place in our lifetime.
What were you doing on the day Kováč Jr. was kidnapped? I would not know, nor would most of my peers. On August 31, 1995 we were probably mourning the end of the summer holidays, preparing to go back to school, interested in cartoons or the pop charts rather than the news.
Yet there are pictures of that era that remain quite vivid in my memory, perhaps, because they are now an indelible part of our collective memory too. The mother of Róbert Remiáš slapping Mečiar with a bouquet of flowers, perhaps the most emblematic moment of the events that took place in the months and years that followed the kidnapping. Or the picture of Ivan Lexa, wearing nothing but his swimming suit, as he jumped into a pool somewhere exotic (later we learned why he was hiding in South Africa). One did not need to be a proper grown-up to sense that something was very wrong about all that.
By the time we really grew up and were allowed to vote, Mečiar’s government was long gone and Slovakia was safely on its way into the EU. This generation was supposed to carry forward the ideals of democracy, to learn what the rule of law and respect for human rights were all about, and perhaps teach this to our parents too. Instead, our generation, and the one that is emerging now too, succumbs to the lies of the “alternative” – in politics, in the media, and, alarmingly, even in medicine, with anti-vaccination campaigns gathering pace.
One cannot help but think that if the biggest crimes of the 1990s were clarified and the immorality of the time was exposed and accounted for, there would perhaps be more trust in the system and less need to seek some twisted alternatives.
9. Mar 2017 at 12:54 | Michaela Terenzani