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Co-founder and co-owner of Sme daily dies

A major Slovak entrepreneur, Peter Vajda, died in Prague on October 15. He was exceptional for his innate sense of democracy and believing in equal opportunities for all.

Peter Vajda (Source: Sme)

Alexej Fulmek is the general director of Petit Press, the publisher of the Sme daily and the majority owner of The Slovak Spectator

A big but inconspicuous man has left. The media have only a few pictures of him. He did not like to show off in front of cameras, even though he belonged among the most important entrepreneurs in Slovakia.

He never had the tendency to show off or to make a point of his power and wealth, even though it would not be completely accurate to call him modest. You will not find more than five interviews with him in the Slovak media.

If I should name what it was that made him exceptional, I would say it was mostly his innate sense of democracy, promoting equal opportunities for all and the sensitive way he handled his power. In many projects, he became the significant leader.

It was Peter Vajda who gave us the basic impulse to create a new newspaper in 1992. The Vladimír Mečiar administration wanted to destroy the leadership and the critical spirit of the Smena daily and Peter Vajda offered financial aid to the then-leadership and editor-in-chief of the Smena daily, Karol Ježík, if most of the editorial team left for a new project.

There would be no Sme without him

Without the investment from his Prvá Slovenská Investičná Spoločnosť, the Sme daily would never have emerged and our publishing house would not have grown into one of the biggest in Slovakia. Peter Vajda stood at all the important decisions in the history of the Sme daily and I stood by him in all the difficult moments. He invested into the paper to help maintain the space for a free exchange of opinions.

He would say that “scumbags” and “bandits” can not win everything and he saw the future in a strong civil society. He admired President Václav Havel. He believed that creating a standard uncorrupted environment, without preferring interest groups and with just competition, was all it would take for the smartest people to win recognition, which would move society as a whole forward.

His presence in the Sme daily cost him his Slovak citizenship. He lived with his family in the Czech Republic since 1995, when he left under the pressure of Mečiar’s Finance Ministry after he was stripped of his business licence.

Leader with a story

For almost 30 years he had been an important collector and patron of Slovak art. He invested his first profits into the works of Slovak artists who had been tabooed under socialism.

He created a collection of art that has passed through many cities of Europe and North America.

I remember him as a man in his forties, in full force, at the beginning of our cooperation. He was a man of analytical mind, with the ability to make fast and, most of all, right conclusions. He believed that if we worked hard enough, we had to be successful in the end, even if it did not look like that in our initial years.

Suddenly I remember many moments we shared, and our talks. For example I remember his almost child-like joy when he built his own wine brand, Sonberk, and founded a much-appreciated winery.

He also lived to earn the appraisal of the most prestigious London-based wine magazine Decanter, when it proclaimed the Pálava wine to be the best dry aromatic wine in the world this summer. It was as if the world’s sommeliers paid him his last respects.

The story of the life of Peter Vajda is strong, and so is the story of the Sme daily, a newspaper that nobody can ever erase from the history of this country. Stories of companies are always a projection of the stories of their leaders. On Sunday, the protagonist of one of such story left, an ardent and friendly man. Peter was a fighter, which he also proved in the hard moments during his illness, when he fought and worked until the end.

Our 25-year-long cooperation has ended and I will miss him.