Lieutenant-General Pavel Macko, one of the most experienced army generals, has recently announced his retirement from the military in reaction to the selection of the new Chief of General Staff. Defence Minister Peter Gajdoš of the coalition Slovak National Party (SNS) chose Daniel Zmeko for this position, a man who has considerably less experience than the original shortlisted candidates. In an interview for Sme, he explains what has incited him to take this step and how he perceives the current ministry leadership.
In the interview, you will find out:
How he perceives overpriced purchases
His view of the new Chief of General Staff
When the changes at the ministry started
Who in fact controls the army
Sme: You quite unexpectedly announced that you are leaving and this was surprising for many. Were you not too rash in this?
Pavel Macko (PM): Certainly not, as this decision has been ripening in me for a long time. The coincidental coming together of several circumstances drove my decision. Essentially, I am not really opposed to Mr. Zmeko. However, the method and the intention behind his selection were absolutely inadequate. It was kept secret until the very last moment although it has been known for a long time that the incumbent Chief of General Staff, Milan Maxim, was coming to the end of his term. The replacement cycle for the Chief is four years. But the Minister tabled the proposal for the government without previously publishing it.
Sme: What conclusion do you draw from that?
PM: That there was zero effort to communicate with me and with other generals in the leadership about where the army is heading. The Minister, probably under pressure from people in the background, decided to push through his proposal.
Sme: You called Zmeko a third-level general. What does this mean?
PM: This means that he was chosen from the third level of command; the first level comprises of the Chief himself and his deputies, the second level is represented by commanders of individual forces. At the third level, there are generals with just one star, commanders of brigades and their deputies and chiefs of units within the general staff. Until recently, Mr. Zmeko belonged among them. I don't want to comment on whether he is a good-quality general or not, only that it is unusual for a person from the third rank of command to get the post of Chief of General Staff. It must be said that if this happens there must always be a serious reason for it. I did not see one in this case. It is true that Mr. Zmeko’s name has been mentioned in lobbies for quite a long time but none of us soldiers believed it.
Sme: Up to this point, Daniel Zmeko has been National Head for Armament, and thus he was involved in all the strange purchases of military technology, for example the personnel carriers which were already checked by NAKA. Did he get his position as an expression of thanks?
PM: I don’t want to comment on this. I wish him many successful achievements, and us all that he uses the political support he undoubtedly has to the benefit of the armed forces.
Sme: When you publicly announced your decision to leave the army, you hinted that Zmeko got a medal for his service in the ISAF military mission in Afghanistan although he did not even serve there. How do you explain it?
PM: This is a varied interpretation of law but I don’t want to comment on this in more detail. I think, though, that he was never deployed in this mission as an ISAF member.
Sme: Did you see a politically motivated step in selecting Zmeko for the position of Army Chief?
PM: I fear yes. This issue does not only concern the post of Chief of General Staff though. There are constant structural changes at the Defence Ministry. Every month in the internal ministerial bulletins you see the organisational structure changing.
Sme: When announcing that you would retire from the army, you said that Minister Gajdoš explained to you in a personal conversation that you could never be promoted to a higher position due to the scandal surrounding your son Martin. He is currently being tried in connection with the “faecal phantom” case, in which he is accused by the police of some of the attacks. The Minister denied your statement immediately, however. What is the truth?
PM: The Minister’s stance is absolutely incorrect. I would never have published anything from a private conversation, if it wasn’t this serious. I even pointed it out to him. If these were the true reasons, then it would give someone a tool to get rid of someone who was annoying.
Sme: You stated that the whole faecal phantom scandal was a trick to hammer your son and in fact that it was a campaign aimed at discrediting you. Why do you think this?
PM: There are too many factors pointing to this. I plan to publish the whole file concerning the case. I have prepared a summary of what manipulations of evidence have been going on here – before my son was detained but also afterwards. The overturning of the acquittal verdict took place without any arguments and was based on the prosecutor’s lies.