Slovakia works through its authoritarian past

Finally facing up to the facts: Slovak Premier Robert Fico. [European Union]

In 1998, Vladimir Mečiar, Slovakia’s authoritarian prime minister, signed amnesties for crimes involving the kidnapping of the son of President Michal Kováč in 1995. On Wednesday (5 April), lawmakers voted to overturn the pardons. EURACTIV Slovakia reports.

President Kováč and Vladimír Mečiar, one-time political allies, grew apart over what became the increasingly authoritarian style of rule of Mečiar´s government.

Mečiar´s term in office, 1994-1998, pushed Slovakia into international isolation and far behind its neighbouring countries when it came to its goals of joining the EU and NATO.

Slovak secret service involved

In August 1995, the president´s son was kidnapped and transported by masked men to Austria, where he was left, beaten and drugged in a locked car. The Austrian police were anonymously alerted and apprehended him.

The investigation found that the Slovak state secret service (Slovenská informačná Služba, SiS) orchestrated and carried out the kidnapping with the aim of pressuring President Kováč to drop his resistance to Mečiar.

Unresolved murder

The investigations into the kidnapping went on for several years. In 1996, Robert Remiáš, a former policeman and friend of the key witness for the prosecution – Oskar Fegyveres an intelligence officer who took part in the kidnapping – was killed by a car bomb in the Slovak capital, Bratislava.

Following yesterday’s vote his mother, Anna Remiášová, had tears in her eyes.

No one has been brought to justice for these acts thanks to amnesties signed by Vladimir Mečiar in 1998.

Trauma

Slovak society was traumatised by Mečiar’s abuse of power.

Since parliamentary elections in 1998, when Mečiar was ousted from power, there were several attempts to overcome the amnesties. Nevertheless, they stumbled in the Slovak parliament and at the Constitutional Court, as the move would go against the constitution.

As recently as a few months ago, members of the ruling coalition, including Prime Minister Robert Fico claimed the amnesties couldn’t be overruled, as this would undermine the principle of legal certainty and prohibition of retroactivity, although they all agreed that the amnesties were immoral.

Slovakia's Fico to lead his third government

Robert Fico has managed to form a coalition cabinet composed of four very different parties that brings together centre-left and right-wing parties, nationalists and a Hungarian party. EURACTIV Slovakia reports.

It was mainly the opposition who pushed the topic forward together with one junior coalition partner, the Most-Hid party.

The Slovak National Party (SNS), also a coalition partner of Fico´s party Smer-SD was the junior coalition partner of the government in the 1990s, when these events took place, although with different leadership. Mečiar was a junior coalition partner in Fico´s first government in 2006-2010.

U-turn

The change of heart by the government happened against the backdrop of an open call of leading Slovak lawyers to take the step, supported by a petition signed by more than 80,000 people.

A hugely successful movie based on the events of 1995, “The Kidnap,” was screened in Slovak cinemas. A public opinion poll showed that 63% of the Slovak population supports the abolition of the amnesties.

The Slovak parliament passed the required constitutional amendment last week and yesterday cancelled the amnesties by 129 votes out of 150.

Under the amended constitution, parliament can cancel presidential amnesties if they have been adopted in conflict with principles of rule of law and democracy. It is up to the Constitutional Court to assess if this is the case.

“This step allows us to come to terms with the ill-conceived legacy of Mečiar amnesties,” Prime Minister Robert Fico told Reuters.

What happens next?

The Constitutional Court will have its say. The outcome is unclear since some of the judges have been in the past linked to the political party of Vladimír Mečiar.

Once the Court gives its ruling, the prosecution of the kidnap and murder of Robert Remiáš can be resumed.

Background

Further Reading