Gorillas In Slovakia

Maria Habanikova

A month ago, it seemed quite probable that the parliamentary elections in Slovakia scheduled for March 10th, 2012 would be postponed until September 2012. At least that’s what the people were calling for in a movement I dare to call the “Slovak Spring”. The protests began with bananas thrown at the walls of parliament in response to the discovery of “gorillas” hiding in the shrubs of corruption.

At the end of 2005, the Slovak Information Service (SIS) discovered something fishy going on between the highest state officials as well as their nominees and major financial groups, the so-called ‘oligarchs’, operating in the country; the latter giving specific orders to the former who then benefit by gaining large sums of provisions in return. The document – ‘Case GORILA’ – talks about the influence of financial groups on the main representatives of state. It points out that the decisions concerning the present and future of Slovakia have not been taken by the elected officials, but by other more powerful actors. Both government and opposition figures were involved in this exchange of selling components of the state to financial groups such as PENTA. This is why, upon concluding the investigation, the SIS swept it all under a rug and did not go public.

One of their investigators who lived just a few apartments away from the flat where this money laundering was happening found himself in a situation where his and his family’s security was threatened. When his SIS colleagues wouldn’t listen to his case, he turned to Tom Nicholson, a Canadian journalist living in Slovakia. However, SIS fired him and accused him of parricide. Nicholson then started working on publicizing the document but SIS was unwilling to help as any information and recordings the Secret Information Group gathers and doesn’t use for the purposes of prosecution must be destroyed; otherwise their use becomes illegal. Nicholson himself does not know how ‘Case GORILA’ appeared online this year. The positive thing is that it is out in the open and a real investigation can begin, or so some say. But can it really? It is doubtful that a proper investigation will be carried out in a country where the police, legislature, and judicial system is so politicized and corrupted. Thus, I do not see much hope in the success of this case if we are going to rely on our failing institutions to do the job. The pilferage of our state has been going on for the past 20 years or so and nobody has been arrested yet. Why would anything change now?

That being said, there is hope! The last time Slovaks stood up for their rights was in 1989 when we were still part of Czechoslovakia. Since the creation of our own Slovak nation state, however, we have been passively watching politics pass us by instead of actively fighting for our input in the institutions of Slovak democracy. Democracy is about dialogue between those who govern and those who are governed, and we seem to have forgotten that. Even now, when you ask a citizen in the street who they are going to vote for, they will either say no one or that they will vote for ‘that guy’ just so that ‘the other guy’ does not get in. Are these protest votes legitimate votes? And can we even blame the voters for such passive and apathetic decisions? I say no considering the absence of transparency. I believe that it is unthinkable that for twenty years nothing has been done. It is no wonder that the voters, as empowered as they might be feeling as a result of these recent discoveries and demonstrations, are just too discouraged to take a concrete political stance in the form of a ballot. I do, however, believe in the power of the collective and that is why I am so very proud to see Slovaks marching, protesting and demonstrating in the streets… and even throwing bananas at parliament! Finally we did something about it instead of just constantly complaining to each other about the ‘scoundrels’ and ‘state wasters up there’; about the gorillas hiding in the shrubs of corruption.

And this is it, this is what parliament needs! Not an investigation, but defenestration! A total cleansing! If we want to see change, we have to ask for it no matter how long it will take for it to manifest; and we have to believe in it and insist on it. Pilferage of the state cannot go on. It is questionable what political atmosphere the elections will create. However, one thing is certain. People have lost faith in those who govern them but as long as they don’t lose faith in themselves as invested citizens, there is hope.