Being the son of the president has its benefits, particularly
for a budding entrepreneur hoping to make a killing in the
rough-and-tumble markets of newly capitalist Central Europe.
Michal Kovac Jr., the son of Slovak President Michal Kovac,
enjoys instant name recognition. He gets high-powered invitations.
And he does not lack for business associates.
But the 33-year-old Kovac is learning, in an unexpectedly
bruising way, that having a father in high office can be perilous
in Slovakia, the bad boy of Central Europe, where business is
booming but democracy is going bust.
At the moment, Kovac is free on $100,000 bail in neighboring
Austria, where he spent 32 days in jail this fall after being
kidnapped near his Bratislava home by armed men, tortured, pumped
full of whiskey and dragged across the border. His kidnappers are
suspected of being political enemies of his father who hoped to
embarrass the president by having his son arrested on an Interpol
warrant stemming from a year-old German fraud case.
Now the Austrian courts are trying to decide whether to
extradite Kovac to Germany, where he is wanted for questioning in
the case, or allow him to return home because of the peculiar
circumstances of his arrest. Kovac, 22 pounds thinner and a bit
shaken, has taken refuge in a Silesian monastery.
He said in an interview: "I had received blackmail messages
saying, `If your father does not resign, we will keep after you
until the very end.' I hope this will help Slovak citizens wake up.
If they are willing to do this to me, at what point will they stop?"
The kidnapping of a president's son would create a sensation
most anywhere, but in Slovakia Kovac's ordeal has exposed
Slovakia's rocky democracy and illustrated how difficult the
transformation from totalitarianism remains in the former communist
Lubomir Liptak, 66, a historian at the Slovak Academy of
Sciences, said: "When I was 8 years old, fascism came to Slovakia.
When I was 18, we got communism. Democracy didn't come until I was
already of retirement age. I never had the opportunity to be a
democrat. Neither did most other Slovaks . . . and the situation is
not unique to Slovakia."
But the situation is the most serious in Slovakia. Unlike the
problems in neighboring countries, where the trend is indisputably
in the direction of democracy, the assault on Slovak freedoms is
systematic and pervasive.
The concerns are made worse by the newborn country's
inexperience in governing itself. …