Infighting Threatens Slovak Democracy Politics Suspected in Abduction of President's Son

Article excerpt

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. Rocky Democracy

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 Eastern Bloc.

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. …

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