Slovak Gorilla continues its rampage

By bne IntelliNews February 6, 2012

bne -

Thousands of Slovaks rallied across the country for the second week in a row on February 3 to call for the resignation of politicians implicated in the "Gorilla" scandal. The sheer numbers that turned up in freezing conditions illustrates the momentum of the protests, and increases the likelihood that Smer will be able to form Slovakia's first ever single party government after the March 10 elections.

Reports suggest at least 10,000 attended the main rally in Bratislava, although organiser Lucia Gallova told TASR newswire that 15,000 turned up for the start of the event at the Square of Slovakia's National Uprising. Dozens of bananas (a reference to the Gorilla files implicating leading politicians in corruption), eggs, bottles, firecrackers and even one flowerpot were pelted at government buildings and the Presidential Palace. Rallies of 1,000-3,000 were also reported in cities including Nitra, Kosice and Zilina, amongst others.

Once again, the protestors called for several politicians, reportedly recorded by the security services meeting with shady financial group Penta to discuss privatisation deals in 2005-06, to resign. Top of that hit list is Mikulas Dzurinda, prime minister at the time of the recordings and the current foreign minister and head of the governing SKDU party. However, detailed evidence from the files - which have been around for some years - has yet to emerge.

That doesn't deter the protestors, however. Wearied by the apparent return of Slovak politics to the darkest days of the 1990s, they shouted "national treason" and called for some politicians to be jailed. During the first such protest a week ago, computer hackers knocked out the websites of the powerful Penta investment fund, its associated bank, as well as government departments, reports Deutsche Presse Agentur.

Interior Minister Daniel Lipsic has appointed a special investigation unit to look into the case, which also involves alleged bribes of parliamentary deputies and state officials. However, officials have not confirmed the names of those under investigation, reports Reuters.

The rising public anger obscures some of the questions that the release of the Gorilla file in late December provokes. As those in the SKDU in particular have asked, why has the file - suppressed for around six years - suddenly appeared three months ahead of elections in March?

Meanwhile, Dzurinda - who claims the whole affair is a fabrication despite apparent confirmation by several officials and law enforcers - has little choice but to try to brazen it out, but that leaves Slovakia's established right-wing parties who were in power at the time to bear the brunt. SKDU's popularity has plummeted to single figures in recent polls.

At the same time, left-leaning Smer - which was already a good bet to lead the next government - looks like it may even win enough seats to govern alone, which would be a first in post-communist Slovakia. That would put investors on high alert given the populist promises and track record of leader Robert Fico.

Whilst Fico is reported in the Gorilla files to have discussed purges in his party and financing with Penta co-owner Jaroslav Hascak, and Smer is known to have received about SKK1.2m (around €40,000) from the financial group in the past, Fico has long since cut ties with Penta, reports The Economist. One of his first moves when he came to power in 2006 was to move to reverse privatisations agreed by the previous government, including that of Bratislava airport to Penta, whilst in 2008 he said that he likes financial groups "as a goat likes a knife".

Even so, the coalition government that Fico headed was itself mired in corruption scandals - the reason the country booted it out of office in 2010. The Fico government left in its wake dozens of scandals, including serious allegations that the prime minister himself sold parliamentary mandates, state posts and public contracts in return for clandestine funds from oligarchs.

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