BRATISLAVA Slovakia's ruling parties proposed on Wednesday cancelling amnesties granted by former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to his secret service chief and 12 others for the 1995 kidnapping of the then president's son.
The pardons, which left many Slovaks feeling a state-sponsored crime went unpunished, highlighted the country's slide from democratic rule under Meciar. Many politicians have condemned them formally but insisted they were irrevocable.
A movie based on the kidnapping of President Michal Kovac's son - also named Michal - has already become the most popular Slovak film ever. Its opening weekend earlier this month topped even those of the very popular Harry Potter movies.
Prime Minister Robert Fico said the ruling parties have now found a way to meet public demand for reopening the cases. "I believe this historical compromise will come as a satisfaction to the people," he told journalists on Wednesday.
Kovac was a symbol of resistance to Meciar, under whose rule Slovakia was denied an initial invitation to join the EU and NATO along with its central European post-communist neighbours.
Madeleine Albright, then the United States Secretary of State, called the country "the black hole of Europe".
Meciar denied any responsibility for the kidnapping last week. "I have nothing to fear, my head is not at stake," he said in a televised interview.
While he was interim president after Kovac's term expired, Meciar granted amnesties that prevented prosecution of 13 people, including a close ally who was head of the country's secret service (SIS), on suspicion they kidnapped Kovac's son to Austria, where he was dumped outside a police station.
A secret service agent who gave evidence on the case fled abroad due to fear for his life, and a friend who helped him escape died when his car was blown up in 1996.
When Kovac died last October, current President Andrej Kiska urged lawmakers to cancel the amnesties. "We owe it to ourselves, to the rule of law and an effort to revive trust in justice in this country," he said.
"It's still an open wound for Slovak society. People have not accepted that such an act of state terrorism against its own citizen would be left unpunished," political analyst Marian Lesko said.
An opinion poll last month showed 63 percent of Slovaks want the amnesties canceled. More than 66,000 Slovaks have signed an online petition, the biggest such survey in Slovakia's history.
The ruling parties have proposed a constitutional change that, if approved, would allow parliament to cancel the amnesties. The Constitutional Court would then be required to rule on such decision within 60 days.
"If the Constitutional Court upholds the cancellation, the authorities will have a green light, the investigation will continue where it stopped. How far it will go after all these years is beyond my competence," Fico said.
(Editing by Tom Heneghan)