BRATISLAVA Slovakia's parliament paved the way on Thursday to cancel 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 legislature passed a constitutional amendment that allows it to revoke the pardons. Many politicians have condemned them but long insisted they were irrevocable.
Many Slovaks see the pardons as a state-sponsored crime that went unpunished and a symbol of the country's slide from democratic rule under Meciar. Cancelling the amnesties will allow prosecutors to resume investigating the abduction.
A movie based on the kidnapping of former 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.
The constitutional change, backed by 124 out of 150 lawmakers, allows parliament to cancel the amnesties. The Constitutional Court would have to confirm this within 60 days.
"We have created a mechanism to once and for all bury this problem and heal this trauma," parliamentary speaker Andrej Danko said before the vote.
"This is a historic moment. I believe we have started a journey to cancellation of the amnesties and the return of justice into our country," said deputy speaker Bela Bugar.
The actual cancellation vote was expected next week, he added.
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 earlier this month.
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. 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.
An opinion poll last month showed 63 percent of Slovaks want the amnesties canceled. More than 84,000 Slovaks have signed an online petition, the biggest such survey in Slovakia's history.
(Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Tom Heneghan)