Minister Loses Defamation Suit
Children's Author Wins Lawsuit After Criticizing Culture Minister's 'Fascist Past'
United Press International, October 18, 1993
Minister of Culture Dusan Slobodnik on Monday lost a libel case against a well-known Slovak writer, ending a legal tussle which came to symbolize the clash between the nationalist government and intellectuals.
Slobodnik was suing Lubomir Feldek, a writer of children's books, for damages worth 250,000 Slovak crowns ($7,800), following a newspaper column last year in which Feldek accused the culture minister of having a "fascist past" which disqualified him from appointment as a government minister.
However, ending the year-long case, the judge said there was no evidence of libel, adding that Feldek's charges were based on published material. The court ordered Slobodnik, 66, to pay Feldek unspecified counter damages. The court case, which lasted more than a year and had begun to take on a carnival-like atmosphere, highlighted the struggle between Feldek and other writers who regard Slobodnik -- whose ministry oversees all Slovak media -- as the main culprit in the government's campaign against the free press.
Slobodnik has openly withheld state subsidies to magazines which he describes as "anti-Slovak," paid two ministry employees to "analyze" which journalists are criticizing the 10-month-old country, overseen the dismantling of the country's most vocal opposition newspaper within days of independence on Jan. 1 and launched criminal investigations into several other publications.
"When Slobodnik became minister of culture he started going after all sorts of people," said Olga Feldekova, Feldek's wife and herself a writer.
The culture ministry regularly accuses Feldek and other writers of damaging Slovakia's international image for money.
"They are saying that when someone attacks them then that someone is attacking the whole state," Feldek said. "That's stupid."
Slobodnik admitted to being a member of Hlinka's Youth, a military organization defending the pro-Nazi regime of Cardinal Jozef Tiso, for two weeks in 1944, but said that he soon quit the group to join the Slovak National Uprising which helped liberate the country from Nazi occupation.
Both Feldek and Slobodnik are accomplished writers, translators and literary scholars. Slobodnik spent more than eight years in a Soviet prisoner camp after World War II, while Feldek was able to make a good living under the former communist regime.
Slobodnik said he would appeal the ruling. "Don't worry the truth will prevail," he said.