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Slovakia: Authorities May Reopen Case Of Dubcek's Fatal Crash

Prague, 22 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Slovak authorities are considering reopening the case of Alexander Dubcek�s fatal car crash in 1992.

Dubcek was best known for introducing "socialism with a human face" while Czechoslovak Communist Party leader in 1968.

The return to power of democratic forces in Slovakia last autumn has enabled nearly a dozen unresolved cases to be reopened.

The former head of Dubcek�s Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, Jaroslav Volf, a member of parliament, won a commitment from Czech officials late last year to assist Slovakia in reopening the investigation into Dubcek�s car crash. The two sides discussed creation of a joint investigative commission.

Subsequently, the head of investigations at the Slovak Interior Ministry, General Jaroslav Ivor, discussed with his Czech counterpart possibilities for gaining information and materials from the six-year-old Czech investigation of Dubcek�s fatal crash.

Slovak Social Democratic Party spokesman Miroslav Spejl told RFE/RL by telephone today that the time has come to clear up the uncertainty.

"Various beliefs by society and all sorts of rumors and innuendo oblige us to determine once and for all whether any grounds exist to confirm these rumors and if not, to close the case for good."

Spejl says too many questions remain unanswered in the Dubcek case and must be resolved. If a political element to the case is confirmed, then he says, investigators must determine who was behind Dubcek�s death.

Fear, particularly while Vladimir Meciar was in power in Slovakia, dissuaded several leading Slovak Social Democrats from publicly pursuing their suspicions concerning Dubcek�s car crash.

Slovak Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's government is currently reopening investigations into nearly a dozen unresolved, murky cases, largely involving the previous Meciar government. These include the 1995 abduction to Austria of Michal Kovac Jr., the son of Slovakia's president at the time, and the murder of a key witness to the abduction, Robert Remias, who some say knew too much about the alleged involvement of the Slovak intelligence service (SIS). Other cases center on alleged interference in a 1997 referenda on NATO membership and the manner of electing the president, and a variety of economic crimes, largely related to privatization.

The murder in Bratislava last week of former Economy and Industry Minister Jan Ducky, who also served under Meciar as head of the Slovak gas monopoly, has thrust the interior ministry and the prosecutor's office into the spotlight.

Last Tuesday, Slovak Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner won a confidence vote called by Meciar�s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). HZDS alleged Pittner was "incompetent" in dealing with "political terrorism" which the party insists led to Ducky�s murder. Pittner told MPs the police are working on 11 unresolved cases from the past, among them economic cases. He said he has no intention of discussing them in public out of fear, he stressed, of a repetition of the Ducky murder. Pittner accused the Meciar regime of having failed to resolve any of 45 murder investigations last year.

The Slovak and foreign media have portrayed Ducky's murder as the first murder of a top Slovak politician since the fall of communism. However, that assumes Dubcek died as the result of an accident in which no foul play was involved.

At the time of the crash, Dubcek was in political limbo, having had to give up the post of speaker of the Czechoslovak Parliament following the June 1992 general elections. He remained an MP and headed the tiny Social Democratic Party. He was coming under increasing criticism by those who had gained power in the elections -- the Czech center right led by Vaclav Klaus and the Slovak populists led by Vladimir Meciar. Talks that summer between Klaus and Meciar on loosening the bonds between Prague and Bratislava quickly resulted in an agreement to dissolve the Czechoslovak state. Dubcek, though on the sidelines and apprehensive about the split, began to appear as the most logical choice to become the first president of an independent Slovakia.

Dubcek's chauffeur-driven BMW skidded off the Bratislava-Prague highway in heavy rain on September 1, 1992. Dubcek's driver was a Czechoslovak Federal Interior Ministry warrant officer, Jan Reznik. Dubcek said later in hospital he sensed something was wrong and lay down along the length of the rear seat long before the crash. Reznik suffered relatively minor injuries in the crash. But Dubcek was found lying 20 meters in front of the car. A study conducted by the Brno Institute for Court Engineering determined that Reznik must have been driving at between 114 and 131 km per hour at the time the car went off the road and that Dubcek apparently was catapulted out of the rear window as the car spun out of control.

Dubcek was helicoptered to a Prague hospital where he died nearly ten weeks later on Nov. 7, 1992. His funeral in Bratislava was perceived by many as Czechoslovakia�s own funeral.

The car crash is still marked by uncertainty and recurrent rumors that Dubcek may have been the victim of a plot. What is absent is a strong enough motive. Czechoslovakia's last federal interior minister, Jan Langos, now a Slovak MP with the ruling coalition, told RFE/RL in 1997 he remained convinced Dubcek died as the result of an accident. He said the only mistake made in the investigation was to permit the BMW to be destroyed following examination by investigators.

But a lawyer for the Dubcek family and the Slovak Social Democratic Party, Liboslav Leksa, is virtually convinced foul play was involved. Last year, he published a book containing a variety of documents from the investigation as well as his own list of unanswered questions. But Leksa declined to tell all, saying he possessed documents which at the time of publication could not be published. Leksa now lives in the Czech Republic and remains cautious about voicing suspicions.

Leksa�s study suggests that if there is anyone who does know whether Dubcek�s car crash was not just an accident, it would be the driver, Reznik, who refused to cooperate with investigators. Leksa says Reznik had worked for the Communist secret police (StB) and did not enjoy Dubcek�s trust.

After the car crash Reznik, though an Interior Ministry officer, refused to cooperate with investigators. A Czech military court in Ceske Budejovice in March, 1993 convicted Reznik for having caused bodily injury and for failing to reduce his speed to conform to conditions. He was sentenced to one year in prison and banned from driving for two and a half years.

An appeals court later confirmed the conviction. But an amnesty declared in the newly independent Slovakia saved Reznik from having to serve time in prison.

The full story of what happened to Dubcek may well remain a mystery just as the strange death in March 1948 of Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk (the son of the country's founder and first president, Tomas Masaryk) does. Dressed in pajamas, Masaryk plunged to his death from a high bathroom ledge into a courtyard at the Foreign Ministry in Prague late one night 51 years ago. At the time, Masaryk's death was labeled a suicide. A letter Masaryk allegedly sent to Stalin justifying his suicide on the grounds of betrayal by the Kremlin leader was published in the Czech leftist daily Rude Pravo in January 1991. But its authenticity remains in question.

Investigations into Masaryk�s death were relaunched in 1968 and again in recent years, confirming rumors of secret police having gained access to Masayk�s apartment that night and having turned it upside down. Yet no firm, final answer has been found to the perennial question -- did Jan Masaryk jump, fall, or was he pushed?