Michal Kovac, Slovak Democracy-Driven President, Dies at 86

  • Current president praises Kovac for standing up for democracy
  • Kovac clashed with authoritarian premier during 1993-1998 rule

Michal Kovac, Slovakia’s first president who clashed with an authoritarian premier during his 1993-1998 rule, has died. He was 86.

Kovac, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, was hospitalized last week, died on Wednesday after heart failure in a hospital in Bratislava, the Slovak capital. Plans for a state funeral were underway, Slovak media reported on Thursday.

His term in office was characterized by clashes with then Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar who was criticized by the West for his shortcomings in rule of law and respect for democracy. Under Meciar, Slovakia didn’t qualify to join NATO along with its neighbors Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary in 1999. The country joined the alliance only in 2004 after a change in its political makeup. All four states joined the European Union in the same year.

"Back then, Slovakia was an authoritarian regime and its future was unclear," Grigorij Meseznikov, the head of the Bratislava-based Institute for Public Affairs think tank, said by phone. "Kovac stood for democracy and he paid a price for it as he faced numerous attempts to discredit him."

The tensions between Kovac and Meciar escalated after the 1995 kidnapping of Kovac’s son. Charges against secret service officials were dropped as Meciar’s amnesty prevented all further investigations into the case.

Kovac, who retired from politics after he withdrew from the country’s first direct presidential contest in 1999, helped Slovakia “to not get completely lost from its path, which later brought us into the European family of free and independent states,” President Andrej Kiska said in a statement sent by e-mail late on Wednesday.

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