Slovak city will honor Nazi backer

Zilina's mayor, Jan Slota, is the leader of the far-right Slovak National Party, which supports the rehabilitation of Tiso and regards him as a national hero.

"Any tribute to Tiso is outrageous," B'nai B'rith International said in a statement from Washington late last week.

"Tiso and his regime must be remembered — not as heroes, but as criminals. Attempts to rehabilitate their memory by appeals to nationalism, anti-communism or other causes dishonor those ideals, distort history, and undermine Slovakia's attempt to build democracy, rule of law and honorable civic life."

B'nai B'rith praised Slovak President Rudolf Schuster for condemning the move.

Schuster said that honoring Tiso, "the head of a fascist state that deported 70,000 Jews from Slovakia to concentration camps, is against the moral principles with which Slovakia has identified."

Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said he considered the initiative "inappropriate."

Slovak prosecutors apparently have a similar reaction.

The Czech news agency CTK quoted Slovak state television as saying that the Slovak Prosecutor General's Office is deciding whether to start legal proceedings against officials at the mayor's office in Zilina for planning to unveil the plaque honoring Tiso.

According to the report, the officials may be charged with spreading fascist propaganda.

Nostalgia for the wartime independent Slovak state — the only time Slovakia had been independent before 1993 — was a lodestone for many Slovaks during the Communist era.

For many, it represented the pinnacle of Slovak national identity, despite its fascist links and anti-Semitism, and despite the fact that Slovaks themselves rose up against Tiso in 1944.

The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia called the plan to unveil the plaque "a deliberate effort to revive fascism," which will hamper Slovakia's integration into Europe.

The U.S. Embassy in the Slovak capital of Bratislava denounced any "intention to rehabilitate Tiso."