Slovak hockey legends’ mutual hatred reaches boiling point

Hockey fans in Slovakia are watching this with baited breath: two legends of Slovakian hockey can’t stand one another. Nothing unusual about that, except, this time, it’s not about their personalities, it’s about politics.

And it all may end up in court.

North American hockey fans know, of course, the name of Peter Stastny (Šťastný is the correct spelling, by the way). Slovakian fans know Stastny, certainly, but Jozef Golonka seems to be closer to their hearts.

What happened was simple. Stastny was running for the office of Slovak hockey federation president. It used to be occupied by Juraj Siroky (Široký). That happened to be the guy who had had Stastny removed from the post of Team Slovakia general manager in 2006. When Siroky departed, accused of willingly collaborating with Czechoslovakia’s secret political police (StB) under the communist regime, Stastny wanted to replace him. Golonka opposed his election. So popular was he, Stastny didn’t have a chance.

Golonka’s stated reasons sound somewhat provincial and parochial: “Stastny doesn’t even live here, he’s busy working for the European Parliament (Stastny won an election to that August body as one of Slovakia’s representatives), he doesn’t know much about what’s going on in the country, and he wants to be the boss here.”

Golonka’s reasons carried the day.

Earlier this spring, both players were invited to take part in the taping of a TV show commemorating the split of Czechoslovakia into two independent states: Czech and Slovak Republics. As Golonka was facing the camera, recalling his fierce battles, especially those against the hated Team USSR, he noticed Stastny was approaching. Golonka stopped his reminiscing mid-sentence, saying he couldn’t be talking in the presence of THAT person (shrug in Stastny’s direction) and walked to the bench. That’s where Stastny caught up with him and used a communist greeting to address him. Golonka turned and asked: “Are you talking to me?” whereupon Stastny spilled all kinds of invective against the veteran.

Golonka, a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Hall of Fame, has become a symbol of his country’s resistance to the Soviet occupation.

Stastny, on the other hand, defected together with his brothers, Marian and Anton. Slovak hockey fans, especially those living in the south-western region of the country, could watch the brothers’ achievements with the NHL’s Quebec Nordiques on Austrian TV sportscasts, but still, the view lingered: Golonka stayed home and resisted, the Stastnys took an easier path and defected.

It doesn’t matter whether this perception is fair. What does matter is that it exists.

The exchange at the bench, as reported by Slovak media, was brief and to the point.

Golonka stood with his back to Stastny, who started: “Long live the commies and secret police helpers.”

Golonka turned and said: “Whom are you talking about?”

Stastny: “Comrade!” (that was the way the communists would address one another).

Golonka: “Are you talking about me?”

Stastny: “Comrade!”

Golonka: “You’re a bit off, boy. Really off. The StB (secret police) people were different. And you wouldn’t find Golonka among them.”

Stastny: “We all know what we know. How’s your buddy Julko (meaning Siroky)?”

Golonka was livid. The 75-year-old veteran would later tell Slovak journalists that “I’ve never been with the StB or with the communist party. They were following me,” he added. Documentation from the Institute to Preserve National Memory confirms it: yes, there was an entry in the StB files under Golonka’s name. It said: “Put and keep under surveillance.”

According to Slovak sources, Golonka has already filed a lawsuit against Stastny but there’s a catch: Stastny hasn’t been seen at his official permanent address. The file couldn’t be delivered to him. That annoys Golonka no end: “They can find him in Brussels (European Union capital), for crying out loud! Delays, delays, delays! This is very frustrating. I really wouldn’t want to have the trial started after I’d been laid to rest in a cemetery.”

In addition to considering Stastny’s attacks a personal insult, Golonka says some people stopped talking to him and he had unexpected problems in some of his business activities, as a result of the row he’s had with Stastny.

Stastny hasn’t reacted yet, Slovak media say.

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