WHEN a reporter from the Sme daily asked Prime Minister Robert Fico, who is now running for president, about his take on a prosecutor releasing a group of neo-Nazis who last year brutally beat a man in Nitra, Fico refused to respond on the grounds that he considers Sme to be an outlet of the opposition. Then, when a journalist from a different newspaper repeated the question, Fico recommended they inquire at the Office of the General Prosecutor.

There are many good reasons why Fico should have commented on the case, which involves documented brutal violence by skinheads who, according to Sme, are linked to Marian Kotleba’s People’s Party – Our Slovakia (ĽSNS). Another unsettling aspect of the case is that even though the first attack, which took place last October, was recorded via Nitra’s city-owned street cameras and the attackers’ faces are visible, the police waited until after Sme broke the story in late January to charge the perpetrators.

Just around the time this was all happening, a poll carried out by MVK shows that ĽSNS, the party of Kotleba, the far-right boss of Banská Bystrica Region, would make it into parliament with 7.6 percent of the vote if parliamentary elections were held now.

On January 30, Fico summoned the media to share how his government plans to reform and improve the credibility of the judiciary, which has been miserably low among the Slovak public for some time – certainly long enough for Fico to take action well before he announced his presidential candidacy.

“We have a great ambition to separate in the judiciary the normal and honest judges from the judges who do not belong there,” said Fico, as quoted by the SITA newswire, suggesting that they came across different suspicions of links to businesses or other groups.

Fico also suggested that two positions currently held by Štefan Harabin, the chairman of the Supreme Court and the head of the judicial council, might be separated. When Fico was asked why he is coming up with these proposals only now, he responded: “It is not possible to chase 10 rabbits at the same time.”

Indeed these metaphorical rabbits have been running around for some time, and many have since grown into something far more serious. The problems with the country’s law enforcement and judiciary coincide with a trend that sees racist and far-right tendencies, masked as action on behalf of ordinary citizens, making their way into mainstream politics.

In a country where there is a genuine concern about the spread of neo-Nazism and far-right tendencies, one would think government officials would line up to make strong statements against acts of violence like the events in Nitra. Last year the police dealt with 78 racially motivated crimes and acts of extremism, while they solved just 40, about every second case, according to statistics provided to SITA by police. The police also said that the numbers show a declining number of racially motivated crimes and acts of extremism.

They could also, of course, merely show that fewer of these cases are being reported to police. In a society where a man who openly calls the Roma “parasites” gets elected as a regional governor, and in light of the confidence inspired by the police’s handling of the Nitra case, this would at minimum seem a possibility.

Much more than campaign-drive rhetoric about fixing the judiciary is needed to generate feelings of comfort in a country where instead of rushing to hear a report on human rights violations, government officials do all they can to block it from reaching the light of day. If that were not bad enough, the very person who is actually in charge of dealing with such alleged violations is demonised and called a liar. More is needed than proposing that her office be moved from Bratislava to the eastern part of the country so that she can, as suggested by Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška, be closer to the Roma communities she cares so much about.

Today, Slovakia is a country where the head of its social security provider, Dušan Muňko, during a special session to discuss the government’s treatment of the ombudswoman described above, talks about what he called, according to the TASR newswire, the “Roma crime rate”, warning that the Roma population is continuously growing and it will be a problem to control their crime rate.

As Slovakia votes for a president, it is important to note this is a picture of the country in 2014. A president big enough to speak out on such issues is just what this country needs. If that’s not what it gets, it may be only a matter of time until boots that resemble those doing all that stomping in Nitra march their way into parliament itself.