FICO says fixed jail terms for repeat offenders are "cruel".
In a televised debate with Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic broadcast on state-run Slovak Television (STV) March 5, the controversial politician put forward his suggestions for controlling crime levels.
"You should ... take the road of setting looser criteria for the use of arms in police action. That is why many Western countries are satisfied today. They don't have capital punishment, but at the same time an enormous number of perpetrators are killed by police, because the right to use weapons in those countries is very wide," Fico said.
The TV programme focused on the introduction of the "three strikes and you're out" principle proposed by the current government, which would ensure that a third conviction for serious offenders would automatically lead to a life sentence. Fico called the measure "cruel", and said that other means of reducing crime should be considered, like allowing policemen to shoot more criminals.
Currently, all Slovak police officers carry guns, but restrictions are such that weapons are very rarely used during police action.
Fico's proposal outraged human-rights activists.
"If Fico is really asking for perpetrators to be killed directly in police action, he is calling for the breach of both international standards and Slovak legislation," said Ingrid Králová, former head and current member of the Amnesty International Slovakia council.
"He is also forgetting that the main role of the police is to ensure order and not arbitrarily punish criminals. International law sets standards according to which the use of force is admissible when necessary, only if other means prove futile," said Králová.
Králová also warned that loosening the rules may lead to the abuse of police powers.
"In all countries where the police can arbitrarily punish perpetrators, often with the quiet consent of their superiors or the government, after a while it becomes impossible to say who is a perpetrator of a criminal act and who a victim of police violence. It can lead to a situation where the most frequent victims are not criminals, but those who are inconvenient for the government," she said.
Fico was not available for comment before The Slovak Spectator went to press.
According to Králová, conditions for the use of weapons should only be changed if it was necessary for the work of the police force.
Although police representatives could not say what differences currently exist between Slovak and EU regulation, they did say that changes do not appear necessary.
"We have not received grounded requests for a change in the law from our forces, other state authorities, or the public. Taking that into consideration, there is currently no reason to change or loosen the rules governing the use of weapons by members of the police force," said police vice-president Ľudovít Zapletaj.
This was the latest in a series of inflammatory statements from the flamboyant politician, whose star seems to be rising on the Slovak political scene. According to a research released on March 19 by the Public Opinion Research Institute (ÚVVM) of the Slovak Statistics Office, Fico is by far the most trusted politician in the country.
The 38-year-old lawyer, who between 1994 and 2000 acted as Slovakia's envoy to the European Court of Human Rights, enjoys the support of almost 29 per cent of citizens. He is nearly 13 per cent ahead of the second-most popular figure - Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) boss Vladimír Mečiar.
A ÚVVM survey released on March 18 shows Smer is currently the most popular party, with nearly 26 per cent of voters behind it. The second place HZDS is supported by 17 per cent.
Experts say Fico's latest statements on STV could lead to a further increase in popularity.
"I think that the reactions could be positive, because most Slovak voters are convinced that the police, courts, and prosecutors are not tough enough on criminals," said Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the IVO think tank in Bratislava.
"Fico knows very well that these feelings are widespread, and that his proposals might get a positive reaction," Mesežnikov added.
It is not clear whether Fico would go ahead with his proposals if he was given the chance.
"It's hard to say. So far we have not seen him in an executive position and his rhetoric changes often. But his rhetoric is often repressive, not only when he is talking about crime, but also on issues such as the Roma minority," said Mesežnikov.
Although popular at home, Fico's tough talk might prove damaging on the international scene. Smer currently has observer status in Socialist International (SI), an organisation uniting left-wing parties like the British Labour Party and Germany's Social Democrats.
"We said quite some time ago that we are interested [in full-fledged membership in the SI]," said Silvia Glendová, spokeswoman for Smer, adding that she believed the party was still interested in joining the international body.
However, experts warn these ambitions may be threatened by Fico's penchant for making radical statements in public.
"Representatives of the SI have mentioned in the past that some of Fico's statements are not in accordance with the values of modern European left-wing parties. If Fico continues to make such statements, he may have a problem once he tries to enter the SI," said Mesežnikov.
24. Mar 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila