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EDITORIAL

Will special courts help?

SINCE all other efforts to combat corruption and organized crime, not to mention the wrongdoings of persons in top state positions, seem to have failed, there is little choice but to hope that newly established special prosecutors and judges will be able to tackle the problem.
However, experience teaches us to be cautious, especially when it comes to the judiciary, and there are numerous factors that need to be taken into consideration when assessing the chances of the new bodies.

SINCE all other efforts to combat corruption and organized crime, not to mention the wrongdoings of persons in top state positions, seem to have failed, there is little choice but to hope that newly established special prosecutors and judges will be able to tackle the problem.

However, experience teaches us to be cautious, especially when it comes to the judiciary, and there are numerous factors that need to be taken into consideration when assessing the chances of the new bodies.

In modern Slovak history, prosecutors often presented cases and courts often issued verdicts that alienated great portions of society. Many times there was clear political pressure behind their doings and the prosecution, together with courts, played the role of the extended hand of those in power.

The phenomenon was quite characteristic of the Communist regime. Whether it was during the 1950s, when courts readily sentenced those seen as enemies of the Communist party to death, or in the late days of Communism before the 1989 Velvet Revolution, when dissidents of the regime were still being imprisoned.

Some of those that participated in the latter cases are still in the judiciary today.

But these were not the last sad days of the Slovak legal system. In the early days of independent Slovakia, under the rule of PM Vladimír Mečiar, shady privatisation as well as cases that at times met the definition of state terror were left unprosecuted and untried.

Few, if any, crimes committed by top-ranking Mečiar-era thugs have been brought to a conclusion and even if the administration was right in its claim that it had little influence over the work of independent bodies involved in the criminal proceedings, it is still doing too little to deal with these problems.

The fact of the matter is, however, that the coalition is reluctant to go after Mečiar and his buddies, as their relationships are all too closely intertwined.

So the argument that the new institution may be misused for political purposes does have its grounds in history.

Anyone coming to serve at the newly established bodies will be coming from this environment.

It is undoubtedly true that there are many good men in the ranks of judges and prosecutors. But the people Slovakia really needs must almost be heroes and, throughout its history, Slovakia has heard only too little of such heroes. It could be because they don't exist or it could be because, until now, they have always been silenced. Let's hope it's the latter.

In recent years, there were two well-known attempts to introduce new bodies into the legal system to modernize it and give it new momentum. And both teach us not to expect too much.

The first was the establishment of the public defender of rights, or the ombudsman. After endless hassles over who was to be the ombudsman, the parliament elected Pavol Kandráč in March 2002, a former active Communist with no experience in the field of human rights. He was nominated by Mečiar, who was already in opposition. That was certainly not what those who supported the new institution had hoped for.

Then there is the much-debated National Security Office (NBÚ), which was founded in 2001 to operate in the field of confidential information. Among other competencies of the body is control of security clearance for people in top positions and thus decisions about the professional fate of many.

In its short existence, the NBÚ has had major conflicts with the secret service and the government. Its boss was accused of involvement in a conspiracy against the PM and eventually ousted from office. He in turn accused the premier of serving corporate interests.

The battles over the NBÚ have left a deep scar on society, and few positive results seem to have come out of the fights. The NBÚ head lost his job, the PM and the secret service much of their credibility.

And Ján Mojžiš, former NBÚ boss, publicly claimed that the government wants to use the NBÚ to get rid of top investigators, going after those close to the cabinet. There is nothing yet that proves he was right, but the notion is worrying.

It is especially worrying to consider that all special judges and prosecutors will have to pass the checks of the NBÚ before taking office. By applying Mojžiš's logic, the possibility that the NBÚ could serve as a tool for deciding who does and who does not become a member of the special bodies cannot be ruled out.

If the new special prosecutors indeed go after corruption and organized crime connected with the highest offices in earnest, the tensions are certain to be much higher than they were in the case of Mojžiš's recall.

The question is, how much tension can society handle? And will this tension be worth the results?

When talking about the judiciary, one recent scandalous court decision needs to be mentioned. A Bratislava court ruled on October 17 that the Domino Fórum weekly pay former secret service director Ivan Lexa, who is suspected of a number of criminal activities including the involvement in the kidnapping of the President's son and murder, Sk1 million (€24,000) for calling him "the most well-known crook" in Slovakia.

The editors in chief of eight Czech and Slovak media outlets have expressed their outrage at the decision in a public statement and have called for the appellate court to overturn the decision, which they see as an effort aimed against the freedom of expression of the media.

The Slovak Spectator would hereby like to express its full support of this initiative.

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