ŠTEFAN Harabin is having the time of his life: after three years as the country’s justice minister, and now driven by swollen ambition, he is running for the post of president of the Supreme Court. A bonus of being elected is that he would also become the head of the Judicial Council, which oversees the operation of the courts in Slovakia.
Meanwhile his ministry has drawn up grand plans to transfer some of its own powers to the offices that Harabin himself now plans to occupy. Would it be too forthright to call this what it appears to be: a concentration of power in one person? No, it would not.
Harabin made headlines in the local press recently after the publishers of Sme, Pravda and Plus Jeden Deň received a letter from him in which he told them that their newspapers had severely damaged his good reputation and honour and requested out-of-court settlements totalling €600,000 in compensation for the non-pecuniary damages he alleges he has suffered. The Fair Play Alliance has even devoted an entire website to him, or rather to campaigning against his Supreme Court bid; a badge of office not awarded to every justice minister.
Transparency International wrote to Slovak MPs highlighting the findings of a Eurobarometer survey that suggests only 27 percent of Slovak citizens trust the courts.
“This figure, given the European average of 47 percent, is alarming,” writes Transparency International in its letter, which appeals to deputies not to support the changes proposed by Harabin’s ministry.
Yet it seems that this piece of data does not make the ruling coalition nervous at all. Besides, this coalition seems to have an innate distrust of polls which deliver the wrong message.
But it is not just Harabin’s likely election to the post of the Supreme Court presidency that spells bad news for Slovakia’s judiciary: Harabin should not be serving as justice minister either. This thought recalls the agonising chain of events which Slovakia should have been spared: Prime Minister Robert Fico should never have brought the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) led by Vladimír Mečiar back into power. Because as Mečiar marched back to power, albeit from a much weaker position than his reign as prime minister in the 1990s, Harabin followed on his coattails. His nomination to the Justice Ministry helped him to gather his current strength.
The website developed by the Fair Play Alliance at www.cervenapreharabina.sk features a counter which on Thursday, June 18, at 5:18 pm, before The Slovak Spectator went to print, showed that there were 3 days, 16 hours and 40 minutes left until the election of the Supreme Court president. By the time many readers read these lines Harabin will have either assumed his chair at the Supreme Court or will still be justice minister. Neither outcome is very appetising.
Given the last, toothless, attempt by parliament to recall him, there is little chance that he will be turfed out without Robert Fico and his party making up their minds and saying that a man like Harabin should not be leading the justice ministry.
Last September, opposition parties, at the initiative of Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) MP Daniel Lipšic, wanted to have Harabin sacked for what Lipšic called his friendly ties with Baki Sadiki, an Albanian man living in Slovakia who has been accused of involvement in the heroin trade and who has been convicted of crimes including illegal possession of firearms. Since then the Slovak press have several times disseminated the transcript of a now-notorious phone call between Harabin and Sadiki, in which Sadiki asks Harabin how his son is doing, and Harabin asks whether Sadiki is already home and whether they arrived all right.
The ethics watchdog Fair Play Alliance summarises his other failings: “Minister Harabin was publicly caught lying on the floor of parliament, intimidating a deputy, as well as making unacceptable references to race and origin.”
There is a general recipe that politicians use whenever they are showered with such criticism: it is a ‘campaign’ planned, plotted and fuelled by forces hostile to their intentions. For example, recent media reports about the lavish property holdings of the boss of the Slovak National Party (SNS) Ján Slota or articles about the failings of his SNS nominees, who as a result have been forced to quit their ministerial posts: all these were characterised by the politicians in question as ‘hostile campaigns’.
Harabin’s conduct represents a clear challenge to Fico’s declared commitment to transparency, not to mention several other electoral promises. For now, it seems, Harabin is not enough of a thorn in his flesh to prompt action. He might become one, though, if supporters of Fico’s Smer party start signing petitions like the Fair Play Alliance’s en masse.