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EDITORIAL

Shooting the messenger

THE PROMINENCE of politicians shows up in the way they treat opponents, critics, rivals, challengers, commentators and, perhaps, even cartoonists. The eminence of a government gets reflected in the direction it sets for how the nation treats its minorities. And the steadfastness of elected officials to the principles of democracy can be measured through the independence of a country’s judiciary.

THE PROMINENCE of politicians shows up in the way they treat opponents, critics, rivals, challengers, commentators and, perhaps, even cartoonists. The eminence of a government gets reflected in the direction it sets for how the nation treats its minorities. And the steadfastness of elected officials to the principles of democracy can be measured through the independence of a country’s judiciary.

Viewed through the prism of this preamble, several recent developments in Slovakia do not present a very optimistic image of the eminence, prominence or steadfastness of the country’s political elite.

Prime Minister Robert Fico has sued the Sme daily over a cartoon which he says made fun of his serious health condition while at the same time ridiculing him. Fico is demanding €33,000 in damages. The cartoon by Martin Šútovec, alias Shooty, features a man who is being told by his physician that since his x-ray shows he has no spine, his cervical spine problems must be only “phantom pains”. The daily ran the cartoon in July when Fico was reported to be having some cervical spine problems.

One does not need a doctorate in hermeneutics to understand that the cartoon is ridiculing something completely different than actual physical pain. The first thing that most probably springs to mind is that the irritated man with the red tie in the image is indeed “spineless”.

Yes, some might not appreciate the humour; some might even say this wasn’t the best Shooty shot of all time; but nevertheless, only a very few would think about suing the cartoonist.

Even less so if one is a public figure who should understand that being exposed to the acid pens of journalists or the sharpened pencils of cartoonists is just as much a part of the job as being driven around in a flashy, black BMW and being followed by a flock of bootlickers who want to collect the crumbs of power that the leader throws from his cake.

Under different circumstances one might just say: okay, let the politician demonstrate his lack of eminence and leave it up to the court to tell him what the cartoon is actually ridiculing and that it is highly improbable that the cartoon has persuaded anyone in this society that the man with the red tie actually does not have a spine.

But can one really say that in a society where the opposition is calling for a parliamentary debate on the future of the Slovak judiciary and when two former justice ministers are warning that there is something seriously rotten in the state of Slovakia’s courts?

Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) deputy and former justice minister Daniel Lipšic has said that a so-called judicial mafia has grasped power during the rule of the current government, referring specifically to disciplinary proceedings against judges who opposed, criticised or expressed any disagreement with Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin.

Lipšic’s successor and Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) deputy Lucia Žitňanská has suggested that laws in Slovakia need to be amended in such a way that disciplinary proceedings against judges can no longer be abused. What could she possibly mean?

Slovakia’s Judicial Council has temporarily suspended Supreme Court Judge Peter Paluda and is proposing his recall from the court after he filed a criminal complaint against Harabin for what Paluda called abuse of power. The council’s disciplinary proposal states that Paluda’s action is a “deceitful and untrue complaint about the Supreme Court chairman”, which the council believes was filed “with the intention to harm and dishonour” Harabin, according to the SITA newswire.

Then there comes an open letter addressed to Slovakia’s top constitutional officials signed by 15 judges who clearly state they believe that disciplinary proceedings taken against some judges is nothing more than a campaign of intimidation and harassment.

Perhaps a 'purified' court senate will just say yes, the disrespectful cartoonist must surely be punished, and the next time the line of what is acceptable or unacceptable to those in power will be further narrowed; or then there will be some specific words banned from being used in the same line with a politician’s name; or why not legally define some metaphors as toxic and ban them from public use.

This year has already shown clear enough tendencies by many politicians to attempt to turn Slovakia’s media into their personal cash machines by suing publishers in civil trials and demanding hefty financial damages.

If it was solely about their honour or about them wanting to see their personal truth shine through what they call media deceit, wouldn’t it be enough for them to demand only a single symbolic crown or euro?

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