NO-CONFIDENCE motions in Slovakia’s parliament have metamorphosed into a toothless act, a sort of political theatre where the final scene has been written long before the actual performance begins and where any deviation from the script would greatly shock both the audience and the actors. On October 15, parliament performed the “no-confidence motion” play again and while the final scene might not be over by the time the last word of this piece is written or the last page of this newspaper is sent to print, the outcome is quite predictable.
Justice Minister Viera Petríková will survive; but not because she warrants being kept in post to make her shining contribution to justice in Slovakia. On the contrary, she will survive because she is a safe bet for making no contribution at all. She got her script from the play’s director, Vladimír Mečiar, and she seems to have memorised her lines well. Petríková won’t improvise. If she did, she would likely need to depart the stage just as some other Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) ministers had to – as improvisers who failed to follow Mečiar’s stage direction well enough.
The way Petríková handled the case of prominent judge Jana Dubovcová, who in 2002 was awarded a Transparency International Integrity Award for fighting corruption, suggests that she is exercising someone else’s sense of justice or interests, rather than her own or those bestowed on her by her ministerial position.
When the chairman of the District Court in Banská Bystrica, Ľubomír Bušík proposed a disciplinary action against Dubovcová for expressing her strongly-held personal opinion that there is decay in the state of judiciary, Petríková instantly approved Bušík’s action. Then when Bušík withdrew his proposal under immense public pressure, Petríková nodded again like a puppet on a string.
Daniel Lipšic, former justice minister and deputy chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), one of the initiators of the no-confidence motion, said that in about a month Slovakia will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution but at the same time society is relapsing to the times when there was “freedom of expression but not freedom after the act of expression”.
The political opposition, ethics watchdog groups and at least 105 judges who signed the petition called “Five Sentences” put much of the blame for these developments on Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin. Judges have been speaking out clearly about what they call the abuse of disciplinary proceedings used to silence Harabin’s critics.
But for Prime Minister Robert Fico the testimonies of these 105 judges are not enough to start dealing with the conditions within the Slovak judiciary seriously. He did seem rather resolute when it was no longer possible to sweep the mess at the Environment Ministry under the carpet and he took away the front-door key to the Environment Ministry from the Slovak National Party.
His man, Dušan Čaplovič, has been busy tidying up the environmental house since then and it appears he will have lots more cleaning to do for several more weeks. Shady deals on which the state lost quite a bit of money are serious enough, but sweeping the problems surrounding the judiciary under the carpet might have more far-reaching consequences – not only for the judges but also for society and people’s sense of justice.
Fico and his allies keep downplaying the seriousness of the situation and suggest that now the parliament is dealing with Petríková only in response to a few news articles. Mečiar – who was the one who brought Harabin back to the top of the judiciary – made his own little contribution to the public debate on Petríková’s recall. “What is it all about, it’s only politics. You show up [here], as cowards who are attacking a woman,” said the HZDS boss in response to opposition criticism of Petríková. And following the well-rehearsed script, the parliamentary debate shortly before 19:00 on October 15 quickly began turning into a political farce. At least Petríková did not shout out the notorious threat made by her predecessor: “You will go to jail, you bastard!”
It was that statement which elevated the failed no-confidence motion against former Justice Minister Harabin to the ranks of the most controversial debates ever held in Slovakia. At that time, Lipšic (KDH) and Lucia Žitňanská (SDKÚ), sought to have Harabin recalled for what they said was being on friendly terms with Baki Sadiki, the alleged boss of a drug gang that operates in Slovakia. Harabin not only survived that motion, but today sits atop Slovakia’s Supreme Court.
Nevertheless the sentence “You will go to jail, you bastard”, which Harabin said to Lipšic, as broadcast by the TA3 news channel, will now remain a symbol of this peculiar era of Slovakia’s judiciary – a throwback to bullying tactics that Slovaks thought they had permanently rid themselves of in 1989. But apparitions from the past still lurk in dark corners, ready to emerge should society lose its vigilance.
19. Oct 2009 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová