SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Guantánamo

WHEN you’re locked up at Guantánamo, you probably don’t care much in which country you’ll end-up, as long as you get out. But still, the trio of prisoners expected to arrive in Slovakia within a couple of weeks is up for a rather different experience from the inmates heading for Britain, France, Spain, or other Western countries. In what ways is Slovakia unique?

WHEN you’re locked up at Guantánamo, you probably don’t care much in which country you’ll end-up, as long as you get out. But still, the trio of prisoners expected to arrive in Slovakia within a couple of weeks is up for a rather different experience from the inmates heading for Britain, France, Spain, or other Western countries. In what ways is Slovakia unique?

1. Everyone notices a foreigner. If the three receive asylum, as it now seems likely, they will be a very rare kind. The statistics speak for themselves – in 2008 twenty-two people received asylum, in 2007 just 14, and the year before there were only 8.

You can walk the streets of Bratislava for weeks without meeting anyone of a different colour. Whatever measures the government takes to protect the identity of the three prisoners, they will always stand out from the crowd.

2. There is virtually no Muslim community. During the last census in 2001, there were 15 registered religious denominations in Slovakia. Fourteen of them were Christian, the one remaining Jewish, so Islam doesn’t appear in the country’s official statistics.

Estimates say there could be between 1,000 and 5 000 Muslims living here. That figure includes foreign students and Slovaks who have converted. Unlike in Switzerland, there are no minarets to ban, simply because there are no mosques. Those Muslims for whom being a part of a larger religious community is important may find life in Slovakia tough.

3. The country has no experience with terrorism. On one hand, that is an advantage, as people have no reason to fear. On the other, there is more potential for a hysterical reaction, if the public suddenly senses a threat.

4. The judiciary doesn’t function properly. When a group of opposition MPs asked the Constitutional Court to review a law which enables the state to build highways even on private property which had not been properly expropriated, it took the judges two years to even review whether the submission was formally correct and could be accepted for further proceedings.

A final decision is nowhere in sight and the bulldozers can continue their work. In August, a group of Supreme Court judges asked the Constitutional Court to review whether the election of Supreme Court chief Štefan Harabin was constitutional, a question of fundamental importance for the proper working of the entire judiciary.

The court seems to have other priorities. So if the government decides to detain the Guantánamo prisoners, even though Slovak law gives them no authority to do so, the judiciary is unlikely to give it a tough time.

5. It’s easy to escape the attention of the local police. It is now world-known that Slovak police like to test their dogs by planting actual explosive in the luggage of air-travellers – and then forget to take it out. And at the end of last year a hand-cuffed suspect apparently managed to escape from a police station, a fact the Interior Ministry admitted only after journalists contacted them to verify an anonymous e-mail.

The public was reminded how two years ago a suspected burglar escaped through a toilet window. Although the police then set-up check points around Bratislava, it took them several months to catch him.

The Slovak government is not disclosing any information about the planned relocation of Guantánamo detainees, so it’s too early to say whether there are any legal and security risks. But let’s hope there really was no reason for these three people to be at Guantánamo. And that after a few weeks they will not be wishing they could go back.


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