SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Zastrašovanie

IF THERE is an expert on “zastrašovanie”, or intimidation, it’s Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin. It’s not only that leaked wiretaps indicate he is friendly with a suspected drug-lord, which itself creates a sense of unease, or the hundreds of thousands of euros for which he is suing almost all the major media that criticise him. It’s especially the way he deals with his critics at the Supreme Court – withholding their bonuses, moving them to smaller offices, restricting internet access, appointing them to new cases in areas in which they have no experience, starting disciplinary proceedings based on made-up grounds, or even temporarily stripping them of the power to try cases. So when Harabin uses the word “zastrašovanie”, he knows what he’s talking about.

IF THERE is an expert on “zastrašovanie”, or intimidation, it’s Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin. It’s not only that leaked wiretaps indicate he is friendly with a suspected drug-lord, which itself creates a sense of unease, or the hundreds of thousands of euros for which he is suing almost all the major media that criticise him. It’s especially the way he deals with his critics at the Supreme Court – withholding their bonuses, moving them to smaller offices, restricting internet access, appointing them to new cases in areas in which they have no experience, starting disciplinary proceedings based on made-up grounds, or even temporarily stripping them of the power to try cases. So when Harabin uses the word “zastrašovanie”, he knows what he’s talking about.

That’s why it came as a surprise to some when he accused foreign diplomats who had attended some of the disciplinary hearings of just that. How can the American, British, or Dutch embassy intimidate a Slovak judge, who is appointed for life, paid by the state, needs no visa to travel abroad, and whose only superior is Harabin himself? Save for outright blackmail or paramilitary operations on the family farm, there is nothing a foreign country can do to intimidate a local justice. International embarrassment is something that can put you under pressure. But only if you are aware of the fact that you are doing something very wrong. If you are going by the book, you don’t mind cameras, NGOs or embassies watching.

But one person who is, without any doubt, intimidated by all this is Harabin himself. He has succeeded in becoming the master of the Slovak judiciary, and the current coalition which has made this possible is not too concerned about the opinion of journalists, watch-dog organisations, or the few judges that dare to speak up. But having to answer questions from foreign governments can get a little annoying.

There is still a chance that Harabin, who was elected only last year, might lose his job before serving the full five-year term – last summer four Supreme Court judges asked the Constitutional Court to annul his election, because he ran for office while still justice minister and not a serving Supreme Court justice, so was in breach of legal requirements for the job. Despite the crucial role of the post, the Constitutional Court is not acting on the filing, and is not likely to do so before the parliamentary elections. If a new coalition does not include the HZDS, which nominated Harabin as justice minister, political pressure on the Constitutional Court to remove him could grow. And since the court is not known for its strong resistance to such pressures, Harabin does have reason to worry. The diplomats do not play a decisive role in all this. But their voice could matter. And even if Harabin does in the end stay, no chance to intimidate him should be wasted.


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