EDITORIAL

Time to exit the stage

BY NOW even people who understand next to nothing about what a prosecutor’s office does are aware that Slovakia’s general prosecutor isn’t just one of those state servants who stamps official documents and occasionally cashes in vouchers for a weekend at one of the socialist-style government holiday resorts.

BY NOW even people who understand next to nothing about what a prosecutor’s office does are aware that Slovakia’s general prosecutor isn’t just one of those state servants who stamps official documents and occasionally cashes in vouchers for a weekend at one of the socialist-style government holiday resorts.

Slovakia's current general prosecutor, Dobroslav Trnka, has some formidable powers: among others, he can influence who will stand before a court to be judged in public about their conduct and who will never have to answer questions before a judge about questionable deeds. So it is understandable that some MPs might have found their hands sweating as they marked their secret ballots to select the next general prosecutor.

If a nation, for example, makes a rather unfortunate choice for a high-ranking position which, along with some limited powers, mostly bears symbolic importance, like Slovakia’s presidency, then the country faces only an annoying five years filled with tongue slips and many statements that require a special decoder.

But the wrong pick for the position of general prosecutor can have a far greater impact on a country’s justice system, especially in Slovakia, where the office enjoys such extensive powers. Besides, if the person who sits in that office is unable to withstand strong winds blowing from political parties, or the ring of cash, or the prospect of some other future gain, then having such a person in that office for seven years can seriously corrode ordinary people’s faith in the system and unleash greater audacity among those who are making their fortunes in rather questionable ways: a lethal combination to a country’s pursuit of the rule of law.

The selection of the person to be Slovakia’s general prosecutor for the next seven years has already turned into a melodrama: in a nearly inexplicable move, MP Stanislav Janiš from the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union was the first to nominate Trnka for another term, making the road to choose a joint candidate by the four parties of the ruling coalition more rocky than a mountainous pass in the High Tatras.

Janiš also opened the gates for every kind of wild speculation about the source of his inspiration in putting Trnka’s name on the table. So much so that in the very end, after all the media speculation that his party boss Mikuláš Dzurinda had been pulling the strings, Janiš said he did not vote for Trnka and marked his ballot for Ján Hrivnák, who had been nominated by former judge and SDKÚ MP Jana Dubovcová, and who had then received the official endorsement of the SDKÚ.

When the Smer party tipped its hand that it was inclined to support Trnka, fans of conspiracy theories rejoiced and immediately suggested there was a sinister accord between Smer and SDKÚ because both parties have faced some rather tough questions about their financing of party activities and this surely could be the genesis for the unusual alliance between the political arch-enemies.

But this fleeting ‘mistake’ wasn’t about some second-rank bureaucrat slated to run a campaign to polish up Slovakia’s image abroad, it was for the very powerful position of general prosecutor. While some conspiracy theories come closer to reality than others, SDKÚ had to move quickly to restore its image by denying any party infighting and finally rejecting Trnka’s candidacy.

But could it possibly work in such an easy way? Isn’t there something wrong with the system if political parties are so eager to see the “right” nominee in the general prosecutor’s chair? Shouldn’t some of the powers of the general prosecutor be restricted or spread more broadly so that the potential for abuse is not so high?

The fact that the parties of the ruling coalition were unable to agree on a joint candidate for such a crucial job shows that its leaders were simply unprepared. It certainly should not have been a sudden revelation that Trnka’s term was about to end and that the coalition would need to put forward a joint candidate.

Regardless of who Trnka is, and laying aside how he proceeded in the apparently never-ending case of Hedviga Malinová, the ethnic Hungarian who told the police that she was beaten up for speaking her mother tongue in public, arguably one of sloppiest cases Trnka has on his resume, he should just exit the office after seven years.

There is a very simple reason begging for his summary departure: it is very unhealthy for any human being to occupy such a highly-charged power post for more than seven years, not to speak about the potential hazard to society.

A person in such a position can simply get burned out, intoxicated by power, or rattled by the immense pressure. Any job leaves some scar tissue and that surely applies to the position of general prosecutor. Mr. Trnka should exit the stage and embrace a welcome change of pace.


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