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SLOVAK WORD OF THE WEEK

Hrádza

NOT THE government office, not parliament, and definitely not the presidential palace. The one place in Bratislava where you can meet anyone who is anyone is the Danube levee (hrádza). It was here that Supreme Court chief Štefan Harabin was biking when Vladimír Mečiar called in 2006 to offer him the post of justice minister. It was here that former prime minister Robert Fico was photographed rollerblading with his alleged lover. It was here, on his morning jogs, that attorney general Dobroslav Trnka used to find “funny smelling plastic bottles”, supposedly left behind by reckless “environmentalists”, with whom he had long-lasting legal disputes. And where Trnka himself was last week caught driving, using a special permit which he says he needs to do his job but many suspect he uses just to bypass the morning traffic jams. And it is here that Fico has now been filmed parking in a no-entry zone.

Where only prosecutors fear to tread (or drive). (Source: SME)

NOT THE government office, not parliament, and definitely not the presidential palace. The one place in Bratislava where you can meet anyone who is anyone is the Danube levee (hrádza). It was here that Supreme Court chief Štefan Harabin was biking when Vladimír Mečiar called in 2006 to offer him the post of justice minister. It was here that former prime minister Robert Fico was photographed rollerblading with his alleged lover. It was here, on his morning jogs, that attorney general Dobroslav Trnka used to find “funny smelling plastic bottles”, supposedly left behind by reckless “environmentalists”, with whom he had long-lasting legal disputes. And where Trnka himself was last week caught driving, using a special permit which he says he needs to do his job but many suspect he uses just to bypass the morning traffic jams. And it is here that Fico has now been filmed parking in a no-entry zone.

But there is also another place, where you’ll meet many of the same people as on the levee – the Constitutional Court. It is not rare for top judicial bodies to have a big influence on policy. But the court in Košice is exceptional in two ways – to the extent to which it gets involved in political issues, and in the unpredictability of its decisions.

Let’s not deal with the cases of the late 1990s, when the court had to rule on the constitutionality of throwing an MP out of parliament, or of prime minister Vladimír Mečiar’s amnesties, with which he shielded members of the secret service from prosecution for the kidnapping of president Michal Kováč’s son. There are plenty of examples in its more recent history.

Two key pieces of Fico’s legislation were a ban on profits for health insurers, and a law enabling the construction of highways to begin on private property even before the land in question had been properly expropriated. Both went before the court. Neither of the cases was decided while Fico was in power, keeping private investors and real estate owners waiting for years before finally learning that their rights had been violated.

In a much criticised decision, the court said the existence of the Special Court, set up to fight the most serious forms of crime, was against the constitution, giving a huge victory to then-minister Harabin, a prominent opponent of the specialised judiciary. Now, the Constitutional Court is getting heavily involved in the election of the new general prosecutor. It first told parliament to hold another round of secret voting, and will now decide whether the coalition can make such votes public. If it rules it cannot, there will be further secret votes, which could in the end bring down the government.

The key problem with the court is that a majority of its judges were appointed under the Fico government, many have close ties to Harabin, and they do not always place their respect for the law above the particular interests of their friends in politics. That is why it often fails to be a functioning element in the system of checks and balances. And serves as a levee against justice.


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