A RETIRED lawyer wearing blue ear defenders and holding an imitation assault rifle entertains four judges of the Supreme Court, a law professor, a top prosecutor and two other judges by mimicking a mass murderer who had only days earlier killed seven people during a shooting spree in Devínska Nová Ves. His guests laugh and then someone dances with a sculpture of Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, at a bar named after a notorious mafia family.
This scene is not from a movie by Emir Kusturica, whose anti-heroes often indulge in festivities of decadence, dancing and drinking, and sometimes shooting, as though there is no tomorrow. The protagonists are real and they make real-life decisions that affect real people’s lives. The murderer, Ľubomír Harman, who wore similar blue ear defenders while he conducted his killing spree, was real as well and his victims are dead, for real.
The private party, which at least one of those present implied was none of the public or media’s business, was thrown only a couple of weeks after the massacre last year. The participants failed to understand that they do not stop being judges, law professors or lawyers once they leave their offices, courts or lecture theatres. This party, which they called a meeting of friends from the Justice Oscar Association, serves as the perfect metaphor for the lack of integrity of some members of Slovakia’s judiciary. It has emerged that the party in the video was not the first time that the ‘Oscar Association’ met and had some ‘good’ times. After seeing the video footage, published by the Cas.sk website, one seriously doubts that any “Oscar” of justice could be awarded to some of the attendants; instead, maybe only an Oscar for the best performance to further deepen the public’s doubts about the state of the country’s judiciary.
Justice Minister Lucia Žitnanská has ordered an investigation of the gathering. The Sme daily on June 16 pointed out another good reason to look into the ‘Oscars’: the video shows a Supreme Court judge who is currently under investigation on suspicion of corruption enjoying himself along with the acting general prosecutor – whose job it is to investigate him. He was later pulled from the case.
While it might seem that reports about problems within the judiciary grew more frequent around the June 15 eclipse of the moon, lunar cycles have nothing to do with this. This is about generations of judges who have for too long been ensconced in their courts and lack any real capacity for self-reflection.
Another drop was added to the cup of bitterness by a district court in Bratislava which ruled that former president Michal Kováč must apologise to one-time spy boss Ivan Lexa and pay him €3,319 in compensation for statements in which he linked Lexa to the abduction of his son, Michal Kováč Jr, when he himself was president and under intense pressure from Lexa’s mentor, then-prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. The abduction and its aftermath was the most traumatising case of the mid-nineties, evoking serious concerns within the international community about the state of democracy in Slovakia.
This verdict mocks Kováč, who has been waiting for resolution for 15 years, suggesting “see, you should have remained silent” – as so many others have done.
Those responsible for the abduction of Kováč Jr to Austria in 1995 are shielded by amnesties that Mečiar granted after assuming presidential powers for a brief period in 1998. A law which could scrap the amnesties and allow the proper closure of this traumatising case is now in its second reading in parliament.
But, unfortunately, scrapping the amnesties will not by itself be enough if future cases end up in hands of the same judges responsible for the depressing litany of notorious rulings that Slovakia’s courts have long-produced and which would definitely win anti-Oscars in many categories. Just recently Karol Mello, accused of organising a mafia hit which resulted in the murder of a woman and a young boy in 2004, was released because of a procedural error made by the Bratislava I District Court. For an accused double-murderer to be released is unusual enough, but Mello has a record of flight: he was on the run for several years before being arrested in Poland last year. The court’s decision to release him has turned what should have been a serious criminal case into a political hot potato.
In response to these developments, Prime Minister Iveta Radičová on June 15 expressed serious concerns about the state of the judiciary and said that the previous few days had brought decisions that prompted serious doubts about the real independence of some representatives of the judiciary.
The honorary president of the International Association of Judges, Günter Woratsch, wrote in a report on the state of the Slovak judicial system that the president of the Supreme Court, Štefan Harabin, is still influencing the system in an unfavourable way, the Sme daily reported. Yet Harabin is unlikely to quit his judicial throne – he is also the chairman of Slovakia’s Judicial Council – any time soon. He is equally unlikely to experience any epiphany about how to manage the judiciary.
Let’s just hope that Žitňanská will manage to keep some of the promises she has made, including wider public oversight of what happens behind the closed doors of the country’s judiciary and addressing the perceived shortfall in judicial integrity and its consequences. Otherwise, Slovakia faces more festivities of decadence, and on a much bigger scale than the recent party of the Oscars.
20. Jun 2011 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová