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EDITORIAL

Time for some fresh air

LAST year Slovakia’s public prosecutors’ offices brought charges against 57,937 people, 124 more than in 2009 and 4,367 more than in 2008. Of those charged last year, 85.9 percent were men and 14.1 percent were women, according to the annual report to parliament submitted by acting general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý on July 6.

LAST year Slovakia’s public prosecutors’ offices brought charges against 57,937 people, 124 more than in 2009 and 4,367 more than in 2008. Of those charged last year, 85.9 percent were men and 14.1 percent were women, according to the annual report to parliament submitted by acting general prosecutor Ladislav Tichý on July 6.

While offering statistical data without interpretation is for many like singing a love song in an extinct language, too much spice of a blatantly political nature in an official report might put the authoring institution itself into question – and some passages prepared by the Tichý-led team seem to make the point.

“The political elite, unusually supported by some media, literally started a hunt for the institution of the prosecution, directed mainly towards the person of Dobroslav Trnka,” the report states, adding that articles by reporters of the .týždeň weekly reminded the prosecutor’s office of a Stalin-induced campaign against Rudolf Slánsky, a Czechoslovak communist politician executed after a show trial in 1952.

To spice it up further, the report stated that the country’s system of prosecution had not faced anything similar during its entire history and claimed that the ‘political elite’s hunt’ reflected negatively on the work of the institution. Then, clearly inspired, the authors wrote that “people [in the prosecutor’s office] who worked without regard for their own personal free time were labelled crooks, while the real crooks were gleefully rubbing their hands”.

While it is always good if civil servants write in real human language rather than in elongated bureaucratic phrases, the language of this official report poses some disturbing questions about the office's independence and the report's true purpose.

It seems that emotional language is quite trendy at this particular office, as testified to by former general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka’s ‘farewell’ interview with Markíza television in which he directed pejorative words to MPs of the ruling coalition and lashed out at Prime Minister Iveta Radičová.

“Tell me something that Prime Minister Radičová has done for this nation apart from making herself visible at a certain time when as a deputy she heroically left parliament because she had voted on behalf of someone else,” Trnka ranted to TV Markíza, in mocking reference to Radičová’s decision to resign as an opposition deputy in 2009 after violating parliamentary rules by voting on behalf of another MP.

When confronted with his harsh language, Trnka said the 38-minute recording had been manipulated, a claim which Markíza resolutely denies. Sme reporters searched their archives for other Trnka gems and earlier this year wrote that in 2009 he told environmentalists who protested against the state’s approach to nature “that they would do better if they take their fly swatters and personally go hitting bark beetles on their heads rather than tying themselves to forest tractors”.

Judges and prosecutors are human, of course, but given the responsibility of their positions they need to develop better instincts in controlling their tongues if it risks besmirching the dignity of the judicial system.

This report only confirms that Slovakia’s prosecution system needs wide-open windows to bring not only more fresh air but also to allow the Slovak public to take a peek and exercise more control over what often seems like a closed, family affair.

Parliament recently passed an amendment to the law on prosecution requiring prosecutors to publish their decisions on the internet, prohibiting a person from serving more than one term as general prosecutor, and stipulating that prosecutors will be selected in an open competition by a six-member committee made up of MPs as well as prosecutors.

Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič vetoed the bill, continuing what now seems to have become his habit of blocking laws passed by the coalition. The president has likewise refused to appoint Jozef Čentéš, the candidate of the ruling coalition, as general prosecutor despite his election by parliament on June 17. Gašparovič, who must formally make the appointment, is defying MPs’ decision by refusing to name Čentéš – and perhaps he is also now defying the Constitutional Court, which overturned its previous provisional ruling.

It is not only Slovakia’s prosecutors’ offices that need some fresh air – the same can be said for the presidential palace.


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