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EDITORIAL

Harabin’s ‘hydra’

PEOPLE opt to work from home when they need to balance their parenting and working duties when they have small children. Institutions or businesses ask their employees to work from home when they need to save money on office rental by creating shared workstations. Of course, people choose to work from the comfort – or discomfort – of their own homes voluntarily or involuntarily for various reasons, and doubtless Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin has his own list of reasons for wanting to run the country’s key judicial institution from home.

PEOPLE opt to work from home when they need to balance their parenting and working duties when they have small children. Institutions or businesses ask their employees to work from home when they need to save money on office rental by creating shared workstations. Of course, people choose to work from the comfort – or discomfort – of their own homes voluntarily or involuntarily for various reasons, and doubtless Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin has his own list of reasons for wanting to run the country’s key judicial institution from home.

One proffered justification for Harabin’s desire to work from home two days a week, or at least the explanation which his office chose to share with the public, is that he is “the chairman and a member of the appeal senate, which decides on the most serious penal cases such as murders, life sentences and organised crime”, and would thus presumably benefit from considering them in more comfortable surroundings.

Harabin has once again taken his critics aback, despite consistently exceeding their worst expectations and conducting his tenure of Slovakia’s most senior judicial positions as a kind of long-running farce.

The Judicial Council consented meekly to Harabin’s request, with the only dissenting voice coming from Miroslav Gavalec, often described by the local media as a critic of Harabin. Gavalec, while admitting that Harabin is also a judge, also suggested that he found it hard to imagine how the boss of the Supreme Court could manage the institution from home, especially at a time when the Supreme Court still does not have a vice president, the SITA newswire reported, citing the minutes of the council’s sitting.

Most probably, Harabin’s request to work from home was not prompted by a sudden surge of autumn melancholy. It comes at a time when Harabin should be paid 70 percent less than his normal salary, in compliance with a disciplinary punishment imposed on him in July by the Constitutional Court for repeatedly blocking Finance Ministry auditors from checking the accounts of the Supreme Court.

Pessimists would say that the Supreme Court boss managing what, under ideal conditions, should be the ivory tower of justice from his sofa at home only confirms what has been known for ages: that something is seriously rotten in the state of Slovakia’s judiciary. Optimists might instead jokingly suggest that the absence of Harabin at the Supreme Court might not be such a bad thing after all. Making his home into his office certainly has a symbolic significance for Harabin and many will interpret it as his response to the fine.

In early September, Harabin called the decision of the Constitutional Court a “hydra of arbitrariness” and used divorce as a metaphor to explain his case: “It is exactly the same as if you are legally divorced and the District Court in Prešov as well as the regional court and Supreme Court confirm this but the Constitutional court disciplinarily sentences you upon a ministerial proposal for bigamy because it did not respect the legal decision of the district and regional court and would say that you as a judge behaved in an undignified manner,” Harabin said, as quoted by SITA. He was referring to a decision by a Bratislava district court, which was later confirmed by his own Supreme Court, suggesting that the Finance Ministry could not audit the Supreme Court. Harabin did not respond to queries about whether his request to work from home was linked to his punishment, which according to Sme will cut his pay by €3,500 a month. Recently, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), in its regular ‘talks’ with leader Vladimír Mečiar – in fact a self-conducted interview by the HZDS boss and former prime minister which the SITA newswire now runs on three pages as paid content – spoke in great length in defence of Harabin.

And even though the relevance of Mečiar’s thoughts, in terms of any serious discourse, is close to zero, they show that Harabin at the Supreme Court represents the legacy that Mečiar left behind. Voters barred the doors of parliament to Mečiar in 2010, by refusing to vote for the HZDS in sufficient numbers to pass the threshold for entry, but they cannot do the same to Harabin at the Supreme Court.

Mečiar was restored to a position of influence by Robert Fico, who picked his HZDS to co-rule the country in 2006. Harabin now lingers as a living reminder to everyone who doubts the ability of certain politicians to direct the country’s affairs that it is often not the politicians themselves who cause the most harm, but the actions of their unrestrained cronies. Society is forced to live with their baleful influence for much longer – and does not have the option of working from home to avoid it.


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