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EDITORIAL

Searching for threads of Velvet

PEOPLE need a sense of time and history to measure their collective progress or decline and anniversaries can provide that perspective. If the past two decades in Slovakia are measured strictly through the prism of the unsettling issues that strike observers on November 17, 2011, then the anniversary of the fall of the communist regime will be a gloomy celebration. Nevertheless, people need to be reminded of the immense progress their society has made in various areas, or the gloomy picture will be all that they are left with.

PEOPLE need a sense of time and history to measure their collective progress or decline and anniversaries can provide that perspective. If the past two decades in Slovakia are measured strictly through the prism of the unsettling issues that strike observers on November 17, 2011, then the anniversary of the fall of the communist regime will be a gloomy celebration. Nevertheless, people need to be reminded of the immense progress their society has made in various areas, or the gloomy picture will be all that they are left with.

What would be the components of such an image? A year ago this month, Ernest Valko, one of the country’s most prominent lawyers and part of the broad generation of Velvet Revolutionaries who are now slowly disappearing, was murdered. The death of the lawyer, whose influence can be traced in the most significant laws that paved the way from post-communism to democracy, remains unsolved, and the police have provided very little information about the investigation’s progress, or lack thereof.

Finding Valko’s murderers and putting all those involved in the crime behind bars is imperative if the public are to see that Slovakia is not a society where the utter arrogance of the armed criminal prevails over the ability of the state to deliver justice and punish the guilty.



Another issue which is worrying observers is that Slovakia still does not have a general prosecutor. Meanwhile the process of electing and appointing one has descended into farce, thanks most recently to the action – or, rather, inaction – of the president, Ivan Gašparovič. The country’s Constitutional Court has been called upon repeatedly to adjudicate various aspects of the appointment of the top prosecutor, who fills one of the country’s most powerful positions, making the ongoing tug-of-war over the job one that now affects all the country’s highest institutions.

In this soap opera’s latest instalment, Jozef Čentéš, who was elected by a vote in parliament in June that the Constitutional Court has since found to be entirely in compliance with the constitution, filed a complaint with the court claiming that his rights have been violated by the president’s ongoing refusal to appoint him to the position in a timely manner. Gašparovič has said publicly that the appointment of Čentéš, who was nominated by the centre-right ruling parties, is a matter of only tertiary importance for him.

His original justification for defying the will of parliament was swept away when the Constitutional Court ruled on October 5 that both recorded public ballots and secret ballots were constitutionally valid methods for choosing the general prosecutor. Gašparovič had cited an appeal lodged with the court by the acting general prosecutor (the man, incidentally, who will be replaced if and when Čentéš is ever appointed), and a group of opposition Smer MPs that challenged a change in the parliamentary rules approved by parliament in May 2011, as the reason for his delay.

When the court dismissed that case, Gašparovič took up the fall of the government as his new reason for not signing the decree that would install Čentéš. Now, with the present government’s fate decided and an election set for March, even that fig leaf has been removed. But still Gašparovič refuses to appoint Čentéš.

This is despite constitutional experts noting that it is not Gašparovič’s job to judge the professional background of nominees, since he is not responsible for their job performance.


What the public has been witnessing is a display of the arrogance of power, without any real pretence of justification, that leaves the impression that the country’s laws, rules and political morals can be stretched, squeezed, twisted and even ignored to meet the needs of those in power.

Twenty-two years ago, when people stood on the squares, it was to say no to power and authority which refused to explain or report. Now those in power say that they are acting in line with the law and that even if their decisions cannot be explained, they are taking them for the good of the people. But it often turns out that they are referring only to a specific group of people.

But what changed after November 17, 1989, even if some people might have failed to notice it, is that people are not just entitled to clear and thorough accounts of the authorities’ actions and decisions, but are also free to announce that the king not only has no clothes but does not even know how to be a ‘king’.

People probably need to be reminded that they are free to say this and that they have the chance to do so every four years at least. Of course, part of the nation somehow still hankers after naked kings, petty autocrats and skilled demagogues. This is something they have to overcome. If they do not, no Velvet Revolution will help.


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