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IN A FUNCTIONING democracy people give power to public officials by electing them to office and public officials give people information so that they can effectively control them and make informed decisions in elections, explained Pulitzer winning journalist Tim Weiner during his meetings with students of Slovak universities in which he stressed that information is power. If the students were listening carefully, they cannot help but see the recent response of Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič to a journalist inquiring about an issue of public interest in this context.

IN A FUNCTIONING democracy people give power to public officials by electing them to office and public officials give people information so that they can effectively control them and make informed decisions in elections, explained Pulitzer winning journalist Tim Weiner during his meetings with students of Slovak universities in which he stressed that information is power. If the students were listening carefully, they cannot help but see the recent response of Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič to a journalist inquiring about an issue of public interest in this context.

A reporter from the Sme daily asked Gašparovič to explain why he has so far failed to appoint as general prosecutor Jozef Čentéš, who was elected to the position by parliament on June 7, 2011. The president responded with a question: “Are you an analphabet [i.e. a complete illiterate]?” Then Gašparovič, who has encountered criticism not just for his ongoing refusal to appoint Čentéš, whose election by parliament was ruled legitimate by the Constitutional Court in a verdict issued earlier this year, but also for not explaining why he considers Čentéš unsuitable for the post, recommended that the journalist read a recent decision by the Constitutional Court if she is actually “able to read” – a ruling that merely states that the president must make a timely decision. Leaving the room, he muttered: “she is not normal”.

At least half of the nation has no remaining illusions about their president, and will be unsurprised by his disrespectful language towards the journalist. Some might recall his ‘joke’ – as it was later spun by the presidential palace – when Gašparovič last year physically elbowed aside Iveta Radičová, at that time the prime minister, in front of an elevator at Bratislava’s hockey stadium, with the words: “Don’t get in my way here”. His spokesman defended his boss by saying “It was absolutely witty”.

This time, the president’s office, instead of hinting that Gašparovič’s critics do not have a sense of humour, targeted the journalist herself, suggesting that she was inquiring about issues which were not related to the occasion for which the press conference had been called, according to Sme. But Gašparovič was elbowing aside everyone who would actually like to know the answer to her question. There are many of them, but since they cannot just walk into the presidential palace or call the president to ask him, they need journalists to act on their behalf. If Gašparovič still doesn’t get this after more than two decades in national politics, he never will.

Gašparovič is not alone when it comes to failing to understand some of the changes that the Velvet Revolution signalled in the power dynamics between the governors and the governed.

The light of the candles that protesting students carried on those foggy evenings in November 1989 is yet to illuminate some of Slovakia’s courtrooms. As the anniversary of the revolution comes round again, it is the media’s natural instinct to reflect on the progress, or lack thereof, since that important milestone in the nation’s history. On present form, there is much to lament.

The political opposition is now trying to have Justice Minister Tomáš Borec sacked for what they call his reluctance to support a parliamentary debate on the critical state of the judiciary that they are seeking. Given the strength of Robert Fico’s Smer party in parliament their attempt will soon be added to the history of failed parliamentary no-confidence motions targeting ministers backed by ruling parties. These create a spectacle, but in the process their main message – in this case, the grave condition of the judiciary – is often lost. Meanwhile, Borec has argued that it is not possible to say, based on a few examples, that the judiciary in Slovakia is not functioning, adding that 1,300 judges are returning verdicts every day. He complained that “we take some cases out of context and create the impression that the judiciary absolutely does not work”, according to the SITA newswire.

Presumably, foreign investors who in surveys consistently list “the efficiency of the legal framework in settling disputes in Slovakia” as a major concern do not voice such views based on hasty impressions. Besides, in the case of the judiciary, public trust is actually crucial because it is precisely people’s confidence that they will be able to find justice in the courts that is a fundamental part of democracy. If the situation within the country’s judiciary is a case of one or two unfortunate deviations by one or two specific judges, then the system should make it possible for these judges to be expelled and punished, whatever their position in the judicial hierarchy. Unsurprisingly that has never happened – and, as things stand today, it is unlikely to happen.

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