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EDITORIAL

1993-2013: Shame and pride

“THE STATE can be neither better nor worse than we ourselves are,” Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič stated in his New Year address, marking the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence. Yet shortly after making this comment the president announced that he would not appoint Jozef Čentéš to the post of general prosecutor, despite him having been elected by parliament for the post on June 7, 2011 and the Constitutional Court subsequently confirming the legitimacy of the parliamentary ballot by which he was chosen.

“THE STATE can be neither better nor worse than we ourselves are,” Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič stated in his New Year address, marking the 20th anniversary of Slovakia’s independence. Yet shortly after making this comment the president announced that he would not appoint Jozef Čentéš to the post of general prosecutor, despite him having been elected by parliament for the post on June 7, 2011 and the Constitutional Court subsequently confirming the legitimacy of the parliamentary ballot by which he was chosen.

Gašparovič’s own political career and the developments he has been associated with provide telling details about the state of the country two decades after it gained its independence. The fact that Gašparovič is sitting in the presidential palace shows that much more has survived from the era of Vladimír Mečiar, the country’s three-time prime minister who founded the ‘one hand washes the other’ culture rewarding the politically loyal with benefits they were not entitled to, than politicians are willing to admit.

In a state tailored to fit Mečiar or Gašparovič, politicians who stand close enough to power and loyal enough to those who can push the required buttons acquire a kind of ‘divine right’ to claim that things should happen in a certain way simply because they have said so, without much pressure to explain or justify. In such a world, critical voices are labelled as attacks at the foundations of the state or evil forces funded by foreign money to undermine the young country. The list of such enemies changes depending on where the criticism comes from.

One would like to hope that society has progressed somewhat since the infamous ‘Gaulieder case’, which will forever taint Gašparovič’s efforts to have himself portrayed as a guardian of the constitution.

In 1996, when Gašparovič was serving as speaker of parliament as a nominee for Mečiar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), he facilitated a vote to strip renegade HZDS MP František Gaulieder of his parliamentary mandate after he had criticised the party. Gašparovič accepted a parliamentary committee report stating that Gaulieder had agreed to resign his seat despite Gaulieder publicly denying that he had ever done so. Gaulieder was stripped of his mandate; a year later the Constitutional Court ruled that this violated the constitution.

Twenty years after its establishment, Slovakia still has a whole regiment of politicians who got stuck half-way in the transition from an authoritarian regime to democracy, creating a peculiar mutation: the oxymoronic authoritarian democrat, or democratic autocrat.

Slovakia celebrated the 20th anniversary of its independence on January 1, 2013 in a rather low-profile way, with many feeling that each political melodrama similar to that of the election of Čentéš puts the country back several years, depriving them of a proper sense of accomplishment. Yet it would be unfair to say that there have been no achievements: indeed, Slovakia has recorded massive progress in many areas of life. But unfortunately, until Slovakia manages to weed out its tradition of cronyism, and a disrespect for the law dressed up with political formulae that even their authors do not believe, one can hardly pursue genuine celebrations.

When the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) think tank, in cooperation with the Focus polling agency, surveyed public moods in November 2012, 63 percent of respondents said that the country was not going in the right direction, compared to 28 percent who said it was.

If anniversaries are good for something, then it is the opportunity they provide for self-reflection, in order to define the problems that a country needs to eliminate if it is to pursue inclusive progress which benefits society as a whole and not just the chosen few. Gašparovič, by his decision regarding Čentéš, not to mention the way he has handled the case all along, has signally failed to take this chance.

Many Slovaks would like to proceed in the hope that this country is better than the man who currently heads the state, and who has since shown he should never have been put in the presidential palace in the first place.

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