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Do words stand for nothing?

THE PRESIDENT and the prime minister of Slovakia have recently made a couple of remarks which should unsettle anyone who had hoped that court decisions were immune to the will of politicians and that the era when the answer to questions like “how come” or “why” is just “because I said so” was behind us.

THE PRESIDENT and the prime minister of Slovakia have recently made a couple of remarks which should unsettle anyone who had hoped that court decisions were immune to the will of politicians and that the era when the answer to questions like “how come” or “why” is just “because I said so” was behind us.

President Ivan Gašparovič on May 15 declared that he would never appoint Jozef Čentéš to the post of general prosecutor, with his spokesman Marek Trubač saying that there was no way that the president would appoint the man who was elected in June 2011 by parliament to run the General Prosecutor’s Office.

“The president has decided definitely,” Trubač said, as quoted by the Sme daily.

However, there are still three cases pertaining to the Čentéš case pending at the Constitutional Court, including a complaint by Čentéš regarding the length of the time it took Gašparovič to make a decision, and his January 2013 complaint against Gašparovič’s eventual decision not to appoint him at all. Does the president presume to know how the court will decide? Does his statement imply that if the Constitutional Court rules that his refusal to appoint Čentéš has violated the latter’s basic rights, he will simply ignore its decision?

Of course, in Slovak politics words often stand for nothing and politicians rely on the assumption that the memory of the public is short, and that a single press conference can change the course of events and their interpretation.

Shortly after Gašparovič’s disturbing but otherwise fairly predictable statement, Prime Minister Robert Fico said that the president’s decision and recent developments at the Constitutional Court in practice meant that Slovakia would not have a general prosecutor before June 2014 (when a new president is due to take office), Sme reported.

A week later, however, Fico suddenly changed his tune, saying that he was now planning to hold a new vote in parliament to select a new general prosecutor, a move which would effectively ignore Čentéš’ election in June 2011, and pre-empt the outcome of his current case before the Constitutional Court.
Just a month ago, according to Sme, Fico promised that his government would not proceed with a new ballot to fill the general prosecutor post until the Constitutional Court had decided on Čentéš’ request that such a vote be blocked.

“No obstacle exists and it never has,” is now Fico’s position, as reported by the SITA newswire. “From the very beginning, since the rise of this government, we could have proceeded to the election of general prosecutor in parliament, but we wanted to respect that there were different complaints submitted.”

Fico also warned journalists that they were making a mistake by describing Čentéš as the lawfully elected candidate for the post, SITA reported. Yet journalists routinely describe Čentéš as the lawfully elected general prosecutor because the Constitutional Court ruled just that in October 2011, finding that both public and secret ballots (Čentéš was elected via the latter) are legitimate methods for the Slovak Parliament to use to select the general prosecutor, and are in line with the constitution.

Following the script co-authored by Smer when it rammed a revision to the law on the operation of the Constitutional Court through parliament on April 30, Justice Peter Brňák, who was earlier this year barred from ruling on the January motion submitted by Čentéš, after the latter alleged that Brňák might potentially be biased against him, will now decide on the fate of Slovakia’s general-prosecutor-elect after all.

Though the opposition has launched a challenge to the law change, which effectively reinstitutes the original senate of the court, including two judges who have been lawfully excluded from deciding on the Čentéš case, this does not seem to affect the confidence of those who run the country that they will finally get their man into one of the most powerful positions in Slovakia.

Some would say that Čentéš can still turn to the European Court for Human Rights, which might rule that his rights have been violated and bring him a moral victory. But there will be no moral victors in this case, which has gone too far in corroding the country’s faith in the ability of the highest court – or its politicians – to guard the constitution, its faith in judicial independence, or even its confidence that words actually have any meaning.

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