THE WAY in which Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič formally appointed Jaromír Čižnár to the post of general prosecutor speaks volumes about the state of Slovakia’s politics. The media learned about the appointment and the subsequent ceremony only minutes before they took place, with the president offering no explanation as to why he chose not to inform reporters about an event which is normally flagged well in advance. Smer deputy Mojmír Mamojka, however, offered an explanation for
Gašparovič: “I assume it was a reaction to media opinions on not appointing docent [Jozef] Čentéš, which Mr President did not always like. Obviously, after the previous experiences, he did not want to give it needless publicity.”
By this approach Gašparovič was about to treat a formal appointment as his own private affair, or a party only for those few who see nothing wrong with the way Čižnár was appointed to the post, despite the fact that the Constitutional Court has not yet decided on a complaint filed by Čentéš, who was elected to the general prosecutor post by MPs in June 2011, but whom the president has refused to appoint.
The scripted political spectacle called “appointment of the general prosecutor” obviously included the nearly one-month waiting period between Čižnár’s election by parliament on June 18 and his appointment on July 17, during which Gašparovič “considered all the aspects; the legal ones and others too, which could object to your [Čižnár’s] appointment”, as the president said. The truth is that no one with even the slightest insight into Slovak politics doubted that the president would appoint Čižnár to the post and, thus, the time Gašparovič allegedly spent considering “all the aspects” only deepens the farce.
And while Gašparovič might be sick of the media, which has certainly not given him any slack, reporting his frequent slips of the tongue and all his other substantially more serious failings, he fails to understand that the journalists are there as the eyes and ears of the public, including his own voters. If there was any message in the last-minute announcement to the media, it was childish and not worthy of a head of state – much like Gašparovič’s whole operation as president. And with his seemingly banal mistake, he only reinforced his critics’ point that the president indeed made the appointment for reasons other than the public interest.
The curse of the whole general prosecutor melodrama is that no one will leave the stage unblemished: Čentéš will forever be inscribed in the public’s memory as the guy who calmly and politely waited for many months for his appointment to the post, while Čižnár is the one who was picked in a Smer-orchestrated vote before Čentéš’ legal issues were even resolved. Also, Gašparovič, by casting doubt on Čentéš’ qualities as a candidate for the post without actually providing any watertight evidence for his claims, has made him vulnerable even as a regular prosecutor.
Yet, Čentéš and Čižnár could both be good prosecutors, but in this political play any attributes would be overshadowed by the outfits the politicians forced them to wear. Of course Čižnár’s performance could still surprise and it could still turn this melodrama into something worthier, but for that he would have to completely forget the hands who voted for him, including those hands he shook at the official ceremony. But even then, there will be many who continue to remind him of the unfortunate circumstances of his election.
Politicians indeed have a damaging effect whenever they meddle with the judiciary, and Slovakia’s modern history provides numerous examples of how serious the consequences can be when, for example, a justice minister becomes Supreme Court president, or when the appointment of the general prosecutor becomes so deeply entangled in political calculation and games that even the Constitutional Court breaks a tooth on the case.
And the public knows that Čižnár’s appointment to the post does not signal the end of this traumatic process, and that it indeed might re-emerge in a different arrangement, in a different time in society, as long as the public fails to understand that politicians with an inclination to meddle with the independence of the judiciary need to be shown the door, for the sake of the public.