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Survey: Quality of Slovak democracy declines

THE QUALITY of democracy in Slovakia has slightly worsened for the first time since the beginning of the last year, according to the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) Barometer survey.

THE QUALITY of democracy in Slovakia has slightly worsened for the first time since the beginning of the last year, according to the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) Barometer survey.

Analysts say that the development in the case of Jozef Čentéš, an elected but not appointed general prosecutor, election of new top prosecutor and the alleged embezzlement at the military intelligence service are among the main factors influencing the deterioration. The overall grade for Slovakia’s democracy dropped to 2.9 in the second quarter of 2013, down 0.1 points from where it had remained for the previous five consecutive quarters, the IVO Barometer survey showed.

The potential marks in the barometer range from 1 to 5, with 1 representing the optimal state of democracy based on standards and comparative criteria in other EU and Council of Europe member states. The IVO Barometer evaluates five areas of democracy: democratic institutions and a lawful state (giving Slovakia a grade of 3.0 in the second quarter); legislation (a grade of 2.5); respect for and protection of human and minority rights (a grade of 3.25); media freedom and the quality of public-service media (a grade of 3.0); and civil society.

In the first three months of 2013 the overall rating of the democracy in Slovakia stayed unchanged compared to the 2012 average, despite some negative tendencies. In the second quarter the analysts lowered ratings in two areas: democratic institutions and a lawful state, and human and minority rights, both by 0.25 points.

Political area still a problem

Deterioration in the area of democratic institutions and a lawful state came as IVO analysts pointed directly to the recent battle over the general prosecutor, citing a decline in “observing the principles of the power distribution, applying the constitution-guaranteed procedures when selecting and appointing top state representatives, securing the procedural independence of bodies active in criminal prosecution”, according to the report.

The analysts said that the “dictate of the majority” was not applied only in legislation process, but also as “a main power tool when ruling the country”. In commenting on the Čentéš general prosecutor case and the election of Jaromír Čižnár in the new, Smer-orchestrated vote held June 18, analysts said the developments represent the “completion of power-political operation” started by Smer party and its chair, Robert Fico.

The coordination of activities of Fico, President Ivan Gašparovič, Constitutional Court President Ivetta Macejková and Speaker of Parliament Pavol Paška in fact “thwarted the principle of power distribution”, IVO head Grigorij Mesežnikov said in commenting on the survey results. He pointed to changes in the work schedule of the Constitutional Court, changes to legislation, rulings and statements. The only one who remained stable in his attitudes was Čentéš, Mesežnikov said.

A second case cited as affecting the decline in democratic health was alleged embezzlement at the Military Defence Intelligence (VSS).

“The investigation of the bodies active in criminal prosecution has indicated the signs of ineffectiveness and we see some efforts to influence the investigation as well as the perception of this case by the public,” Mesežnikov said.

Though the analysts did not lower the marks in the legislative area, they did highlight the practice of passing laws through indirect revision, or the so-called pasting method – meaning deputies pass amendments to laws by attaching them to votes on unrelated laws. One example mentioned by the IVO was the approval to unite the dates for the reparative secondary school-leaving exams through an amendment to the law on family.

Though the number of the bills passed in the fast-tracked proceedings dropped, the IVO pointed to the amendment to the law on the operation of the country’s Constitutional Court, a key to the Čentéš’ case. Fico had originally promised the amendment will go through the ordinary legislative procedure, but changed his mind and fast-tracked it, referring to the critical state at the Office of the General Prosecutor.

IVO analysts also criticised the fact that MPs returned the annual report over the activities of the Office of Public Defender of Rights to ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová,
asking her to rewrite it. The constitution grants parliament merely the ability to acknowledge such reports, IVO report reads.

Civil society and media concerns

Analysts are concerned over legal cases targeting media, especially the lawsuits filed by several judges and a senior prosecutor who attended a party which they dubbed the Judiciary Oscars Association at the Bonanno bar in Rajecké Teplice. The group objects to coverage in the daily Nový Čas and interpretation of photographs taken at the party, which seemed to depict the judges and prosecutor mocking a tragic shooting incident that had taken place two months earlier.

Back in late August 2010, Ľubomír Harman, a 48-year-old man wearing blue noise-cancelling ear protectors and armed with an assault rifle, shot and killed seven people before killing himself in Devínska Nová Ves. Party attendees appeared to be making light of the events. According to IVO, this case points to “the moral decline of the state of judiciary in Slovakia”.

Civil society evaluations in the survey were influenced by three factors that created “a contradictory image”. While civil society as a whole does not have a power, force and influence as in the past, the survey finds, there are still new ideas, initiatives and leaders who “creatively use the space of civil freedom to solve problems around them”. Moreover, the communication between the state representatives and people from NGOs continue, the IVO report reads.

The IVO cited the halting of the prosecution of journalist Zuzana Petková, sued by Supreme Court President Štefan Harabin for writing an article about his wife’s salary, and filmmaker Zuzana Piussi, who was charged by judge Helena Kožíková for her appearance in Piussi’s film ‘The Disease of the Third Power’, a critical documentary about what its creators call the “black holes” in Slovakia’s judiciary.

These cases reflected the situation in civil society during the surveyed period, “the outrage and anger over the state of Slovak judiciary on one hand, and the willingness to oppose it – and to report success in this fight on the other hand”, reads the IVO report.

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