LESS than a week after it became clear that Robert Fico will not yet be able to add the presidency to his collection of personal political powers, the ruling Smer party nominated five candidates without any previous experience in constitutional law for 12-year terms with the country’s Constitutional Court, while overlooking experts with extensive international working backgrounds. Those who even for a millisecond believed that Fico, the failed presidential candidate, actually meant his comment that he was losing patience with the troubled judiciary and that his promises on cleaning up the sector were genuine, were terribly wrong.
When the Sme daily interviewed Smer deputies shortly ahead of the crucial vote, they said they were just about to study the resumes of the candidates. They obviously did not study hard enough, otherwise there is no way they could have failed to include candidates with experience in the European Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights or the Slovak Constitutional Court in the final list of nominees.
Though Róbert Madej of Smer claimed to Sme that the deputies were guided by their conscience when making their selections in a secret ballot, anyone who has a clue about the performance of Smer deputies in parliament knows that they are only small screws in a vast voting machine. They push the button whenever and in whatever way the party leadership tells them to push – even if it pushes the country into even deeper scepticism about politics and public office in general.
They may know little about constitutional law, but they have learned lessons about political loyalty to the party, which brought them their well-paid public jobs. Few are willing to risk those jobs for such an obscure concept as conscience.
Given the design of Smer, and thus the government, Fico could not possibly escape responsibility for the choices of his MPs, who favoured a judge suspected of nepotism, people who never practised constitutional law and a candidate supported by the president of the Supreme Court, who himself is widely viewed as a sign of the critical state of the judiciary.
Why do Slovak politicians have an almost incurable tendency to overlook experts and well-established professionals? Perhaps because internationally-recognised experts handle their reputation with more caution and would not risk losing it for petty party politics or the dubious interests of narrow groups. This of course isn’t always the case, just as greenhorns who are only yet to make their mark in professional fields might have waterproof integrity, some experts might in a momentary lapse of reason cross the line and let their reputation be washed away by politics.
Justice Minister Tomáš Borec was invited to join Fico’s government as one of those acknowledged experts. Political ethics watchdogs hoped that if it was not the wind of change they felt with his nomination, that it at least could be a fresh breeze.
Those hopes were dashed after seeing Borec filing a special appeal in the case of Košice city councillor František Olejník, a former Smer deputy convicted of taking a bribe for influencing votes. Since then, the Supreme Court has dismissed the appeal, seen by critics as politically motivated, and Olejník is set to spend his next five years behind bars – a rare development in Slovakia, where corrupt public officials often avoid prison time.
Nevertheless, an aftertaste of Borec’s conduct remains even if he is unlikely to lose his ministerial seat because he is backed by Smer and its outright parliamentary majority. For the party of Fico, the Olejník case could not possibly be a reason to sack the justice minister – quite the contrary.
Optimists might see some good in the outcome of the Olejník case, suggesting that the courts did not yield to political pressure and that the prosecutors and judges did their job. But even that would be short lived, as the case of Hedviga Žáková (whose former surname was Malinová, but who has since married) drags on.
Nearly eight years after it began, the case has become synonymous with an individual caught up in the state machinery. It would remind them that justice is not attainable efficiently and is, obviously, not for everybody. Žáková, an ethnic Hungarian who reported to have been attacked in August 2006 after two men overheard her speaking Hungarian on the phone, now faces a court trial for perjury after being openly called a liar by the country’s interior minister even before the investigation was closed. In a country where the judiciary was actually trustworthy, one might bravely say: “Let the courts decide and put an end to this harassment.”
But as Žáková knows, that country is not Slovakia. Indeed she and her family have left the country and moved to Hungary. If the recent actions of the ruling party are any indication, it is unlikely to be anytime soon.
14. Apr 2014 at 0:00 | Beata Balogová