Those four people received the White Crow award for socially responsible and courageous civic action on September 17, a day when Slovakia commemorates the Velvet Revolution. Granted by the political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance (AFP) and Via Iuris legal think-tank, the project honours Slovaks who took personal risks as whistleblowers by challenging unethical or corrupt behaviour, as well as those who display civic bravery and integrity.
“This year is extraordinarily strong because we don’t even need to introduce our candidates to the public,” Zuzana Wienk from the AFP told the press.
During the November 17 event organisers also gave an honour to Vladimír Suchodolinský, one of the best-known whistleblowers in Slovakia. He was a former Military Intelligence Service (VSS) agent and the author of report concerning the alleged embezzlement who died on October 6.
Medics who have shaken the government
Eight people charged with the especially grave crime of the attempt to violate duties when administering other people’s property; abdication of health minister Zuzana Zvolenská, then-speaker of parliament Pavol Paška and then-deputy speaker Renáta Zmajkovičová. This is a result of the testimony of doctor Alan Suchánek and nurse Magdaléna Kovačovičová, serving as members of Alexander Winter Hospital’s Administrative Board in Piešťany, who drew attention in the autumn of 2014 to the purchase of an overpriced CT device.
“We did not think that this will have such an extensive impact,” Kovačovičová told The Slovak Spectator.
The Piešťany hospital had announced a tender to purchase a CT Somatom Definition AS produced by Siemens in 2012 for roughly €1 million with VAT; however, after officials from the ruling Smer party took control of the hospital, the management cancelled the deal and announced a new tender for a more expensive device, TV Markíza reported on October 30, 2014.
The winning bid by Medical Group SK of almost €1.6 million for a Philips Ingenuity Core 128 CT scanner was €600,000 higher than the CT device from the cancelled tender, the Sme daily reported. At the time of the deal, Zmajkovičová headed the hospital’s supervisory board.
“We warned them at the Board session that we’d tell the public what was going on. They told us that we were being ridiculous,” said Sucha Suchánek, as quoted by the TASR newswire, adding that Slovakia is completely riddled with corruption at all levels and that is the reason why they attempted to do something positive.
On the heels of the ongoing scandal Prime Minister Robert Fico called on Smer nominee Zuzana Zvolenská to resign from the post of health minister and Renáta Zmajkovičová, a key Smer official, who sat at the top of the hospital’s supervisory board, to resign as parliamentary deputy speaker.
Later, after more than 1,000 people gathered in Bratislava to demand Paška’s resignation on November 14, 2014 during a rally organised by independent MP Alojz Hlina, following a similar protest in Košice in front of Paška’s house where around 300 people gathered on November 11, 2014, one of the ruling Smer party’s key strongmen, Pavol Paška, resigned as speaker of parliament.
In September 2015 the board of directors of the Piešťany hospital dismissed Mária Domčeková from her post as the hospital’s director. She and another seven people have recently been accused by the police in the case of an overpriced purchase of a computer tomography device.
Despite those charges, awarded medics have little faith that one of them will go to the jail or face punishment for the CT purchase.
“I don’t want to predict anything but [note that] the biggest fish have not been accused,” Suchánek told The Slovak Spectator.
Priest who cannot preach in churches
Roman Catholic priest and long-time chair of the Political Prisoners Confederation, Anton Srholec received the award for his lifetime contributions. An internal critic of the Church, Srholec takes an active part in public discussion and various demonstrations. Since 1992, he has been involved in helping the homeless, for whom he founded the Resota centre.
Currently battling cancer, Srholec was unable to attend the ceremony in person and had Štefan Hríb, the editor of .Týždeň weekly, deliver a speech on his behalf.
“Most white crows are bestowed by the panel of judges for courage, a civic stance or the ability not to budge,” Hríb said, as quoted by TASR. “However, I have a feeling that Anton received this award for love.”
Srholec was a political prisoner incarcerated by the communist regime for a number of long years, and was caught in a flight attempt to study theology abroad. Later he spent some time in Italy, where the Pope appointed him priest and then returned to Slovakia.
“I am really happy that I stayed with this nation,” Srholec told the Sme daily back in 2014. “In humbleness one can contribute to improvement of [the current situation] so it won’t be totally hopeless.”
During Communism, Srholec was unable to practice his ecclesiastical profession, being blacklisted by the communist state. Following the Velvet Revolution in 1989, Archbishop Ján Sokol has failed to give consent for Srholec’s rehabilitation, thus Srholec still can not preach publicly at churches.
Reporter who crosses the lines
Most journalists describe people’s stories, but reporter and photographer Andrej Bán tries to actively help them or find solutions for their problems. Similarly to Srholec, also Bán received the award for his life-time contributions.
“I have strong need to concretely help people in peril because stories or photos are not concrete help,” Bán told the press.
Taking pictures for magazines at home and abroad, recently particularly for Týždeň, Bán also authored two books of photographs – Different Slovakia and Kosovo.
Bán states that he is old-school journalist who wants to travel to places he writes about and speak with people personally. This year he visited battlefields in Ukraine, the borders of Syria and followed refugees on their route from Greece through the Balkans to Hungary.
In 1999, Bán, together with his friends, founded a humanitarian organisation People in Peril, organised a fundraiser for victims of the tsunami in Asia and coordinated a relief response after devastating floods that affected eastern Slovakia.
“Andrej Bán is a person who crosses the lines of a reporter’s job and helps people,” Wienk told the press.