Gov't approves plan against hate it does not follow itself

THE SLOVAK government approved an action plan on January 13 to prevent ethnic, racial or religious intolerance which contradicts specific steps and statements of members of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s cabinet.

Slovak Interior Minister Robert KalinákSlovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinák (Source: AP/SITA)

The plan has been approved at a time when the prosecutor’s office is checking on Fico’s statements about Muslims, due to suspicion that he may have violated the laws on intolerance, the Sme daily wrote on January 13.

In recent weeks, Fico has been making statements within the election campaign connecting refugees from other cultural, ethnic and religious environment with terrorism, and with potential threats to European culture. Last week, he had four press conferences relating to refugees; in the past, he has also spoken about the necessity to monitor every single Muslim in Slovakia.

The action plan against intolerance has been tabled by Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, to be implemented in the future. In the plan, the government pledges to improve cooperation with NGOs, to use procedures from abroad when handling minorities, and to abolish prejudice.

However, the Interior Ministry got into conflict with the League for Human Rights in October; when it asked the UN, without any previous warning, to scrap cooperation with the League. Several other NGOs, including the Open Society Foundation and the Islamic Foundation in Slovakia slammed Fico’s statements.   

Kaliňák claims, however, that any criticism of government for its statements and stances is unrealistic and he insists that he is satisfied with the fight against intolerance. „We have very good results, and the level of tension in this sphere in Slovakia has been reduced,” he commented on the new action plan. He sees nothing wrong in the previous statements of the premier or other top officials. “Tell me, what hate expression is there? I have not noticed anything,” Kaliňák reacted, as quoted by Sme.

Among other things, the approved document also criticises the current situation in Slovakia, stating that despite all legislative rules and non-legislative measures, the protection of life, health and dignity “are still far from being ideal”.

The result of the new policy should include, according to Kaliňák, people being made responsible for displays of hatred, e.g. on social networks. The document also mentions improving education on the importance and benefits of diversity and accepting "otherness", as well as the creation of a website with information on racism, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance. The document follows on from the tasks outlined in a nationwide strategy for the protection and support of human rights in Slovakia which was passed in February 2015.

In response to the action plan, Most-Híd vice-chair Lucia Žitňanská said that it flies in the face of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s statements regarding the migration crisis. “Statements about monitoring every member of the Muslim community or preventing the emergence of a compact Muslim community are ways to directly invoke the prejudice and fear that incite religious hatred,” she said. The approval of the document is completely meaningless, as “nobody can believe in the government’s willingness to fulfill this action plan – not even the prime minister himself”, she said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Referring to the ruling Smer party’s We Protect Slovakia poster campaign, Žitňanska found it cynical that the document was prepared by Kaliňák who, according to her, misuses this topic for Smer’s pre-election campaign the most, alongside Fico. Also found to be cynical was the passage in the document that states that “non-governmental organisations represent an essential role in addressing the issue of racism, xenophobia and intolerance and are respected as the carrier of new topics and pushing forward of issues in the public interest”. Meanwhile, “it’s the prime minister himself that doesn't call people from the third sector with any other name than 'human rights holy rollers,” according to the MP and former justice minister.

Fico has not commented on the new action plan, nor on the prosecutor’s office’s proceeding in his case, and avoids journalists who are eager to ask him questions. The Prosecutor’s Office confirmed for the Denník N daily that it has launched an investigation into Fico’s statements on Muslims, based on an anonymous motion, on January 11.  Fico could face two to six years in prison if he is found guilty of breaching the laws on intolerance. However, police president Tibor Gašpar sees no problem with the PM’s statements, claiming that they must be understood in the context in which they were uttered.  

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