Parliament leadership wants to control extremism in the House

The management of the Slovak Parliament intends to address displays of extremism and xenophobia in the House.

Igor Matovič in parliament.Igor Matovič in parliament. (Source: TASR)

Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko (Slovak National Party-SNS) and his deputy Béla Bugár (Most-Híd) stated their intention to address displays of extremism and xenophobia in the House on November 9, after meeting Prosecutor-General Jaromír Čižnár.

Narrowing MPs’ immunity for statements in parliament would be the final resort, the coalition partners told the TASR newswire.

“The Slovak Parliament is struggling with manifestations that defame nations and states,” Danko said. “I’m fully aware of my responsibilities, so I welcomed the opportunity to discuss it with the prosecutor-general. It’s sad that we’re living in a time in which some people declare their support for things of the past with which our ancestors had to fight. It’s very sad to see displays of racism, xenophobia and Holocaust denial, or to see [opposition OĽaNO-NOVA leader] Igor Matovič comparing his suffering to that of Jews,” Danko summed up, adding that such statements are at the edge of MPs’ freedom of expression.

The parliamentary speaker is also aware of the fact that MPs have immunity for statements made at plenary sessions. “The discussion with the prosecutor-general was aimed at clarifying the boundaries of criminal responsibility in the House and the possibilities of [filing] disciplinary proceedings [on this matter],” said Danko, adding that the MPs concerned have to realise what the difference is between a political fight and “insane xenophobic manifestations”.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to spread hatred, according to Bugár. If ordinary citizens said the same thing as MPs at the most recent parliamentary session, they could be prosecuted for it. Of course, due to immunity this does not apply to the House, he added.

As for possible solutions regarding this matter, Bugár explained that it has to be addressed sensitively. “It’s important to show that Slovakia wants to fight extremism,” he said, adding that stripping MPs of their immunity is the least likely option. Danko added that the solution lies in more effective disciplinary proceedings and in tightening sanctions against MPs.

He also noted that on November 11, he would file a motion for disciplinary proceedings against Matovič and three MPs from the far-right Kotleba-People’s Party Our Slovakia (Kotleba-ĽSNS) concerning their statements about Jewish people.

At the latest parliamentary session, Matovič, in his criticism of draft changes to the parliamentary Rules of Procedure, compared MPs to Jews in concentration camps.

Matovič’s reaction

No one has produced more racist billboards in Slovakia than the SNS before the 2010 general election, and current SNS leader and Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko was partly behind them, Matovič said in reaction on the same day.

“I’ve been SNS chairman for four years,” Danko answered. “These aren’t the billboards used during my leadership. You can’t see any billboards of mine with such a character anywhere.”

However, Matovič pointed out that when the first of the billboards was displayed, Danko was the only representative of SNS’ Central Election Commission. Before the 2012 election, he was SNS vice-chairman. Matovič stressed that Roma as well as human rights organisations protested against these billboards at the time, while Danko defended them. “Such racist billboards have never been used even by [ĽSNS leader] Marian Kotleba,” Matovič summed up, as quoted by TASR.

Regarding his statement in which he compared the situation of opposition MPs face in the House to that of Jews in concentration camps, Matovič reiterated that this was a metaphor. “Every reasonable person, if they heard the statement, would see no hint of defaming a nation, racism, fascism or xenophobia in it,” he said.

The OĽaNO-NOVA leader also discussed this issue with Slovak Union of Jewish Communities head Igor Rintel for two hours on November 8. “He told me several times that the statement doesn’t include any anti-Semitic or racist elements, only that he considers it to be unfortunate,” said Matovič.

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