The TA3 private news channel was the first to report on May 25 that General Prosecutor Jaromír Čižnár had filed the motion with the Supreme Court. The spokesperson for the Supreme Court, Boris Urbančík, later confirmed for the Sme daily that the court received the motion on May 24.
This is not the first time that a Kotleba-led party has faced this challenge, but ĽSNS is not a marginal party as Kotleba’s first party, the Slovenská Pospolitosť, had been before its dissolution in 2006. His current party has received significant amounts of money from the state budget and has 14 deputies in parliament, including Kotleba himself.
The move by General Prosecutor Čižnár to dissolve the party has been expected since the last election, with his office receiving about 170 such motions. The office had said for several months that it was waiting for expert information that would show whether the party’s conduct and statements might constitute violations of Slovak law.
The prosecutors argue that ĽSNS aspires to “remove the current democratic system in the Slovak Republic”.
They refer to “vast evidence” showing that the party has fascist tendencies and that its programme and activities violate the Slovak Constitution, laws and international treaties.
The police contributed to the motion by providing information on members of the party currently facing criminal charges, Police Corps President Tibor Gašpar said.
“I am glad that police officers today do not seek ways to dismiss things,” Gašpar said, as quoted by Sme. “We will go after actions of members of this party that show signs of criminality.”
Kotleba’s previous party, Slovenská Pospolitosť – Národná Strana (Slovak Togetherness – National Party), was the first party to be banned in Slovakia after 1989. In March 2006, the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the ultra-nationalist party because of its extremist ideology, based on a proposal filed by then-general prosecutor Dobroslav Trnka.
Presiding Judge Ida Hanzelová said that the party would be banned because its programme violated the universal right to vote and run for office as protected in the Slovak constitution. The party had advocated an “estate-based” society in which only the members of 10 selected groups would have the right to cast ballots and be elected.
The estate system confers a certain status or “estate” on members of various social groups, like clergy, teachers and farmers, and it has roots in Slovak and Slavic traditions.
The general prosecutor called for the party to be banned after a series of public meetings held by Slovenská Pospolitosť in Hlohovec, Modra, Černová and Prešov in late October 2005. However, the court outlawed the party based solely on the conflict between its programme and the constitutional rights of Slovak citizens, without examining expert opinions on other facets of the party.
Kotleba responded to the 2006 verdict by saying that the party was prepared for this outcome. He compared the trial to the Stalinist trials of the 1950s under the communist regime.
Meanwhile, Kotleba and those close to him took control of the marginal Friends of Wine Party before the 2010 parliamentary elections, bypassing the requirement to collect petition signatures that accompanies the registration of a political party.
The party keeps the money it already has received
There is no precedent in Slovakia for a ban on a parliamentary party, but the laws are clear about what happens when such a party gets a red light from the Supreme Court.
The 14 MPs of ĽSNS would retain their posts in the parliament even if the party itself is banned, since the parliamentary mandate cannot be taken away from a duly elected MP. Kotleba and his elected party members, including Milan Mazurek and Stanislav Mizík, would stay in the parliament until the end of the election term in 2020.
But the MPs would lose their parliamentary caucus, because this is tied to the existence of the party, Sme noted. They would be counted as independents and could attempt to establish another caucus, but such a caucus would need to have at least eight members and be approved by the rest of the parliament in a vote. That is unlikely to happen.
Although the party would not lose its MPs in parliament, it would lose a significant portion of the money that it is set to receive from the state for its results in the March 2016 election. ĽSNS garnered slightly more than 8 percent of the vote in that election, which would allot it a total of €5.4 million. Of that amount, €1.8 million has already been paid to the party based on its votes.
The remaining money represents contributions for mandates of €1.4 million and contributions to party activities of €1.8 million. These are scheduled to be paid in instalments across the entire election term, and as soon as the party would cease to exist, it would be ineligible for any unpaid instalments. Sme calculated that the party would thus lose some €2.1 million if it were banned in August 2017.
Plan B in the pipeline?
A banned party would obviously be disqualified from elections but under the current rules its politicians would not be. They could run again by becoming involved with or taking over an existing party, just as what took place during the “founding” of ĽSNS.
In fact, the Hospodárske Noviny daily recently reported that ĽSNS MP Martin Beluský is also a member of a party called Ľudová Strana (People’s Party). The reports said that Beluský and Rastislav Kyseľ, who is also an ĽSNS member, are the official representatives of this party.
“[Our involvement in this party] is part of a wider and more sophisticated strategy,” ĽSNS MP Uhrík said after the reports were released. “But it would be a premature speculation to talk about some reserve party.”
Another option for Kotleba and his supporters would be to create a brand new party.
The ruling coalition, however, suggests that eliminating ĽSNS is not how they are planning to thwart the efforts of the extremists. Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák said in his reaction to the news of the proposed ban that there are plans to amend the law that would make it possible to ban individuals from pursuing political activities after their original party has been banned. Similar rules already exist in France and Belgium.
Martyrs or criminals?
The legal standing of the party and its MPs is one thing, but voters’ support for them is another. Political analyst and expert on political extremism Tomáš Nociar admitted that it is difficult to predict at this point how the public would react to the dissolution of ĽSNS.
“Parts of the public might perceive them as persecuted politicians, but parts could also perceive them as martyrs,” Nociar told Sme.
Nociar sees the ban on individual politicians as a better way to address extremism in politics than a ban on political parties. When a politician is not allowed to pursue political activities, people forget him or her sooner or later. This was the example of Belgian extremist Daniel Feret who was banned from politics for 10 years and was subsequently forgotten, Sme wrote.
Some voiced opposition to the ban altogether, citing fears that it might allow Kotleba to be turned into (or turn himself into) a martyr.
Irena Bihariová, a human rights expert and lawyer who currently works with the Progressive Slovakia movement, addressed the discussion about martyrdom and free speech in her op-ed for Sme on May 27. She insists that the martyrdom concern is the weakest argument in the whole debate.
“There is no option for combating extremism that would not present a chance to assume the role of the unjustly persecuted,” Bihariová wrote, adding that being a rebel or martyr is a necessary part of the image of any politician who dances on the edge of the law.
Bihariová said that the only relevant viewpoint in the debate is the legal viewpoint.
“When a person commits a crime, it makes no sense to discuss whether it is appropriate to prosecute them or what the reaction of the public will be,” Bihariová wrote. “If the general prosecutor considers the actions of the party to violate the Constitution or a law, he has no other option but to launch a proceeding into its dissolution.”
Bihariová admitted that the lawyers could make some tactical decisions with regard to the timing and manner of argumentation, but she does not think that the prosecutor should calculate based on political consequences or public opinion.
“Even if it were possible that the decision [to ban the party] would, in fact, strengthen the political position of ĽSNS, they must not give up if their evidence shows that the party broke the law,” she wrote.
Radka Minarechová contributed to this report