Most of us want the best possible Slovakia

Read the full inauguration speech of Slovakia’s fifth president, Zuzana Čaputová.

Zuzana Caputova swears the presidential oath into the hands of Constitutional Court President Ivan Fiacan. Zuzana Caputova swears the presidential oath into the hands of Constitutional Court President Ivan Fiacan. (Source: TASR)

Dear Mr President Kiska, Mr President Gašparovič, Mr President Schuster, Mr Prime Minister, Mr President of the Constitutional Court,

dear members of parliament, cabinet members, your excellences, distinguished guests,

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dear fellow citizens,

Read also: From attorney and activist to president of Slovakia. Who is Zuzana Čaputová? Read more 

When I aspired to the post of the president of the republic, I often mentioned that I wanted to be the president of all citizens. Just minutes ago, I swore the presidential oath held in the hands of the president of the Constitutional Court, and that means that I am now formally the president of all citizens. But that would be to just state the fact, a fact that I do not consider sufficient. At this festive moment, I want to say that I will make the effort to be the president of all citizens in another, much more substantial sense.

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I am offering my professionalism, I am offering my sense and the healthy interest of an activist. I am offering my reason, my heart, and my hands. By swearing the constitutional oath, I am taking up all the commitments and duties of public service. I did not come to rule, I came to serve the citizens, the inhabitants, Slovakia. In line with the constitutional oath that I have just sworn – I will serve the Slovak nation, national minorities and ethnic groups living in the Slovak Republic.

I consider the services that I have committed myself to, as a responsibility. The responsibility for a proper and constitutional performance of powers, but also as the responsibility for something more fragile, that all of us holding public posts must try for. And that is trust. The trust of citizens in us, the people that they have elected, trust in institutions, in rules that are valid equally for all, trust in Slovakia, trust in the homeland. With my approach, I want to contribute to constructive cooperation, offer a calm and factual tone, the necessary patience and adherence to the values that motivated me to enter politics. I promise that I will continue to try to get over personal attacks and remember that I am not here to engage in conflict, I am here to serve the people.

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I will perform my mandate freely. Answering to the orders of nobody. The only orders that I want and will respect as the head of state, come from the constitution, and are dictated by my promise of fidelity to the republic. I understand the trust that I have from you as your trust in my judgment, that I will act based on my best conscience and conviction.

The Slovak Republic and its citizens deserve that everyone in the public service works for the citizens, rather than any side interests, whichever party they are coming from. Otherwise we cannot make Slovakia the country that it can be. The country we want it to be. Because I am convinced that the vast majority of citizens desire for our republic to be the best possible Slovakia.

Dear guests, dear fellow citizens.

When I talk about us, about Slovakia, I must state that we are much more viable, much more vigorous than we often believe ourselves to be. We do not need to look back to the distant past. It is enough to remember what we have managed to do and the things we have overcome in just the last thirty years.

Although not everyone agreed with the way Czecho-Slovakia was divided, our whole society has taken responsibility for the development of our young state. After the division of the federation, the foreign-exchange reserves of the National Bank of Slovakia dropped to one third. But we did not end up bankrupt, we made it.

Twenty years ago, the Slovak government needed to pass a drastic package of economic measures to return our economy to balance and towards sustainable development. The unemployment rate exceeded 19 percent, but no social unrest occurred – the economy braced its energies, we made it.

Our neighbours – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – were several years ahead of us on the road to the European Union, but we became members of the union and part of the Schengen zone together with them. We are the only ones among them to be part of the eurozone. We made it.

Just a few years ago, we as the public could only watch as various shell companies with unknown owners would win one public procurement tender after another. Today we have a law that uncovers the ownership structures of companies doing business with the state and that inspires other countries as well. We made it!

Our scientists are part of several world-class scientific teams, we develop products and technologies that are also successful internationally. Our civil society is active and advanced. We can help each other, and we can also help others in the world, despite the fact that our universities still do not appear in the rankings of the best, that our startups lack systematic support and civil society and journalists are sometimes considered enemies of the state and of statehood.

I believe there is one thing woven throughout the whole modern history of Slovakia that should be particularly appreciated. The revolutionary change of the regime in 1989, the division of the federal state and other important changes in our society always occurred in a peaceful way, without violence and unrest. Even countries with a longer democratic tradition sometimes see people out on the streets in anger, showing their disagreement by causing damage. Nothing like that happened here. All the big public protests last year went down without violence, as people called for the return of decency to public life.

We can be rightfully proud of all the things I have mentioned, as well as many others – but that does not mean we can be proud of everything. If we are to succeed on the way from the Slovakia as it is now to the Slovakia as it could be, we need to openly talk about what helps us in our efforts and what prevents us.

Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,

our republic has been part of the European and transatlantic community for fifteen years. It is a community of free and democratic countries. It is good fortune and a privilege that generations before us could only dream about. Throughout our history, we have many times fallen victim to superpower politics, we had been included in empires where decisions about us were made without us. Our EU and NATO membership is our free choice. A small state in the middle of Europe couldn’t encounter a better fate than to belong to a community that espouses economic prosperity with social solidarity and expects every member state to adhere to the principles of international law. The fact that we are a part of the union is not just a matter of our prosperity, it is also an important contribution to our national sovereignty.

Just as the EU is the space where we live and whose values we share, NATO is our defence and security pillar. As a country, we need to do all that is in our power to preserve and strengthen this space and its supporting pillars. It is important also because we cannot deal with the biggest global issues that concern us just on our own, using our own capacities. We can only make it within the framework of the broadest international cooperation. The EU can significantly contribute to that, because it is based on cooperation between states and on aligning national interests in favour of the common good.

Europe, with us as part, should become a long-standing leader in averting several global threats, including the threat of the climate crisis. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, if the trend does not change, climate changes might expel up to 143 million people from their homes. We need to slow down and reverse the process of global climate change, otherwise it might have serious consequences for Slovakia. We know that the solution of the global ecologic threat does not depend solely on us. Slovakia cannot solve the global climate crisis on its own but holds the protection of its own nature in its hands. This is an opportunity for all of us to be real patriots, regardless of our politics or our party preferences.

Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,

if I am to talk about what prevents us from transforming Slovakia into the best possible country for its inhabitants, I should mention the thing I consider most important.

Although almost thirty years have passed since November 1989 and many things in our republic have changed for the better, the dignity of our citizens is still neither the first nor the main commandment of public life. A decent life for our citizens has many dimensions, each of them carrying its own story. These are just some of them.

The Constitution of the Slovak Republic says that “all human beings are free and equal in dignity and in rights”. In practice, this should mean that nobody is so insignificant or negligible as a citizen that they have their rights and freedoms curtailed. But it should also mean that nobody is so important and influential as to stand above the law. Too many people in Slovakia have become convinced, and rightly so, that this is not always the case here.

The feeling of injustice has grown stronger and has acquired two forms – the form of calling for a change and for decency, but also the form of anger about the “system”. This anger is legitimate to a large extent, but if we as society succumbed to it, it would be of no help. Anger as the medicine that has been offered here recently, is often worse than the illness it is supposed to heal. We need to divert the energy of discontent so that Slovakia always remains a state within the rule of law – not just in its constitution, but also in reality. Institutions and the people inside them who cannot handle corruption, or the untouchability of selected persons, must become history because they offend the fundamental human sense of justice. We have managed to go a long way in transparency, but we have lagged behind in enforcing responsibility. Transparency is just a tool, trust and justice need to be strengthened through the real, rather than the ostensible responsibility of those in power. Our institutions that should protect the law, unfortunately, still do not have the respective authority, they still do not enjoy sufficient trust among the public, and they are not always resistant to political pressures.

Living life with dignity is not just a legal, but also a material issue. Sometimes we are too happy to see what statistics say about the increasing income of citizens. I do not question them, but they only tell the truth about the average. It is pleasing that the average salary in the national economy is dynamically growing, but it will be much more joyous when the number of inhabitants who are able to live a dignified and full life on their salaries grows dynamically too, and when the number of those who are unable to break free from poverty drops equally fast. Please, let’s not view this as merely a social affair. If a hardworking person – a teacher, a farmer, a factory worker, a nurse or a doctor – who is barely able to secure the basic needs of their family, reads about other people’s property that could not possibly come from their legal income, they cease to believe in justice.

The absence of justice in society is always a source of social tension that weakens the democratic system.

The dignity of citizens requires for everyone – regardless of their income, their national or ethnic origin, their belonging to any minority – to have access to necessary and quality health care.

Regarding the challenges we are facing and that I have mentioned here, I will make full use of my competencies to improve the situation. I will take an active interest in new legislative norms, so that they contribute to the dignity of people’s lives, to environmental protection, and to balancing the independence of public power with its responsibility. I will actively cooperate on the intended new systemic changes in justice. As for appointing powers, you will have in me a guarantor that only the best professionals and people will be appointed. I want to be the voice of those who are not heard. Not to shout together with them, but to help solve their problems.

Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,

Slovakia is a diverse country. Geographically, nationally, culturally and socially. This relatively small territory is home to so much diversity, some of which we would hardly find in much bigger countries, starting with nature, through to traditions, all the way to lifestyles. I do not only mean the different way of life in the city and in the countryside, I also mean lifestyles influenced by different life experiences; our parents, who remember the wars and the repressions of the communist regime, ourselves, who have experienced the euphoria of the end of totalitarianism and the tough period of nascent democracy, our children, who were born in a free country and who consider the freedom to travel as natural as was the relationship our parents had with the land and the soil. If we can respect these diversities in our families and we can wish each other well, we can also make it in society. Let us respect the wisdom and experiences of our seniors, but also the freedom and the lust to explore in our young people, and also, the culture and the creativity that belongs to this freedom that is the original expression of every single generation. Let us not undervalue its importance. Just like our seniors need our interest, our attention and our understanding, young people need to have quality education and quality schools and they need to have the opportunities to be creative, to travel, and to prove their worth. It is our duty to give these to them.

But we also need to overcome the abysses that we have deepened in our society in the past years, between groups and the opinions that they represent; between conservative and liberal, city and countryside, old and new, majority and minority. We, politicians, contribute to their existence as well. We can express our attitude to otherness, to another tradition, another experience, another opinion, without interfering with the freedom and dignity of others. All it takes is to remember that together we are part of a whole, part of the human family. All it takes is to not forget the love for our fellow humans that is at the core of respect for diversity.

Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,

Slovak history is full of struggles. The struggle for our own language, for statehood, the struggle to keep faith, for civic freedoms, for recognition, for visibility. Each of these struggles contributed to a better Slovakia and was accompanied with positive patriotism and the awakening of society. Today we are witnessing yet another awakening of society – political, civil, but also the inconspicuous and hardly visible silent majority. I am happy about every spontaneous activity to the benefit of one’s neighbourhood, to the benefit of the town, to the benefit of the community. I am happy about the return of every citizen to Slovakia, about every initiative that aims for that. Because this awakening is mainly about faith in the country, in the potential of its people, and in what we can make together. It is not just about getting together to overcome the hard times. I proudly avow to such positive patriotism. I am convinced, that we are able to make Slovakia a little bit better every day. We can make it!

The road to the best possible Slovakia does not lead through any pleasant shortcuts, though. We always need to be sincere about that, even in a moment such as this. If we want to make it, we need to walk the whole road honestly, step by step, like citizens, like inhabitants, like community.

I very much wish for this to be our common journey. I want to be the president of people who are walking down that road now, but also of those who have yet to join. I want to be the president of all citizens of the Slovak Republic.

Ďakujem. Köszönöm. Ďakuju šumňi. Děkuji. Paľikerav.

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