The State of Democracy in Slovakia: The Winding Road to Justice

  • Viktória Klanicová
  • 18.1.2021 09:32

Recent years in Slovakia have casted doubts as to whether law enforcement authorities are able to effectively investigate and prosecute cases of corruption or abuse of power by the most powerful officials. In this manner, the year of 2020, first and foremost, brought revolutionary transformation in political structures that resulted in a mass wave of arrests that neither Slovakia nor its surrounding post-communist neighbouring states have yet to experience.

The rule of law in Slovakia

The February 2020 parliamentary elections that took place before the devastating outcomes of Covid-19 pandemic represented a crushing defeat for the leading Smer-SD party that with its leader Robert Fico managed to first gain power and remain in the forefront ever since 2006. Compared to the 2016 elections, when Smer-SD won with 28 percent of the vote, the party experienced a 10 percent drop in preferences, therefore, losing to the winning OĽaNO movement with 25 percent of the vote. Because of this, the elections have been considered to have ended an era of a strong one party politics where from 2012 to 2016, they had complete control over the state including the police and jurisdiction, the distribution of the largest part of the EU funds and government contracts. The politics of Smer-SD on surface level might have pretended to focus on social democracy but in reality allowed erosion of the judicial system in favour of enrichment of few oligarchs. 

With the new government, Igor Matovič has emphasized enforcement of personnel changes in order to clean up the judiciary from corruption at the highest state level. This resulted in Slovakia becoming European unique in how many influential people have been investigated, arrested, and accused over the past year. 

The majority of the cases under investigation took place under the governments of Robert Fico and after his resignation due to the unfortunate murder of investigative journalist and his fiancée in 2018 the government of Peter Pellegrini of Smer-SD. Arrests and charges, in most cases, are for corruption but also for the establishment of a criminal group, abuse of power by a public official, obstruction of justice and money laundering. 

 

“These arrests and accusations directly cast a shadow of doubt on the most powerful political party until recently, its former government, prime ministers and officials.”  

 

Many of those arrested and accused were directly connected with the Prime Ministers Fico and later Pellegrini. This includes their subordinates, their political nominees, and others with various relations to Smer-SD and its representatives. These arrests and accusations, therefore, directly cast a shadow of doubt on the most powerful political party until recently, its former government, prime ministers and officials.  

 

Justice in the hands of NAKA? Arresting “our people”

The National Criminal Agency (NAKA) of the Presidium of the Police Force in Slovakia was established on December 1, 2012 as a successor unit of the hitherto independent anti-corruption and organized crime offices of the Presidium of the Police Force of Slovak Republic. The reason for its creation was to increase the efficiency of official activities in the fight against crime, which by its nature represent the most serious forms of criminal offenses. It also served to unify the activities of defunct offices in order to avoid duplication of operational activities and criminal proceedings. 

With many political changes, the year of 2020 has consequently untied hands of honest officials which meant that the National Criminal Agency kept very busy with people who were seemingly untouchable during the rule of previous governments. Some of the highest profile people accused are the former General prosecutor of the Slovak Republic Dobroslav Trnka, and the former special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik, who has been a special prosecutor in Slovakia for more than 15 years, but is currently being held in custody. 

 

“With many political changes, the year of 2020 has consequently untied hands of honest officials which meant that the National Criminal Agency kept very busy with people who were seemingly untouchable during the rule of previous governments.”

 

Former State Secretary of the Ministry of Justice for Smer-SD Monika Jankovská and former director of the state material reserves administration Kajetán Kičura are also both in custody. Many judges have been also detained, or at least accused, including Jarminal Urbancová, former vice president of the Supreme Court. 

There are also many influential entrepreneurs and lawyers under investigation. For example former director of the financial police intelligence unit Pavol Vorobjov and one of the partners of the Penta financial group Jaroslav Haščák who until recently was investigated in custody as well. 

In addition to these, what is also extremely striking is that former high-ranking police officers of the Slovak Republic have been accused and at the same time remained in custody: former police presidents Tibor Gašpar and late Milan Lučanský, former director of the National Criminal Agency Peter Hraško, former director of the National Anti-Corruption Unit Róbert Krajmer and former director of the National Financial Police Unit Bernard Slobodník. 

The scale and figures of these arrests have, therefore, shaped public opinion in Slovakia in the vast majority in favour of the investigators and prosecutors who are punishing the injustice and corruption of previous governments. The past has shown that a significant deviation from the political or ideological pendulum of power to the other side, especially in times of great injustice and oppression, can also be similarly tragic if power is seized by someone who does not respect rights and freedoms.  

 

The level of organised crime in democratic structure

It turns out that the chain of corruption and organised crime that was in Slovakia is slowly unraveling. According to Deputy Speaker of Parliament and representative of the party Za ľudí Juraj Šeliga, it is a great signal that the police have their hands free. However, the fact that the entire former police leadership and number of judges are in custody or accused leaves many unanswered questions to the previous governments that were able to cover and penetrate corruption and crime into the highest political structures in Slovakian society. 

 

“The last parliamentary elections has shown that Slovakia through fair and democratic means was able to make a solid start on the problem of corruption and organised crime in political structures.”

 

Because of this it is not only necessary to thoroughly and wisely evaluate all cases but also to continue with the imposition of appropriate and fair punishments while maintaining independence and objectiveness of all courts. This elections has, therefore, shown that Slovakia through fair and democratic means was able to make a solid start on the problem of corruption and organised crime in political structures. Since the news of rising populism in neighbouring countries like Hungary and Poland might suggest that democracy is in crisis, Slovakia can be an example that change is possible and willingness of people can lead a country to a fairer future. 

About author: Viktória Klanicová

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