After the second round of the presidential elections on Saturday 30 March, Slovakians welcomed their country’s first female president. Zuzana Čaputová beat ruling party candidate and EU Commissioner Maroš Šefčovič with 58.40% of the vote.
The role of the president in Slovakia is symbolic, in many respects. However, the election of this particular candidate suggests a strong desire of the Slovak electorate to back political change in the country.
Since its independence in 1993, Slovakia has been governed by populists. Corruption has been rampant and it has interfered with politics and business, leading to mass protests in the capital city of Bratislava.
In January 2018, the murders of investigative reporter Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová, suggested that organised crime moves freely and enjoys political protection in the country. Following international criticism surrounding the murders, the prime minister, Robert Fico, was forced to resign.
During the recent refugee and migration crisis, the Slovak government shared the same anti-immigration and anti-Muslim rhetoric as the other governments of the Visegrad Four countries. Slovakia also refused to take in refugees.
The country has also reportedly imposed an apartheid-like system against the country’s Roma (2% of the Slovakia’s 5.5 million population). Officials reportedly discriminate against Slovak citizens who are Roma. Also, infamous walls have been built to separate Roma villages from the world of the “white population” in some areas of the country.
On March 28, the European Parliament passed a resolution that expresses concern about the allegations of corruption, conflicts of interest, impunity and revolving doors in Slovakia’s circles of power. MEPs also warned of politicisation and a lack of transparency in the selection and appointment processes, such as that for the position of police chief.
Taking into consideration the above, Čaputová’s victory is a victory for all those who want a real and deep change in Slovakian politics and society. It is a message to the rest of the EU that Slovakia wants to fight corruption and become part of the EU nations – rather than an enemy.
It is also a message to other EU member states especially in Central and Eastern Europe that anti-EU policies and far-right practices can be defeated.
Čaputová’s slogan “stand up to evil” was positively received by Slovakia’s electorate since it expresses the feelings of those who participated to the mass anti-corruption protests last year
Meet Zuzana Čaputová
Čaputová worked for years as an environmental lawyer. At the same time, she was active in the anti-corruption movement and in the non-profit sector, especially on issues related to child abuse and exploitation.
In December 2017, she joined the liberal Progressive Slovakia (PS) party founded in 2017. She became its vice-chair soon after.
The new party represents the first attempt of a viable liberal party in the country. Established by the entrepreneur Ivan Štefunko, a supporter of the People Against Racism NGO, the party is openly pro-European and sensitive to topics concerning social and racial discrimination.
PS, which is also compared to Macron’s La REM, became a member of ALDE in 2018.
Čaputová’s slogan “stand up to evil” was positively received by Slovakia’s electorate since it expresses the feelings of those who participated to the mass anti-corruption protests last year.
Now, despite the fact that the president in Slovakia has limited powers, Čaputová will face an important problem related to the judiciary independence. The ruling Smer party left nine of the 13 chairs at the Constitutional Court vacant, a move that was interpreted as an attempt of the government to control the judicial system. The new president will now need to fill those positions.
Corruption and populism
The election of Čaputová is important because she will likely shake up Smer’s established power.
Smer (Direction – Social Democracy) party belongs to the family of the European socialist democrats. But few elements connect its policies and practices with those pursue by Social Democracy.
It emerged after a split in the former communist party in 1999 and was a leading party in the government between 2006 and 2010 and again between 2012 and present.
The first time it formed a coalition government with the People’s Party – Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS). Because of the alliance with SNS Smer was then temporarily suspended from membership in the Party of European Socialists (PES) since members rejected any form of political alliance with parties which incite racial or ethnic prejudices and racial hatred.
SNS has been a privileged ally of Smer since 2016 again.
The party is characterised by Islamophobic and anti-immigration rhetoric. It attacks Roma people, LGBT and other minorities while journalists have been described as enemies of the country by party leaders.
Smer rule is responsible for rampant corruption in the country. Its government doesn’t hide its sympathy for Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is also part of the strong anti-EU nucleus of governments in Central Europe that very often obstruct EU procedures.
The election of Čaputová is also important because Slovakia has a unique European record. Three of its parliamentary parties belong to the far right
The election of Čaputová is also important because Slovakia has a unique European record. Three of its parliamentary parties belong to the far right.
The We Are Family (Sme Rodina) led by businessman Boris Kollár, won 11 seats (6.6%) in the National Council (parliament) during the 2016 Slovak parliamentary election. Now it is expected to win two seats in the European Parliament and to join Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) Group.
The Slovak National Party (SNS) is an old player in the far-right political game. Founded in 1989, the party has had seats in every Slovak parliament since then and has twice been a coalition partner in government. The party obtained 8.6% and 15 seats in the last elections and his leader, the lawyer Andrej Danko became the Speaker of the National Council. It is expected to elect one seat in the next European Parliament.
Kotleba – People’s Party Our Slovakia, led by Marian Kotleba, a former local governor is reclaiming the legacy of the Jozef Tiso and the First Slovak Republic, the client Nazi state during World War II. The party is known for its anti-Roma rhetoric and anti-immigration agenda, while its youth are reportedly involved in racist acts of violence. It has 14 MPs in the National Council (parliament). According to the polls, Kotleba will elect two MEPs in May.
With all this hate, Čaputová’s victory shows that there is another Slovakia – one that is willing to work for the integration of its citizens and for the elimination of discrimination and social segregation.