After spending a recent year in Italy and stopping in the UK on the way back, the long journey to Slovakia necessarily felt a bit anxious. Not only that there would be a lot of studying for the upcoming final state exam, together with all PhD applications and job/internship search; I have been also particularly curious about the state I will find my homeland in.
This summer, Slovakia has taken over the Presidency of the Council of the EU, and Slovak representatives have started to unusually frequently inflect the adjective ´democratic´ in relation to the country. As if there´s the need to convince domestic and foreign publics of the nature of the Central European state. I am always suspicious when statesmen suddenly come to stress and overemphasize a single issue. And I have had a nagging feeling that instead of comforting increasingly distrustful Slovak citizens, leading politicians have rather been reassuring themselves of persistently democratic character of the Slovak Republic. Or, they have been painstakingly trying to conceal a maturing bummer. It would be a shame if a large- scale scandal in the Slovakia´s domestic politics breaks out right during the Council Presidency. Such an instance would deal a major blow to the country´s prestige and could even lead to a fragmentation of coalition. The growing incidence of and frequency with which the collocation ´democratic- Slovakia´ appears in the media recently calls for further investigation.
Slovak journalists have been busy reporting on the Basternak case, facts of which, if corroborated, have the potential to fatally discredit the leading party, Smer (The Direction), the Minister of Interior Robert Kalinak and eventually the Prime Minister Robert Fico. Traditional and still unfounded accusations of fraudulent practices and dishonest conduct aside, the attention of media and public currently concentrates on the eventual connection between party´s members, especially the Minister of the Interior, and fishy business of Ladislav Basternak. Slovak legislation specifies conditions allowing for the VAT refund to encourage trade and as reported so far, Basternak should have been granted refund calculated out of fictitious sum, thus raising suspicion of robbing the state treasury and taxpayers. Following the discovery by the bank´s employee of financial transactions between Interior Minister´s personal account and that of Basternak´s company, Financial Administration´s Criminal Office commenced the investigation which was supposed to be followed up and completed with the help of police, accountable to the Ministry of Interior. However, police investigator responsible for the case had outright rejected the accusation of Basternak´s companies, without further inspection, calling into question the role the Interior Minister could have played. Apart from dubious interrogation of the bank´s employee and other issues raising the eyebrows of the wider public, Kalinak was asked to explain the situation and encourage further scrutiny. Instead of pledging to bring the case to a successful and understandable end by means of transparent and thorough investigation, Kalinak indirectly confirmed the authenticity of transactions by attempting to justify Basternak´s conduct. Thus far, any independent observer is likely to conclude that Basternak has been bribing Kalinak to sweep illegal VAT refund under the carpet. It is worth to mention quite a recent case of detaining entrepreneurs who had legally requested VAT refund for state-ordered services. Furthermore, opposition appealed on Kalinak to resign, as expected of any statesman who happens to encounter a similarly ticklish situation. Instead of resigning, Kalinak declared unwillingness to give up his function until accusations prove to be well-founded. Neither have the attempts of opposition at repealing Kalinak met any success. And despite all popular protests taking place in front of Kalinak´s flat –coincidentally located in one of buildings owned by Baternak- and elsewhere around the Republic and desperately demanding Kalinak´s resignation, he stubbornly resists the pressure and tooth and nail retains his political function.
The adjective ´democratic´ was further accentuated by the Prime Minister Fico following his request on Slovakia´s embassy in Budapest to remove the rainbow flag from its premises. Around 30 embassies in Hungary´s capital agreed to display the flag to signal solidarity with the LGBT community. However, Fico- outraged at liberal expression of support to the non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, vehemently condemned the public display of the flag and urged embassy to immediately get rid of it. According to Fico, “Slovak Republic is a democratic country, not bound by any ideology, religion and not privileging any minority.” He considers the exhibition of any other than the Slovak and EU flags to be inadequate and unacceptable, especially if signalling the support to any ideology, religion or minority. In the light of the 2015 same-sex referendum the country held to prevent same-sex couples from marrying and adopting an orphaned child, it is clear that Slovakia DEFINITELY does not denounce any particular minority. Reassuring citizens of the democratic character of Slovakia is thus truly in place.
The icing on the cake comes with Fico advocating Erdogan´s ruling style and his forceful repression of demonstrations. Indirectly indicating his attitude to the right and freedom of expression and association, Fico articulated support to “democratically elected president and government in Turkey.” As he further noted, democratically elected president and his democratic government also deserve the acceptance and endorsement by the European Union. After all, Slovakia is a democratic country and democratic countries do not welcome any expression of popular disagreement with government´s practice. If Erdogan is given the green light, so can Slovakia resort to whatever form of rule and still retain the EU´s support. Brace yourselves.
Even though I have learned that everyone gets what he gives, unless the investigation of Smer´s representatives´ link to fraudulent transactions proceeds, Slovakia should be aware of the democratically elected but rights and freedoms- opposing statesmen.