The protest organized by three opposition parties in the capital Bratislava and several other cities in the EU country on Thursday night mainly targets the planned abolition of the Special Prosecutor's Office (USP), which has been responsible for economic crime and the fight against corruption. for 20 years, it has been responsible for organized crime and political crimes.
The opposition warns of a threat to the rule of law and accuses the government of wanting to cover up high-profile corruption cases from previous periods in the government of Fico's party (until 2020). The planned reduction in the sentencing range for crimes and the shortening of the statute of limitations are also bringing people onto the streets. The approximately 20,000 protesters on Thursday carried banners with slogans such as “Stop Fico!” and “I'm going to prison!”, but they also called for the election of the former liberal Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok.
APA/AFP/Tomas Benedikovic Around 20 thousand people took to the streets on Thursday against the planned reforms
The consequences of the 2018 attack are noticeable
The country is still struggling with the consequences of the 2018 attack, in which journalist Jan Kuciak and his partner were shot, explains political scientist Tobias Spöri in an interview with ORF.at. Kuciak's investigation placed a heavy burden on Fico's government at the time and revealed that corruption and mafia connections reached the highest circles.
“Ultimately, this is the question of how to deal with political punishments, crimes and organized crime, and the current trials are another episode in this long story,” Spöri said. The murder led to mass protests and ultimately Fico's resignation in 2018. As a result, former Interior Minister Robert Kalinak and former police chief Tibor Gaspar also resigned.
The alleged mastermind of the attack was acquitted last year and Fico, Kalinak and Gaspar have returned to politics since autumn 2023. Fico's party leadership – Slovak Social Democracy (Smer-SSD) has emerged as the strongest force in the elections parliamentarians from September 30 and is now in coalition with the moderate and social democratic Hlas and the pro-Russian SNS.
Portal/Radovan Stoklasa There was also a large demonstration in Bratislava in 2018 following the murder of journalist Kuciak
EU “sensitized” by Hungary and Poland
“Fico always acted as a protector of Slovakia and became significantly radicalized during the election campaign,” Spöri said, referring to the Hungarian prime minister. Like Viktor Orban, Fico would increasingly rely on anti-Ukrainian rhetoric and threat scenarios from foreign powers and a “morally corrupt West”.
If the project were actually implemented, it would “hugely restrict” the rule of law in Slovakia. The planned abolition also raises concerns from the EU Commission. In December, after analyzing the proposed law, the European Public Prosecutor's Office issued a statement to the European Commission in which it highlighted “serious risks” to the EU's financial interests that could justify such processes.
“The EU is now very sensitive to Poland and Hungary,” Spöri said. A procedure like that in Hungary is not unlikely, but, obviously, it can only be initiated when the law is actually on the table. The Commission will probably look “very closely” to ensure that Slovakia does not become a “second Hungary” within the EU.
Historic presidential election in March
In this context, the upcoming presidential elections in March are likely to be crucial for the future development of democracy and the rule of law in Slovakia. Slovak presidents can veto laws or challenge them before the Constitutional Court; the position is currently held by human rights activist Zuzana Caputova.
“Now there is a comparatively liberal president who is seen by all parties as a voice of reason and a liberal politician,” Spöri said. “If this pillar falls, Slovakia will lose at least one strong voice in defense of democracy and the rule of law.” It is significant that Caputova withdrew another candidacy on the grounds that she could no longer withstand the smear campaign against her family.
APA/AFP/Kenzo Tribouillard Slovak Prime Minister Fico was head of government from 2006 to 2010 and from 2012 to 2018
Disappointment and distrust in politics are high
It is not yet possible to predict whether the current protests could have similar consequences for Fico as they did in 2018, says Spöri. There are no signs of a dynamic as fast and strong as at that time. But it depends on how many people can still be mobilized in the long term – and it is certainly noteworthy that the protests have been going on since Christmas and that it is not just the Bratislava opposition and left bubble that is taking to the streets.
If the law is approved in parliament overnight, it will likely mobilize many more people. “What will certainly not disappear is this extreme distrust in the current government, but also in the general political elite of Slovakia.”
In an interview with the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, Zuzana Homer, from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in Bratislava, described Slovaks as “a people without memory” after Fico's return to the political stage. However, the extent of disillusionment and disillusionment with politics stands out in a regional comparison, highlights Spöri. “That says a lot about the political climate in a country when 90 percent of the population believes politicians are corrupt.”