Slovakia

Slovak Generation Z Battles Corruption in Politics

Despite the bad weather, thousands of Slovaks turned out on Tuesday to protest corruption in Bratislava on the square of the Slovak National Uprising. The demonstrators, for the most part students, marched through the streets of Bratislava’s Old Town shouting ‘Dosť bolo Fica’ (‘Enough of Fico’) and ‘Nie je nám to jedno’ (‘We still care’).

Depending on who you ask, between 5,000 and 10,000 people called for the resignation of Slovakia’s interior minister Robert Kaliňák, still enjoys the Prime Minister’s confidence despite serious allegations made against him. Unlike last summer’s protests, which were organized by opposition politicians, the momentum for Tuesday’s anti-corruption protest came from two grammar school students, Karolína Farská and Dávid Straka. Two 18-year-old students decided to organize the protest and invited people via Facebook. No matter who has organized it, corruption could not have inspired more people to take to the streets. The first opposition protest, which took place before the complex Bonaparte, where Prime Minister Fico lives, also numbered around 5,000 participants.

The persistence of corruption in Central and Eastern Europe is nothing new. An awareness of the high-levels of corruption in Slovakia is the main reason of people’s disillusionment in politics, a source of the rise of extremism, and the neglect the public sector and the lack of money for the development of public policies, such as education, health service and infrastructure. Corruption has never been high on the agenda for Robert Fico but people in Slovakia are fed up with the incompetence of law enforcement to catch the main culprits.

There are even several videos for which these journalists and actors helped the students to formulate their demands and prepare for their first major public appearance.

This protest was also supported by the Slovak President, Andrej Kiska, and the mother of Róbert Remiáš, an ex-police officer who was murdered in 1996 during Vladimír Mečiar’s rule. The students received a great deal of support from the media, especially from right-wing newspapers such as the daily Denník N, and the weekly .týždeň (Week). Journalists from these media outlets are staunch opponents of Robert Fico’s government. Famous Slovak anti-Fico actors and writers also joined their ranks. There are even several videos for which these journalists and actors helped the students to formulate their demands and prepare for their first major public appearance. It is difficult to say to what extent this initiative has remained an authentic work of the young Z-generation representatives and how much the formulation of their demands has been affected by the journalists and actors who have used this outpouring of dissatisfaction to serve their own conflicts with politicians.

The protest was held after an unprecedented change in constitutional law was approved, abolishing Mečiar’s amnesty, which had also covered the details of the Remiáš murder investigation. Public pressure on politicians to resolve this difficult question of the past grew with the release of a new Slovak blockbuster based on the kidnapping of President Michal Kováč’s son. It is already the most popular Slovak film ever made. The actors, Maroš Kramár and Ján Greššo, who play the role of Prime Minister Mečiar and President Kováč respectively, did not miss the opportunity to be speaker publicly at this anti-corruption protest. A young whistleblower, Zuzana Hlávková, was also invited to speak. Hlávková is the civil service employee who decided to come to expose the corruption at the heart of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs while working on the Slovak Presidency of the EU. Her revelations have caused a scandal in the media.

The indifference and cynicism of the radical left to this protest has been evident from the very beginning.

Both Fico’s government and previous right-wing governments have allowed this endemic corruption to flourish. There is little doubt that neither Kaliňák, nor the president of Slovakia’s Police Corps, will give in to the pressure to resign placed on them by the protesters have demanded. The indifference and cynicism of the radical left to this protest has been evident from the very beginning. Here’s a short extract from a statement made by the Slovak political analyst, Eduard Chmelár: ‘At first glance, it looks so beautiful and simple: corrupt politicians should be replaced by new, honest politicians. However, this representation of the anti-corruption struggle is simply an illusion that either does not understand the rules of politics and the nature of the problem, or intentionally exploits public outrage. The well-known Czech philosopher, Václav Bělohradský, has pointed out that this form of fighting against corruption – in which we believe that it is enough to replace a few politicians, or even the government, in order to resolve the issue – is a dangerous form of moral kitsch that obscures the fact that this problem is rooted in a system, and not in the failure of individuals. Taking corruption seriously means taking the nature of the system we live in seriously.’

The radical left in Slovakia still refuses to join this crowd who protest against corruption. The radical left is afraid that its participation would legitimize the prevailing liberal-democratic status-quo. Simply put, any criticism of corruption without a concurrent criticism of capitalism will not lead to meaningful change. Such criticism from the left-wing activists and journalists (especially online, in the form of Facebook statuses and comments) has pointed out that the real problem is that corruption lies at the heart of the way in which capitalism operates. Above all, they argue that it is impossible for liberal democracy, which offers the machinery of the state the space to create this corrupt environment, to function effectively without corruption.

Michael Augustín

Michael Augustín is a political scientist and PhD student at the Institute of Political Science of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of politiquefrance.sk, writer and editor of the blog POLE.

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Michael Augustín is a political scientist and PhD student at the Institute of Political Science of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of politiquefrance.sk, writer and editor of the blog POLE.