Slovak politicians introduce law on labelling of NGOs with foreign funding (Zeitgeist 2.)

During March, several attacks on democracy, the rule of law, and civil society occurred once again, perpetrated by the fourth government of Robert Fico. The most shameful was the proposal of a law requiring civil society organizations to label themselves as “organizations with foreign support” if they received more than 5 000 EUR from abroad in the previous year. This law bears a resemblance to controversial legislation in Hungary, which the European Court of Justice has deemed to be in conflict with EU law.

Fico IV administration bypassed the President’s decision on the Chief of the Secret Service

Several weeks after Fico IV came to power, it sent several signals to the public discourse about their intention of proposing Tibor Gašpar for the Chief of the Secret Service position. Tibor Gašpar, an indicted former police president, has been facing serious criminal charges. President Zuzana Čaputová publicly proclaimed she would have a problem appointing a person under charges.

Amidst the controversy, the Fico IV administration put forward a new candidate-Pavol Gašpar, the son of Tibor Gašpar. However, this move only added fuel to the fire, as Pavol Gašpar himself was charged with giving a false statement and lying under oath. He was also suspected of providing a €60,000 bribe to police officers. President Čaputová, in a clear stance, declared that she would defer the decision of appointing Pavol Gašpar to the next president, who would assume office in June 2024.

In a move that further raised eyebrows, the Fico IV administration amended the statute on the Slovak Secret Service. This revision shifted significant powers from the Chief to the Chief Deputy, a position now held by Pavol Gašpar. The extent of Gašpar’s authority, however, remains a mystery, as the Secret Service statute is a confidential document. This secrecy breeds uncertainty and erodes trust, both domestically and on the international stage, in the Fico IV administration’s actions.

Abolishment of Public Television and Radio (RTVS)

Slovak Ministry of Culture has unveiled how the Fico IV administration plans to obtain more control over the RTVS public broadcaster. The ministry introduces “new elements” to the election, along with the removal of the RTVS general director and the selection of RTVS board members. According to the proposal, a programme board should also be established to co-create and control the programmes broadcast by RTVS. Instead of parliament, the new RTVS director should be elected by the seven-member RTVS board, which would be under the full control of a ruling coalition. The bill also reads that the board can also dismiss the general director without giving a reason.

Prime Minister Fico attacks the Constitutional Court Chief Justice Fiačan

The plenum of 12 judges decided, albeit not unanimously, to suspend all the Penal Code changes and some changes to the Criminal Procedure Law. Specifically, the Court saw a danger in reducing penalties, shortening the statutes of limitations, and at the same time rewriting the criminal damage classification, but also in reopening previously approved plea bargains and using illegally obtained evidence in a criminal proceeding only in favor of the accused.

In reaction, Prime Minister Fico verbally attacked the Chief Justice for leaking the decision to the media before the Constitutional Court officially published it on its website. Fico publicly demanded  Chief Justice Fiačan to step down or the next elected Slovak President will dismiss the Chief Justice. However, Prime Minister Fico has led hostile communication towards the Court since the Court received the motion from President Čaputová. At that moment, Fico threatened the independence of the Court by publicly claiming that the justices of the Court are serving the interest of the President. Such actions from the Prime Minister have been perilous for the independence of the Constitutional Court.

Abolishment of the Special Prosecution Office

The Special Prosecutor‘s Office (SPO), which has existed since 2004, ceased to exist on March 20th, 2024. The SPO handled cases connected to corruption and serious crimes, including misusing EU funds. Investigations by the SPO have led to numerous convictions in high-profile corruption cases, many of which were linked to Fico’s ruling SMER-SSD. Now, the prosecutors from this department are in limbo since it is also unclear whether they will retain the case files they are currently assigned.

The General Prosecutor Žilinka has not informed what will happen to the case files they are presently dealing with. According to the law, the prosecutors were transferred to the General Prosecutor’s Office, while the files were supposed to be transferred to regional prosecutor’s offices. Moreover, the prosecutors from the former SPO were moved to various agendas, which do not concern their previous focus.

These changes have already led to delays in the investigation and court proceedings, for instance, a case of former Justice State Secretary Monika Jankovská was adjourned due to delays in transfer of the case to the regional prosecutor’s office and a case of former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Štefan Harabin, who is indicted for defamation of nation, race and belief, was adjourned due to newly adopted institute of a motion against indictment.

Minister of the Interior doing a campaign with the extremist

Interior Minister Matúš Šutaj Eštok has appeared on a show hosted by a neo-Nazi conspiracy theorist wanted by Slovak police on charges of extremism. Daniel Bombic spreads anti-Semitic tropes, performs with neo-Nazi pop bands, and promotes pro-Russian disinformation. He is currently facing charges of extremism and unauthorized handling of personal data in Slovakia. A British court is expected to rule on a request for his extradition at the end of this month.
The Minister tried to justify this appearance by his willingness to explain the problematic issues of politics to people who do not follow mainstream media. However, it is likely to be a part of the campaign for his party leader, Peter Pellegrini, who is running for the president’s office.

The apparent aim of the change is to detach cases previously handled by the SPO from the prosecutors who supervised and represented them in the preparatory phase and court proceedings and to allocate them to other prosecutors.

Popular TV channel Makíza under political pressure

Journalists from the private television channel Markíza are complaining about interference in their work for the benefit of the Smer-led government after the arrival of the new Markíza head. The latest development in Markiza seems to limit the critical view on the Fico IV administration and its steps.

The role of Markíza was crucial during the episodes of authoritarian shifts of Mečiar and previous Fico administrations. TV Markíza has been a pillar in maintaining Slovakia’s European direction. It seems that this time, the Fico IV administration decided to apply a different strategy to immobilize the mainstream media.

Czech Republic has cancelled informal gatherings with the Slovak cabinet over differences in Russian policy.

The Czech government of Prime Minister Petr Fiala has scrapped a tradition of informal joint cabinet meetings with its Slovak counterpart, with whom it sharply disagrees over policy toward Russia. One of many incentives was the meeting of the Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanár (Smer) with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, who appeared on the EU’s sanctions list after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022, during a diplomacy forum in Turkey on Saturday.

Members of the SNS party introduced the law for labelling the NGOs with foreign funding to parliament.

On March 27, 2024, members of the SNS party submitted parliament a law that mandates all civil society organizations to use the designation “organization with foreign support” under the condition that they have received more than 5000 euros from individuals or companies abroad in the previous calendar year. This law bears almost identical content to the one approved by Hungary and has been deemed by the European Court of Justice as a law conflicting with EU law. The law was introduced, of course, without any discussion with civil society and under the false pretext of increasing the transparency and credibility of civil organizations. In reality, the main aim is to stigmatize and label civil society organizations, affecting thousands of organizations in Slovakia.


About Zeitgeist

Zeitgeist is the English newsletter of VIA IURIS, in which we try to capture the zeitgeist of the political situation in Slovakia, which has changed dramatically after the parliamentary elections in September 2023.

The 4th government of Prime Minister Robert Fico was formed by a coalition of two, as they call themselves, social democratic parties – SMER-SD, HLAS-SD and the nationalist party SNS. Since the coalition was formed, institutions guaranteeing the rule of law and public control, including Slovak civil society, have been under constant attack.

Topics: #RuleOfLaw #legislation #media #CivilSociety

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