Observations of an ex pat: Three cheers for Slovakia

Three cheers for the voters of Slovakia. And a 21-gun salute for Zuzana Caputova, the new Slovak president and heroine of Western liberalism (or is it hero in this new gender-free pc world).

Liberals—and everyone else—should cheer because Caputova—in stark contrast to just about every political campaign fought by anyone anywhere in the world—completely eschewed the populist rhetoric, character assassinations, name-calling, intimidatory chants, lies, xenophobia, racism, intolerance  and personal attacks that are debasing democratic political systems everywhere.  Instead of appealing to phobias and exclusivity, Caputova ran a campaign urging tolerance and inclusiveness.

Slovakia has been good example of the depths to which democracy is capable of sinking.  The ruling Smer Party has strong links to the country’s wartime fascist past. Co-founder Jan Slota has stated that the country’s minority Roma problem could be solved with a “long whip in a short room.”

Robert Fico former Prime Minister— and still the power behind the throne— has said: “Slovakia will not accept one single Muslim”. Fico was forced to resign a year ago after the murder of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak who was on the verge of publishing a story about  links between Fico’s staff and the mafia.  Fico’s one redeeming quality is his dislike of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban whom he has branded as a dangerous ultra-nationalist; although this attack should be seen in the context of a general Slovakian prejudice against Hungarians.

45-year-old Caputova emerged from this political morass in 2013 when she led a campaign against a toxic landfill outside her hometown. In 2017 and 2018 she helped to organise anti-government protests following the murder of Kuciak.  Despite her activities, Caputova was a surprise entry in the presidential race and started the campaign at the bottom of the opinion polls.

Her election slogan was “stand up to evil” and her quiet, carefully reasoned arguments that stuck to the facts and avoided personalities, struck a chord with the Slovak electorate. It was also a welcome and refreshing change from the typical populist rhetoric of her Smer opponent Maros Sefcovic.

In her acceptance speech, Caputova said that her victory showed the” importance of humanism, solidarity and truth”. She added : “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly because I have proven that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary.”

Before liberals get too excited, the Slovakian presidency is a largely ceremonial position. However, the president does appoint the country’s top judges and is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. She also leads negotiations in the formation of coalition governments if they are required, and they almost always are because of Slovakia’s proportional representation electoral system.

The most important part of the president’s role is representing the character of the country. They are symbolic in a world where symbols are important. The president is seen as above the cut and thrust of daily politics– a reflection of how the country views itself and wants to become more than what it actually is.

Caputova is the now the moral leader of a small East European country.  She has bucked the trend towards dangerously over simplified populism mixed with fear-based intolerance.  Caputova has demonstrated that the answer to the populists who shout their invective from the proverbial rooftops is not to match them decibel for decibel or half-truth.   She has shown that sloganeering lies and misinformation can be successfully countered at the ballot box with a carefully-constructed, quiet campaign based on facts and sound policies. Larger democracies take note. Learn from the example set by Zuzana Caputova.

* Tom Arms is a Wandsworth Lib Dem and produces and presents the podcast www.lookaheadnews.com

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3 Comments

  • Richard Underhill 5th Apr '19 - 10:02am

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zuzana_Čaputová
    Attitudes towards Roma need to be watched carefully, in Slovakia, in the Czech Republic and in the UK .

  • Try ‘shero’ 🙂

  • Steve Comer 6th Apr '19 - 8:18pm

    I believe the victory of Zuzana Caputova is a huge breakthrough for the cause of Liberalism in Europe. This is not only great for Slovakia, but good news for the EU as a hole. No longer will the ‘Visegrad group’ of Eastern European powers be merely a force for reactionary nativist politics.

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