Slovakia seeks escape from corruption black hole

Slovakia seeks escape from corruption black hole

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Bratislava, Slovakia – Corruption is not only the central issue in the upcoming Slovak elections, it is the only issue.
Slovaks go to the polls on February 29 with demands for the deep cleansing of a state in which many fear democracy is at risk from deep-rooted corruption and organised crime.
People here may complain about the underfunded health service, underpaid teachers, and the lack of transport infrastructure connecting the underprivileged east of the country, but corruption is the only game in town ahead of this vote.
The murder of journalist Jan Kuciak two years ago is the primary reason. Marian Kocner, the oligarch suspected of ordering the hit, has become the poster boy for the corruption of Slovakia’s state, as his deep reach into politics, the judiciary and the police has been revealed in a daily court saga.
The smorgasbord of centrist opposition parties fighting the election were in a confident mood a week ahead of the polls opening, with as many as eight parties expected to win parliamentary seats. Polls suggest the opposition finally has a chance to unseat Smer; the nominally centre-left populist party that has ruled for 12 of the past 14 years looks set to be punished by voters for having allowed corruption to flourish.
The “Carpathian Tiger” has raced to catch up with its regional peers economically over the past 15 years. However, an abundance of big corruption scandals has helped to limit the benefits felt by the wider population and deepen concerns that links between officials, oligarchs and organised crime threaten democracy.
It is as “if we have forgotten that democracy … is mainly about the spirit of freedom, of justice, tolerance, and solidarity”, President Zuzana Caputova, a former liberal political activist who swept to the post last year, told the Munich Security Conference in February. “These are bound together by the rule of law.”
This bid to clean up Slovakia is nothing new. Like its peers in the region, the country’s corrupt networks survived the chaos of the communist collapse in 1989, and quickly thrived in a new system hastily cobbled together by former dissidents and activists.
“Corruption is almost a basic requirement in Slovakia,” Arpad Soltesz, editor-in-chief of the Jan Kuciak Investigative Centre, told Al Jazeera. “It has remained the way things are done here since the 1990s.”
After Czechoslovakia split in 1993, Slovakia became “the black hole of Europe” under authoritarian populist Vladimir Meciar. The erstwhile premier was accused of rampant criminality, including ordering the kidnapping of the then-president’s son, and the murder of a detective investigating the crime. This complicated Slovakia’s European Union membership and NATO accession.
The country is yet to truly confront these issues, commentators agree. Meciar has never been convicted of any major crime, and with nationalist populism on the rise, he has even flirted with a return to politics.
according to EU statistics.

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