Slovakia has been struggling in recent days to recover some sort of stability following the murders of journalist, Jan Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova. Kuciak was a journalist investigating the corruption in current Slovakian government led by leftist and populist prime minister Robert Fico. The deaths of Kuciak and his fiancée come at a crucial boiling point in the political state of Slovakia as the protests for Fico’s removal reach the highest number of participators since communist Slovakia. Though the protests were sparked by the unresolved murders of Kuciak and Kusnirova, the heart of the country’s problem lies in the corruption and democratic erosion brought on over the years since Fico first arose with his leftist populist policies in 2006.
One of the main reasons the protests center around the deaths of Kuciak and Kusnirova is because the public believes that the investigation of the murders has been hindered by the very government itself, specifically interior minister, Robert Kalinak. Kalinak has since resigned in a desperate effort to stem the growing distrust and discontent with the Slovakian government, but in reality the move has only amplified the people of Slovakia’s thirst for change. Many protesters and angry citizens are calling for a complete overhaul of the current Slovakian semi-presidential government or at the very least, new elections. Prime Minister Fico has shown that he will delay these events as long as he possibly can, a clear indicator of the eroding democracy in the country.
Another sign of the eroded democracy can be seen in the murder of the journalist itself; a sign that the media cannot investigate maldoings of the government without consequences. Additionally, the current low public support for the government and the apparent disregard for the constitutional laws against corruption within all branches demonstrate that the government is not very consolidated and therefore is significantly more likely to continue declining. To examine the cause of the obvious downward trend in Slovakian democracy, one must look primarily at Prime Minister Robert Fico.
Fico is the leader of the Direction- Social Democracy party and furthers their leftist populists ideas. Fico demonstrates the danger in leftist populist candidates as opposed to right populist candidates because they stay in power longer, as shown by Fico’s 10 years as prime minister. Additionally, leftist populists often engage in clientelism and bribery to ensure support and loyalty. Reports on the perceptions of Slovakian citizens and of businesses operating with or in Slovakia show that there are high levels of corruption entwined in the Slovakian government, specifically their judicial branch. The corruption in the judicial branch regarding effectiveness and bribes is especially concerning for the stability of democracy in the country because the judicial branch cannot provide accountability for the government. Without an effective process for accountability the courts cannot enforce contracts, punish offending officials, or order subpoenas for transparency. Thus, corrupt officials have no limitations on their corrupt actions and the government has no transparency with the people of Slovakia; both key symptoms of democratic erosion.
Additionally, the lack of enforcement mentioned previously also discourages investment or involvement by foreign companies in Slovakian industry. This fact, combined with the leftist and populist concept of reducing international involvement with national industry leads to a lack of international influence. This means that governments outside of Slovakia cannot interfere in any attempt to restore or improve democratic institutions in the country.
On a separate note, the populist policies of Fico and his party do not simply affect the economy or government but also the people directly. Populism involves representing “the people” which often excludes huge sections of the population that don’t belong in the specific definition provided by Fico’s political party. In Slovakia there is a large Romany population that experience disproportionately high levels of poverty and social deprivation. Thus the populism in Slovakia lends itself to democratic erosion by promoting these discriminatory policies.
Freedom House and their study on the democratic scores of Eastern European countries provides some insight into the democratic state of Slovakia. The study shows Slovakia going from a score of 2.50 to a score of 1.96 over a period of six years. The negative difference of .54 indicates a drop of democracy that can be explained by the arguments outlined above, however it is important to note that a score of 1.96 is still considered ‘consolidated democracy’ by Freedom House. This leads to the point that though there are significant factors and agents contributing to democratic erosion in the country, Slovakia at this time is still considered a generally democratic country.
Though there seems to be a contradiction with the current state of Slovakia and the democratic scores it is receiving, in reality there are rarely countries with such black and white states of democratic stability. There’s no denying that the country is declining democratically and the scores will most likely drop in the foreseeable future, however that does not mean that the country will immediately transition to an autocracy. More likely the country will remain in a ‘frankenstate’ of democracy where the individual pieces that earn high democratic scores are present in a country, but the end result is a twisted version of the ideal democracy.
Thus, even though Slovakia is currently safe from a dictatorship regime, the country is still at the figurative tipping point of democratic stability and a lack of change from Prime Minister Fico and his leftist populist regime in the months to come will only lead to greater democratic erosion.