Credit: Freepik

Brno Rally Opposes Slovak Corruption Laws and Cultural Policies

Those who are dissatisfied with the political situation in Slovakia gathered in the centre of Brno for the fourth time yesterday, criticising changes to the criminal law, the government’s attitude towards journalists, and the Culture Minister Martina Simkovicova.

Similar demonstrations have been held every week since the end of January, and about 100 took part in yesterday’s event, according to a CTK correspondent’s estimate.

A week ago, the Slovak parliament approved changes to the criminal law, including the abolition of the elite prosecutor’s office (USP). Among other things, members of the ruling coalition also pushed through a reduction in punishment for corruption and economic crime, with exceptions, and a shortening of the statute of limitations for some crimes.

“The approved amendment is a step backwards, helping perpetrators of sexual violence, protecting thieves. It does not help the future of Slovakia. We reject the amendment because of obvious conflicts of interest,” said Marek Pravda on behalf of the protest organisers.

The government’s draft amendments to the Criminal Code and other laws have previously been criticised by Slovak opposition parties and European institutions, and thousands of people have repeatedly protested against the changes in Slovak cities. According to the opposition and the media, the amendment will help those close to the ruling coalition who are being prosecuted.

Following criticism from the opposition and experts, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico proposed to modify the statute of limitations for violent crimes, which the approved amendment to the Criminal Code shortens, with some exceptions. Fico wrote this in a published letter to President Zuzana Caputova, who, like European institutions, has criticised the changes to the criminal law and may return the approved law to the Chamber of Deputies.

Caputova described Fico’s letter as an ultimatum, and said she will announce further action on the matter on Friday.

Another reason for today’s protest was the performance of Culture Minister Simkovicova. The daily Pravda highlighted her speech at the UNESCO conference in Abu Dhabi. “She failed on multiple cultural levels, she chose inappropriate clothing, gestures and her speech was incomprehensible,” it said.

The minister has also been criticised by the Slovak opposition, which called for her dismissal. The opposition Progressive Slovakia (PS) and Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) justified the motion to dismiss her on the grounds that she is incompetent, wants to politically control independent cultural institutions, and has made discriminatory and homophobic statements. Fico defended the minister, saying that Simkovicova has “sovereign, Slovak, healthy views”.

Demonstrators also disliked the draft law on strategic investments, approved by the Slovak government on Wednesday. This law promises to speed up the preparation and construction of major investment projects, including road and rail links with the Czech Republic. Demonstrators say the law will make it harder for local people to have their say in the approval process for new construction.

The demonstrations in Brno are organised by the Brnenska kaviaren (Brno Cafe) association, made up of young Slovaks living in Brno. The first protest took place on 25 January, joining dozens of cities in Slovakia where similar rallies have been held.

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