, Slovakia's First Female President
lected on June 15, 2019, President Zuzana Čaputová is the first woman to hold the presidency as well as the youngest president in Slovakia's history. President Čaputová's political career began in 1996, after graduating from the Comenius University Faculty of Law in Bratislava. After her studies, Čaputová worked in the local government of Pezinok and then transitioned into the non-profit sector working at the Open Society Foundations. At the Open Society Foundations, she worked closely on the issue of abused and exploited children. In 2017, Čaputová joined the Progressive Slovakian political party and was elected as a Vice-Chairwoman for the party. She also served as the Deputy Chair until 2019, when she resigned to launch her presidential campaign.
In 2016, she was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work in addressing the toxic landfill in Pezinok. In addition, in 2020, Čaputová ranked #83 on the Forbes’ World's 100 Most Powerful Women list. Despite having almost no political experience, the 45-year old lawyer and anti-corruption campaigner won 58.4 percent of the vote in the second-round vote, defeating the European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic. The political newcomer soared to popularity in just a few months with a campaign that focused on a struggle for justice. The president is mostly a ceremonial role in the country of 5.4 million, as Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini is responsible for overseeing the government. But when Caputova takes office in June, she will have important blocking powers, will be the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and will have power to appoint top judges. Where does Caputova come from? Caputova was born to a working-class family in the town of Pezinok in what was then central Czechoslovakia. The divorced mother of two daughters rose to prominence and was nicknamed the “Erin Brockovich” of Slovakia after leading a successful case against a toxic landfill that was planned in her hometown in 2016. Her 14-year-long case against the wealthy land developer involved organizing protests, filing lawsuits and writing petitions to the European Union. The campaign earned her a prestigious Goldman Environmental prize in 2016. She recently became vice-chair of Progressive Slovakia, a party so new that it has not yet run in the parliamentary elections. How did she win the election? Caputova built her campaign on a vow to fight corruption, by stripping the police and prosecutors of their political influence. Last year’s murder of the investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova has put the issue of political corruption at the forefront of public discussion. And Caputova said Kuciak’s murder was the reason she decided to run for president. Kuciak, who had worked to expose corruption among the political elite was shot and killed in February 2018. Five people were charged with the murder, including a millionaire with alleged links to the center-left political party, Smer. Kuciak’s death sparked anti-government protests attracting tens of thousands of people, which eventually forced Prime Minister and Smer leader Robert Fico to step down. The party is still the largest in the national parliament, however, and Pellegrini is its prime minister. Caputova’s liberal values also appealed to younger voters in a country where same-sex marriage is not yet legal. Caputova is in favour of same-sex unions and has said that LGBT adoption is better than leaving children in orphanages. On the question of abortion, she said she believes it is a woman’s right to make that decision. What about her appealed to Slovakian voters? Her approach to politics, judging by the responses of Slovakians TIME spoke to. “She seemed like someone Slovakia needed – kind, honest and never criticized her opponents,” said Antonia Halko, a 28-year-old wholesale manager from the town of Bardejov in Slovakia who voted for Caputova. “I saw her talk in person at an event on January 30th and I knew immediately I was going to vote for her. She was very authentic, humane and I simply trusted what she was saying – which is a pretty rare feature in the Slovak politics,” said Juraj Scott, a charity-worker from Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava.
Corruption among officials was also a core concern. “We all started to realize that we needed to stand up to the corrupt government because our country wasn’t safe. Caputova promised that nothing like this would ever happen again,” Halko said. What does her victory mean for European politics? Caputova’s election is a rare progressive victory in central Europe where nationalist rhetoric has grown over the past few years. In neighboring Hungary, Poland and Austria, governments are dominated by right-wing, nationalist parties. In these countries and elsewhere, liberal parties have struggled to counter populist leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban whose campaigns focus on migration and social issues. But Slovakia’s election provides evidence that dissatisfaction with the status quo can usher in more progressive leaders. “I am happy not just for the result, but mainly that it is possible not to succumb to populism, to tell the truth, to raise interest without aggressive vocabulary,” Caputova told a crowd of supporters in Bratislava. Caputova’s victory, which came on a low turnout of 40 percent, is likely to be only the beginning of the fight for the progressive left in Slovakia. The European Parliament’s elections in May and the parliamentary elections next year will be the real test of the movement’s strength.
THE PRESIDENT ZUZANA ČAPUTOVÁ HAS PLANTED THE 13TH TREE OF PEACE IN THE UNITED KINGDOM
Brookwood, Wednesday, December 4, 2019. After the meeting of NATO leaders near London, the President of the Slovak Republic, Zuzana Čaputová, visited a cemetery in Brookwood, to honour the memory of Czechoslovak veterans, who fought with the Allies during the WWII. Peter Gajdoš, Minister of Defence of the Slovak Republic, was also a member in the delegation of the President. The Slovak Ambassador Ľubomír Rehák and the Defence Attaché of the Slovak Republic, Colonel Ján Goceliak welcomed them on the cemetery. Mrs. Gerry Manolas Chair of the Memorial Association for Free Czechoslovak Veterans in the United Kingdom gave a speech to the honoured guests. Mrs. Manolas presented the work of this organization dedicated to the memory of Czechoslovak Veterans buried at the Brookwood Military Cemetery. With the assistance of the honour guard, the President laid wreath to the Czechoslovak Veterans Memorial. Afterwards the President moved to planting a memorial tree in the private part of the cemetery, where other Czechoslovak Veterans and their descendants are buried. The President Zuzana Čaputová, together with the Minister of Defence and participating diplomats, planted the 13th Tree of Peace with Marek Sobola, the author of the project. The commemorative Lime tree in the ‘Greenspire’ variety (Tilia cordata ‘Greenspire’) symbolizes the memory and remembrance of all unknown soldiers who died in global war conflicts. It also symbolizes the Slovak origin of the project. After planting, Marek Sobola thanked the President for the honour she showed to the project by her personal participation. He also handed her a Tree of Peace Memorial Plaque with the number 001, which is identical to the plaque on the metal memorial pillar next to the Tree of Peace. This plaque is a unifying element of the whole project and is located at every planted tree. It has a uniform design in all partner countries since 2019. It was minted at Kremnica Mint and its author is Marek Sobola. Zuzana Čaputová planted her first tree in Brookwood as a head of state. Civic association Servare et Manere, in this way, expresses the highest gratitude which, furthermore, may be granted to the Heads of the States, who are personally involved in planting, or people who have made a special contribution to spreading ideas of understanding and union among nations, as well as have made a major contribution to the spreading and implementation of the project at home or abroad. The second Tree of Peace Memorial Plaque was donated to Ľubomír Rehák, the Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Republic to the Court of St. James´s in London. So far, thirteen Peace Trees have been planted in important places regarding military and world history, such as The National WWI Museum and Memorial of the United States in Kansas City, The Imperial Villa in Bad Ischl (Kaiservilla), The Monument to the victims of the 71st Trenčín Infantry Regiment in Kragujevac, The Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig (Völkerschlachtdenkmal), or the palace complex of the Tsarskoe Selo State Museum in St. Petersburg. Six trees have been planted in Slovakia and others in Germany, Serbia, Austria, Poland, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Reportage about this event was carried out by the Rádio Slovakia International (Rozhlas a televízia Slovenska).
LGBT rights in Slovakia: Any changes on the horizon?
In March 2019, Zuzana Čaputová, became the first female President of Slovakia, with a campaign built on a liberal and progressive platform, based on an environmental, pro-European, pro-LGBT, pro-choice and above all anti-corruption discourse. Caputova was able to embody the hopes of a political revival for a country that had been plagued by corruption for decades. A year before her election, Jan Kuciak, a reporter specialising in corruption cases, was found murdered with his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, at their home, while he was investigating possible links between the then-ruling Smer-SD party of former Prime Minister Robert Fico and Italian businessmen close to mafia circles. The murder shook the country to its core and led to mass demonstrations of an unprecedented scale throughout Slovakia.
Zuzana Caputova, the President of change?
While Zuzana Caputova’s campaign was deeply marked and influenced by this particular event, the former anti-corruption lawyer also did not shy away from taking a stand on a number of other divisive issues, including coming out in support of the rights and freedoms of the LGBT community. She expressed her support for civil unions and adoption by same-sex couples, strengthening the community’s hope for a real change. According to Slovak law, same-sex marriage has been constitutionally banned since 2014. Caputova’s outspoken support for Slovakia’s LGBT community was evident during a debate, in which she declared being in favour of adoption by gay couples, arguing that a child would live “better with two same-sex lovers” than in an orphanage. Such as statement could easily be seen as a groundbreaking milestone for LGBT rights in Slovakia. Although far from being the main issue and talking point of her campaign, her statements and use of more inclusive language did have a significant impact that should not be underestimated, despite the limited prerogatives of the president in Slovakia. But since the election, no real progress has been made, and policy-makers appear to have set aside the possibility of any major change on the issue, which has failed to take center stage in the public debate. Even ahead of the 2020 parliamentary elections, the mention of LGBT rights was not meant to spark a real debate on the issue, but rather served as a convenient way to attack liberal candidates. We should also note that, apart from Zuzana Caputova and her (former) party, very few political figures in Slovakia hold and publicly express such strong positions on LGBT issues. This was exemplified by the defeat of the Progressive Slovakia (PS) party who, despite its victory a few months earlier in the European Parliament elections, did not even reach the threshold needed to send MP’s to Slovakia’s lower house of Parliament. Any wind of change appears to have quickly died down.
A short-lived victory
Slovakia’s new government was then formed around a coalition of centre-right and conservative-right movements, with Igor Matovic, leader of the OLaNO party assuming the role of Prime Minister. During the campaign, the new ruling party’s rhetoric and programme mostly revolved around the fight against corruption and in opposition to the Fico/Smer-SD system, like Caputova did during the 2019 presidential election. Harnessing the power of populist methods and a highly efficient media strategy – particularly on social media – Matovic had a series of PR successes mocking his opponents and the Slovak political establishment, positioning himself as a major political figure in the post-Fico era. The new, four-party government coalition that emerged from the February 2020 elections is remarkable and unique due to its extreme heterogeneity. Including from an ideological standpoint, we need only look at the differences between Sme Rodina and Za Ludi: the first, a conservative right-wing party; the second, the more centrist movement founded by former President Andrej Kiska. Both parties can barely find common ground on economic, European and international issues, but also on domestic social topics like LGBT rights. Add to this complex picture the ultra-liberal and libertarian SaS and the political versatility of OLaNO, only then can the complexity of Slovakia’s current “ruling class” be fully understood.
Looking more precisely at the issue of LGBT rights in this new motley government, an important aspect to factor in is the nomination of Sme Rodina’s conservative vice-president Milan Krajinak as Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family. Prime Minister Igor Matovic himself declared back in 2019 that his OLaNO movement would not work with a government seeking to legalize adoption for same-sex couples. Bearing this in mind, there’s little reason to expect any substantial change for LGBT rights with the current government.
Caputova/Matovic: Same but different?
The political programmes of Zuzana Caputova and Igor Matovic share the desire to eradicate and root out endemic corruption in Slovakia, particularly in its political and judicial system. This was the main talking point of their victory in a country still shocked by Jan Kuciak’s murder, and both were able to position themselves as the anti-Smer or anti-Fico figure. But in two completely different styles, evident when we look at how they used the media space. While Zuzana Caputova was highly appreciated and respected for her ability not to indulge in personal attacks against her opponents and to base her entire campaign on an inclusive and unifying rhetoric, Matovic, for his part, used a highly aggressive strategy, including on social media, to directly attack his political adversaries. Their political agendas are also based on a number of potent differences. In just over a year that separated the two election campaigns, the LGBT issue appears to have almost completely vanished from public debate. In that regard, the 2020 parliamentary elections are a stark reminder that nothing can ever be taken for granted when we look at the progress made for the LGBT community. The evolution of Slovakia’s LGBT rights, described as progressive in many European countries, is not seen as such by a majority of the population. The LGBT community seems, at best, able to attract the interest of a minority of voters, and the indifference of a large majority of Slovaks. Finally, some extreme far-right parties like the LSNS movement of Marian Kotleba – recently sentenced to prison – provide a platform for another minority to convey their hatred towards the LGBT community. Taking a strong stance in favour of LGBT rights cannot win you an election in Slovakia today.
How is the LGBT issue evolving in Slovakia?
Five years ago, Slovakia was singled out by the EU for its repressive stance towards the LGBT community. The impact of Zuzana Caputova’s election, which initially seemed to present a new face of a country known for its social conservatism, now appears much more nuanced. Due to her limited institutional powers, there is little room for manoeuvre, and only a wide-ranging in-depth debate within society could lead to a deep reflection on the issue and maybe pave the way for change. But this seems unlikely for the time being, considering the only party openly advocating the liberalization of LGBT rights (Progressive Slovakia) is not even represented at the political level. A more likely development is the politicization of the issue during the current legislature – be it at the initiative of a ruling or opposition party – which would not necessarily lead to an improvement of LGBT rights, quite the contrary. Far from being a central topic of public debate as it is in neighbouring Poland, where the ruling party has targeted the LGBT community as a scapegoat in its cultural war, the situation of LGBT people in Slovakia remains very precarious, to say the least. According to a 2019 study by the Pew Research Centre, only 44% of Slovaks consider homosexuality to be acceptable in society – placing Slovakia last among the Visegrad countries, including after Poland, and well below EU average. Slovak public opinion remains, at this stage, largely conservative on this issue. Paradoxically, Slovak political elites usually follow European trends and decisions on this issue, and Slovakia’s desire to become more strongly involved in EU affairs could lead to exogenous – and unexpected – changes. In the past, Slovakia ratified EU legislation which would surely not have seen the light of day if it had originated from home: for example, a 2018 ruling of the European Court of Justice affirming the right of residence for same-sex couples, including in countries that do not recognize same-sex unions (as long as at least one of the two partners is an EU citizen) was an important milestone for the legal recognition of same-sex marriages, including in Slovakia which is bound to enforce the ruling. If an improvement of LGBT rights promoted by the EU is perceived as a positive development in Brussels and many European capitals, it is once again useful to turn to Poland to test this idea. The bitter political fight between Warsaw and Brussels on LGBT rights is unlikely to go away anytime soon, as shown by the increasingly radical stance of PiS members and leadership, which puts LGBT people in Poland into an increasingly precarious situation. Going so far as to compare the “LGBT ideology” to a sort of “neo-Bolshevism”, Polish President Andrzej Duda showed during last summer’s campaign that the demonization of the LGBT community was far from over. The EU seems unable to find a concrete solution to address these developments. And while Brussels must of course guarantee the protection of minorities and fight against all types of discrimination, including gender-based, its action is not unlimited, far from it.
Zuzana Caputova: the Slovak woman who defeated European populism
The second round of victory According to France 24, in the last week of March, Slovakia was in the second round to elect the person who would occupy the presidency for the next four years. The two candidates who remained in the race were the vice-president of the European Commission and the outsider Zuzana Caputova. Leer en español: Zuzana Caputova: la eslovaca que venció al populismo europeo On the day of the elections, Slovaks finally opted for the liberal Caputova with 58.2% of the votes, while the European parliamentarian Maros Sefcovic got 41.8% of the votes. The first words of the new president were hopeful and without hatred, as reproduced by this same French TV chain: "
"Decency in politics is not a sign of weakness but can be our strength (...) you can talk about the truth and win the confidence of others without an aggressive vocabulary and low blows"
However, it is worth asking: Who is this new piece in Slovak chess? The outsider from Bratislava As the BBC mentioned, born in the capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, and a lawyer graduated from the Comenius University of Bratislava, one of the most prestigious universities in the country, Zuzana Caputova is the new political revelation in Eastern Europe. The lawyer came to the presidency proposing new ideas in the political sphere.
For example, the new president began to address issues that are difficult to address in the most conservative republics in Europe, such as the rights of people with different sexual orientation, as well as their rights as a couple.
Her proposals are not limited to this single area, because she also impressed for her environmental proposals. In the past, her most notable achievement was stopping an illegal toxic landfill that was polluting one of the water sources in the country. This achievement earned her the Goldman environmental prize in 2016.
Caputova is also a fervent follower of civil rights and free expression.
Slovaks remember when she took to the streets to protest the murder of one of the country's most beloved journalists, who was investigating the drug trafficking links in the country's politics, as France 24 reported. Finally, this lawyer is known for being a polyglot and speaking the most influential languages of Slovakia: Hungarian, Roma, Czech and, of course, Slovak. What does her election mean in Europe and Slovakia? With her election, this Slovak is setting a precedent against the populism that is being experienced in Eastern Europe, as well as providing a pro-European look. This same analysis was made by the Deustche Welle in one of their columns:
" 'The coordinates of the new Slovakian leader will be a strong pro-European orientation, with an emphasis on ecology and the strengthening of the rule of law and justice',
, recalled Ivan Stefunko, president of the Liberal party 'Progresivne Slovensko' in which Caputova still militates " Even so, there are still many concerns for the new president regarding her own country. For example, the right-winged ideology that is developing in that European society, perfectly portrayed in the second presidential round. According to this same German media,
, in the second round, it was noted the little influx that there was in the polls, because ultra- right-winged candidates were discarded in the first round,
a situation that worries the new president. However, we should not lose hope. According to the BBC, one of the teachers of this candidate's alma mater pronounced the following words for the prestigious journal in international relations Foreign Policy in reference to Caputova: "spirit of a leader in defense of civil rights, who fought successfully against powerful groups of political and economic interests "
Celebrating International Women’s Month is made extra special with these eight ladies
Zuzana Caputova is Slovakia’s first female president, also the youngest at 45 years old. Having won her seat in June 2019, Caputova has vowed to fight impunity and corruption within the relatively young nation’s government. A staunch environmentalist, Caputova is well-known for having spearheaded a successful campaign that shut down a waste dump near her home; the waste dump had been thought to cause an increase in the number of respiratory diseases and leukemia patients within the neighbourhood. Caputova’s influence had also helped spark protests in 2018, which ultimately led to the resignation of Prime Minister Robert Fico, who had then been embroiled in the scandal of murdered journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee, Martina Kušnírová.