Exactly three years ago, in February 2018, the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and fiancee Martina Kušnírová shook Slovakia. At the same time, the crime has motivated some young people to participate in politics, including the lawyer Zuzana Čaputová. In 2019, Čaputová, then 45 years old, was elected president. She represents the freedom, pro-Europe movement.
MIRROR: President, is rare in the world where more people die from coronavirus as a proportion of the population than in Slovakia. Why is it so difficult for a pandemic to strike your country?
Čaputová: We are still looking at the reason for this sad record. We are among the best at fighting the first wave, but the second wave has proven to be much more dangerous around the world. We underestimated the danger last summer. Slovakia is the only country in the world that has chosen to test the entire population – many times in fact. People get a negative certificate after the antigen test is valid for seven days. And with that, you have to move more – this can eventually lead to more infections. Nor is our medical industry equipped to deal with a crisis like this.
MIRROR: Immunization is underway slowly across the EU. Who is to blame for that?
Čaputová: Without the EU procurement program, many poor countries would not have access to vaccines. So, in our opinion, this procedure is correct.
MIRROR: However, you no longer seem to trust the EU. Why is your government thinking of buying Sputnik V vaccine from Russia?
Čaputová: We must not forget that Slovakia is in a really bad situation. So it is clear that the government is thinking about all possible solutions. But I believe vaccination should not begin until it has been authorized by the responsible EU authority.
MIRROR: Can you understand that many are skeptical of institutions in Brussels?
Čaputová: In the debate in Slovakia, do not focus much on shortcomings in the supply of vaccines. The EU’s approval of the reconstruction fund worth several hundred billion euros has been very well received.
MIRROR: Slovakia’s neighbors – Poland, Hungary and Slovenia – are moving further and further toward authoritarianism. Is Slovakia the last bastion of regional democracy?
Čaputová: Of course, this will go unnoticed by us. But right-wing populists are gaining ground in many places. This is not our region’s problem – it’s the global trend.
MIRROR: Right-wing populists rule in Hungary, Poland and Slovenia, but not in Germany, Italy or Spain.
Čaputová: My region has just had 30 years of experience with democracy. Western Europe is at least 70 years old. I was 16 years old when communism collapsed. Many reforms and changes, especially in the economy, have taken place at breakneck speeds. But democratization takes more time. I still believe there is a will for democracy throughout the region. The conflict is not basically the order in which we live – it is the conflict between liberal and conservative attitudes. Some feel that they have to protect themselves against change so fast.
MIRROR: Not only in stagnation, but also a real setback. Viktor Orbán is breaking achievements like the rule of law in Hungary.
Čaputová: I believe that politicians that limit the freedom of the press, for example, or of universities, cannot be elected because of that. For many voters, the question of personal economics or social security is more important than the question of the rule of law.
MIRROR: How should the EU deal with member states who violate the rule of law?
Čaputová: Those who want to be a member must adhere to the community’s rules and respect its values. There are consequences if a country violates them. I’m glad a mechanism was in place last year to ensure that. In the future, the EU will only pay countries if the rule of law is applied.
MIRROR: The murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak took place exactly 3 years ago. What developments has your country gone through since then?
“The climate of the punishment has been overcome.”
Čaputová: The biggest rallies ever happened. People turn their backs on corruption, they want a new Slovakia, a new political culture. The pressure from the street is enormous. The government had to resign and have new elections. The climate of the punishment has been overcome. The police chief and prosecutor have been replaced and reform of the justice system is underway. The murder has inspired many people to enter politics, including me. New parties were formed.
MIRROR: Will the call for more democracy evaporate again?
Čaputová: It was in part done thanks to new government reforms. However, the aura crisis distracted people, focusing only on survival. We will see after the pandemic that the pressure for reform is strong.