Inauguration speech of President Zuzana Čaputová
President of the National Council,
President of the Constitutional Court,
Members of the National Council,
Members of the government of the Slovak Republic,
Dear fellow citizens.
When I was standing for the presidency of our republic, I often mentioned that I wanted to be the president of all citizens. A few minutes ago, I handed my oath of office to the president of the Constitutional Court and from that you could formally conclude that I am the president of all the citizens. But that is just the truth in a formal sense, and I want to hold myself to a higher standard. At this solemn moment, I want to say that I will strive to be the president of all citizens in another, much stronger sense.
I offer my expertise; I offer empathy and the healthy interest of an activist. I am thus offering my head, my heart and my hands. By taking my oath of office, I have taken on all the commitments and duties of a public servant. I have not come to rule Slovakia, but to serve its citizens. In accordance with the constitutional oath that I took a moment ago – I will serve the prosperity of the Slovak nation and the national minorities and ethnic groups living in the Slovak Republic.
I see the service to which I have committed myself as a matter of responsibility. Responsibility for the proper exercise of power in accordance with the constitution, but also responsibility for something more fragile, which all those who hold public office must strive for. And that is trust. The trust that citizens place in us, the people that they elected, in institutions, in the equal application of the rules to all, in Slovakia and in their home. My approach will be to encourage constructive cooperation and to offer a peaceful and substantive tone, the patience that we need, and fidelity to the values for which I entered politics. I promise that, as I have so far, I will seek to rise above personal attacks and not forget that I am not here because of them but so that I can serve the people.
I will be free in how I exercise my mandate. I will take no orders from anyone. The only orders that I want and will respect as head of state are those laid down by the constitution, which follow from my oath of loyalty to the republic. I understand the trust that you have placed in me as trust in my judgement, to act in the best way that my conscience and convictions dictate.
The Slovak Republic and its citizens deserve public servants who work for citizens rather than any side interest, whichever side or party it comes from. Otherwise, we will never reach our goal of our present Slovakia becoming the country that it could be. The country that we want it to be. I am convinced that the vast majority of citizens want our republic to be the best possible Slovakia.
Dear guests, dear fellow citizens.
When I talk about us, about Slovakia, I must say that we have much more energy, much more potential, than we often give ourselves credit for. There is no need to reach far back into the past, it is enough to recall what we have coped with and what we have overcome in the last thirty years.
Although not everyone agreed with the way Czecho-Slovakia was divided, our whole national community took responsibility for the development of our young state. After the division of the federal state, the net foreign currency reserves in the national bank fell to a third. Avoiding bankruptcy was hard, but we made it.
Twenty years ago, the Slovak government had to take drastic economic measures to get the economy back into balance and heading for sustainable growth. Unemployment went above nineteen percent, but there was no social unrest – the economy pulled itself back up, and we made it.
Our neighbours – the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland – were several years in front of us on the road to the European Union, but we became members of the EU and the Schengen area at the same time as them. We are the only ones in the euro area. We made it.
A few years ago, the public could only watch as one large public contract after another was awarded to all sorts of shell companies with unknown owners. Now we have a law that is so good at exposing the ownership structure of companies doing business with the state that it has become an inspiration for other countries. We made it!
Our scientists work in international research teams; we develop products and technologies that can stand up even on the world stage. We have a mature and active civil society. We know how to help each other, and we can also help others in the world. We do all this even though our universities are still not in the top rankings, we have no systematic support for start-ups and our civil society and journalists are sometimes treated as enemies of the state and our independence.
I would like to pick out one of the threads woven through the modern history of Slovakia that I think is especially praiseworthy. The revolutionary regime change of 1989, the division of the federal state and all the other significant social changes that have taken place in our society have followed a peaceful path. With no violence or unrest. Even countries with longer democratic traditions sometimes see people taking to the streets in anger expressing their grievances through destruction. Nothing like that has happened here. Even last year’s large public protests involved no violence and represented a call for the return of decency in public life.
Both in the events that I mentioned an in many other matters, there is much for us to be proud of – but that does not mean that we can be proud of everything. If we are to manage the journey from where Slovakia is now to the country that Slovakia could be, we have to be open about the things that help us and the obstacles in our way.
Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,
for the last fifteen years our country has been part of the European and transatlantic community. This is a community of free and democratic countries. It is an honour and a privilege that generations before ours could only dream about. In our history we were several times the victims of great powers who put us into this or that empire where they decided about us without giving us a say. Membership of the European Union and NATO is a decision that we made freely after the Velvet Revolution. For a small state in the middle of Europe, there is no better outcome than belonging to a community that unites economic prosperity with social solidarity and expects every Member State to abide by the principles of international law. Our membership of the European Union is not just about our prosperity; it is also a key factor in our national sovereignty.
Where the European Union provides the space for our life and values, NATO is the pillar of our defence and security. As a country, we must do everything in our power to preserve and strengthen this space and its defensive pillar. It is also important because it is not within our strength, acting alone, to solve the big global problems that affect us. We can only cope with them through the broadest possible international cooperation. The European Union can make a significant contribution to this because at heart it is a project of cooperation between countries and the alignment of national interests to promote the common good.
Europe should be playing a leading role in averting several global threats and we should be a part of it. The climate crisis is one of those threats. The World Bank estimates that if trends do not change, climate change could drive as many as 143 million people from their homes by 2050. We need to slow and reverse the global climate change process because otherwise it could have severe consequences for Slovakia. We know that the solution to the global ecological threat does not depend solely on us. We do, however, have the power to change how we treat nature in Slovakia. This is a way in which we can all be true patriots, regardless of our opinions and our political or party convictions.
Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,
I would like to mention the most important factor that I see standing in the way of Slovakia becoming the best country it can be for its inhabitants.
Although it is nearly 30 years since November 1989 and much has changed for the better, the dignity of our citizens is still not the first or the main commandment of public life. A decent life for citizens has many dimensions and each of them has its own story. Here are at least a few of them.
The Constitution of the Slovak Republic says that “people are free and equal in dignity and rights”. In practice this should mean that nobody is so worthless or civically insignificant that they have their rights and freedoms curtailed. But it should also mean that nobody is so important and influential that they stand above the law. Too many people in Slovakia have rightly concluded that this is not quite true for us. There is a growing feeling of social injustice that manifests itself in two forms – a call for change and for decency, but also the form of rage against the “system”. There are many good reasons fuelling such rage, but if we succumb to it as a society, it will not do us any good. The rage that has recently been offered here as a medicine, is much worse than the disease it is supposed to cure. We need to focus the energy of discontent on ensuring that the rule of law always works in Slovakia, not just in the constitution but in real practice. Institutions or people within them that cannot cope with corruption or the untouchability of certain persons must become a thing of the past. They offend against the fundamental human sense of justice. We have made a lot of progress in transparency, but we are lagging and falling further behind in the enforcement of responsibility. Transparency is just a tool. Trust and justice must be strengthened through the genuine and not superficial responsibility of those in power. It is unfortunately the case that the institutions that should protect our rights do not have the necessary authority, are not fully trusted by the public and are not always resistant to political pressure.
A decent human life involves material needs as well as questions of rights. We sometimes become complacent when we hear what statistics say about citizens’ incomes. I do not doubt that they are correct, but they tend to average out the differences between people and between our regions. It is pleasing to see dynamic growth in the average wage and the gross domestic product, but it would be a much greater cause for joy if there was the same dynamic growth in the number of people able to live a full and decent life from their pay. And if there was an equally rapid decrease in the number of people who are unable to break free of poverty by their own efforts. We should not see this as merely a social issue. If people who work hard and make sacrifices – teachers, farmers, factory workers, nurses and doctors – are barely able to provide for the basic needs of their families and they read about people with wealth that cannot have come from their legal income, they will stop believing in justice. Its absence from society is always a cause of social tension that undermines the democratic system.
Civil dignity requires that everyone – regardless of their income level, their nationality or ethnic origin, their membership of any minority – have access to the quality healthcare that they need.
In the face of the challenges that I have mentioned, I will use my powers to the full to improve the situation. I will take an active interest in new legislation to ensure it promotes a dignified life for the people, protection of the environment and a balance between public authorities’ independence and responsibility. I will actively cooperate in plans for new systemic changes in the justice system. Regarding powers of appointment, you will have in me a guarantor that only those with the best personal and professional qualities will be appointed. I want to be the voice of those who go unheard. Not because I want to shout alongside them but to help solve their problems.
Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,
Slovakia is a diverse country. In its geography, in its nationalities, in its cultures and in its communities. In a relatively small area, there is more diversity than can be found in some much bigger countries. From wildlife, through customs to lifestyles. With this, I am not just thinking of the different way of living in the town and in the countryside, but of the way lifestyles are affected by different life experiences. Our parents, who can still remember the wars and repressive Communist regime. We who lived through the euphoria of the end of totalitarianism, and the difficult period of nascent democracy. Our children, who were born in a free country and for whom freedom of movement is as a natural as the relationship to land and soil was for our parents. If we can respect such diversity and accept one another within the family, we can manage it in society too. Let us respect the wisdom and life experience of our elders, but also the freedom and the thirst for knowledge in the younger generation. We should also appreciate the culture and creativity that comes with this freedom and produces the authentic expressions of every generation. We must not underestimate its importance. Just as older people need our interest, our attention and our understanding, young people need good quality education and good quality schools that give them opportunities for creativity, travelling and proving their worth. It is our duty to provide them.
At the same time, we need to bridge the chasms that have opened up in society in recent years between groups and the opinions that they represent. Between conservatives and liberals, between the town and the country, between the old and the new, between majorities and minorities – chasms that we politicians have often widened. We can express our attitude to difference, to other traditions, to different experience and to other points of view without infringing on the freedom and dignity of others. It is enough if we remember that we are a part of a whole, a part of the human family. It is enough if we remember the love for our neighbours that is the basis of respect for diversity.
Dear guests, dear fellow citizens,
Slovak history is a history full of struggles. The struggle for our own language, for statehood, the struggle to preserve our faith, for civil liberties, for recognition and for visibility. Each of these struggles has helped to make Slovakia better and been accompanied by positive patriotism and social awakening. We are now witnessing another awakening in society – a political and civic awakening of an inconspicuous and somewhat invisible silent majority. I take pleasure in every spontaneous activity people undertake to improve their neighbourhood, town or society as a whole. I take pleasure in every citizen who comes home to Slovakia and every initiative that encourages these returns. This awakening is mainly about faith in the country, in people’s potential and what we can achieve together. It is not just about banding together to get through hard times. I am proud to avow this positive patriotism. I am convinced that we have what it takes to make Slovakia a little bit better every day. We can do it!
There are no easy shortcuts on the road to the best possible Slovakia. It is something that needs to be said openly, even at moments like this. If we want to get there, we have to walk the whole route patiently, step by step, as citizens, as residents and as a society.
I sincerely hope that this is a journey that we will make together. I want to be the president of the people who are walking that road, and those who come to join them. I want to be the president of all the citizens of the Slovak Republic.
Thank you. Ďakujem. Köszönöm. Ďakuju šumňi. Děkuji. Paľikerav."