The President’s Statement on the State of the Republic

President Andrej Kiska appeared on Wednesday in the plenum of the National Council of the Slovak Republic with a statement on the state of the republic.

“Almost four months ago, on 21 February 2018, investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, the young archaeologist Martina Kušnírová, were murdered in their house in Veľká Mača. To this day we do not know the perpetrators. The most important report on the state of the republic was connected to this terrible crime in 2018. It was the last report by Ján Kuciak, which his colleagues published unfinished a week after the murder. In response to this terrible event, we have been given the opportunity to fully appreciate the deep distrust of the functioning of the state that exists in our society, but the determination to change it as well.

I would like to go back two decades in this regard. To a country horrified by the kidnapping of son of a head of state and by the murder of Robert Remiáš, similar nowadays being hit by the murder of a journalist and his fiancée. . I am daring to say that it was not only a kidnapping and it was not only a murder, but it was the reaction of the powerful towards these crimes, which constantly marked the further development of the Slovak Republic. The rulers have been granted amnesty, fundamentally and permanently shattering trust in the rule of law.

To this day we have failed to deal with the consequences; we were not able to punish the offenders and try to mitigate the resulting injustice and pain. Until last year, you, members of the National Council, by the abolition of amnesty, have opened space for remediation.. It took two decades for the elected representatives of the people to bring hope that the crimes of the state’s power will not be forever protected by an outrageous act which survived the fall of Mečiarism and several political generations.

The history around the abolishing of amnesty permits me to recall here in the chamber of the National Council, mainly to representatives of state power and the parliamentary majority: depending on your words and actions, the profundity of the wound that will remain in society following the murder of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnířová after ten or twenty years. 

Destroying trust in justice is also possible without the misuse of powers, such as the preventive amnesty of perpetrators of serious crimes: a lack of sensitivity, responsibility, and courage to act in crucial situations or, on the contrary, arrogance, the feeling of unlimited power and the illusion that the country belongs to the politicians who won the election. What Slovakia faces in 2018 is not just a crisis of trust in justice and the rule of law. It is a crisis of trust, that politicians are willing and able to create conditions so that we can start talking about improving the relationship to the state.

This mistrust is a generational policy failure in Slovakia. But let us not be surprised that people do not believe in independent investigations when they read about dubious deals every day, about people close to the mafia in government circles, about related politicians who have suddenly discovered entrepreneurial talent and have obtained large property.

Rogues prospering from contact with public power are a product of the world that the top political leaders have been growing and expanding for years in Slovakia. A world from which they profited and on which they based their own power. Until they could not keep it under control anymore and ended up trapped. 

The murder of Ján and Martina has given to this world the faces of human victims. This was the reason why tens of thousands of people went to the streets: to express their disbelief in the state’s ability to handle the crime. There are no imagined conspiracies. But the question is whether the murders and suspicions Ján Kuciak wrote about were properly investigated. Anger over the fact that even in the face of this decadence the ruling political power does not want to take responsibility.

People in the streets have also expressed the belief that Slovakia can be better. That Slovakia can be decent. Trust in the enforceability of law and justice is a necessity for a state that wants to survive as a viable society. Without trusting that complying with laws will pay off, without the assurance that our rights will be protected by the state, no matter who violates them, society may fall apart on the individuals reluctant to search outside their own interest.  Disgust, mistrust in the institution and the loss of hope in a better future are signals that we do not have to be far from that.

It is true that people commit hideous crimes even in decent and peaceful communities. Politicians abuse power in the best-governed states. Neither is the death of a person always and necessarily a failure of the system. Crime appears in every country and occasionally breaks all barriers.

However, such trauma can only be overcome if, in critical moments, we can rely on common values, principles, general and all respected rules and trustworthy institutions. We can also deal with a heavy wound if people are confident that political representatives have created the conditions for a resolute procedure and provide the honest and visible support needed to bring down the suspects, condemnation of the offenders and satisfaction for the victims. 

Even in tragic moments full of fear, it is possible to unite and search for a way out of the crisis. But only if people believe that the state power is in the process of enforcing justice for their allies. Not an arrogant obstacle that has to be tackled by protests in squares.

This is the core of the problem. The reluctance to strike at the powerful, year-long feelings of wrongdoings and injustice are explaining the anger that many people feel. Mistrust has created a context in which a large section of the public thinks that, without pressure, the state will not be able investigate and willingly truthfully investigate the execution of two young people.

We still do not know who murdered Ján and Martina. Their death, however, was probably a tragic materialization of the consequences of the tolerance of criminal behavior. Of criminals, who were reported only by courageous journalists at their own risk. Of crimes that have kept the country's political leadership inactive for years. 

If there is a sincere will to search for a way to start reviving public confidence, it is necessary to return to investigating the murders of Ján Kuciak and Martina Kušnírová. At the beginning of March I said the following: I believe this case is investigated by the best investigators, and they want to solve the murder of two young people. And as President of the Slovak Republic, I asked people to trust them.

In order to repeat the same challenge, I, together with the public, we need a signal that the responsible have the courage to change. I am waiting for the Ministry of Interior and the newly appointed president of the police force to join the effort of the General Prosecutor’s Office to save what remains of the reputation of the law enforcement agencies that their predecessors have damaged so much.

I urge leadership of the interior ministry to perform an appropriate assessment of the progress of the investigation, reacting to doubts about the police and its leadership. Doubts, which — I hope for the good of the Slovak Republic — are mostly misunderstandings, not the manifestations of a cowardly investigation of a crime that has shaken society and created a serious political crisis.

We are awaiting the true answers to multiple questions. For example, why an expert in the field of forensic medicine was not called to the crime scene? 

Why did the former police president baffle the public on an almost daily basis with different versions of the direction of investigation, contrary to the prohibition declared by the Prosecutor’s Office?

Why in the decisive weeks after the murder, did Slovakia hesitate to use international aid?

Why was the ex-director of the anti-corruption unit NAKA at the scene and why the former police president was lying?

Why the people about whom Ján Kuciak had written and who should have been part of the investigative versions had access to the case?

Why the police tried to obtain information from the phone of a Czech coworker of the murdered journalist through an amateur procedure that created international shame?

Why more respect was given by the police to a person who is publicly threatened by a journalist, instead of a journalist who volunteers to cooperate in investigating the murder?

The previous answers are insufficient. They reflect a fundamental problem: the lack of sensitivity from those whose mission is to be in service to the public. For too long, the main communication principle of the leadership of the interior ministry was the effort to deny. The first step on the road to trust is thus to start answering honestly and directly. 

Slovakia needs a police force that will fulfill its role of helping and protecting. Only institutions that attract courageous people with a sense of justice can do it. Not the police who does everything good on the paper, but more than half the population does not believe in it.

The police and prosecutors need space to freely investigate criminal offenses. Without inappropriate interference with their work, bullying, the dismissal of high-quality investigators, which decays morale, promotes passivity and averageness. In efficient police force the courage and honesty are rewarded.

It is time to stop diverting attention toward exaggerated threats such as migrants. Instead, deal with organized crime and extremism. Not elite units chasing bonbons and fifty-euro corruption, whereas the multi-million-euro crimes of white collars are observed from a distance.

It is the duty of the police to draw consequences for the mistakes we have seen in the interventions in Moldava nad Bodvou, Medveďov and Zborov. The coverage of failure is not a manifestation of respect for the police profession. It is a method of cultivating a disrespect for the rights of others and a disgrace in the abuse of authority.

A well-directed and trained police officer does not have to violate rules to ensure security and investigate a crime. Slovakia is not the only state where the police deal with problematic communities. Not the only country where child kidnappings are being investigated. If elsewhere it can be done within the rules, without violence, with respect for human rights, we can do it too.

We all need the rule of law. Understandable laws that help solve the problems of ordinary life and are not create new ones. Offices and police who bring the rules to life fairly and do not abuse them to harass inconveniences. Courts whose decision-making is timely and foreseeable.  A Constitutional Court, which is an authentic protector of constitutional principles and values.

Rescuing Slovakia from the crisis of trust is a demanding process. It requires great and courageous changes, same as small and honest steps everyday. We can only gain public support in this effort through open and sensitive communication. No one should expect people to tolerate half-steps and years awaiting results.

The citizens have given you MP’s and members of the government the power to lead the country. People, to whom, the murder of Ján and Martina, or the recent brutal death of Henry, are a symbol of neglected justice and the state’s inability to protect lives. They are awaiting the answer if you mean it seriously. They are awaiting the signal that there is a political will to return the Slovak Republic to the path leading to the cessation of the decay of the rule of law.

The opportunity will soon come when you decide on important laws related to the police and the constitutional court. There is no reason for us to be satisfied with below-average solutions. We can make changes that are sensitive, honest and courageous, and can improve the system of safety and the enforcement of justice.

The choice is in your hands. How we will remember 2018 depends on your decision. Whether this premature opportunity remains a source of conspiracies, speculations, unsolved suspicions, and a persistent source of distrust in politics among people themselves or as a period in which we recovered and started to do everything necessary to restore the trust of the people in the state.

There is no shame to confessing to shortcomings. There is no country where politicians wake up one morning and can say they have solved everything. It is a shame to ignore the challenges we face. Letting them grow into chronic problems due to which many people do not live well and leave Slovakia.  It is a shame to behave as if the future existed only after the next parliamentary elections.

It is the fundamental task of policy to generate solutions that push the country forward. Unfortunately, we have lost the ability to fight the truly important issues. Political competition is crumbling on a series of malicious disputes in which the issues that are important for a better life are more likely to emerge by accident. The discussion lacks the honesty to admit the depth of the problem, the courage to embark on solutions, and the sensitivity toward those involved in the dispute.

The Constitution of the Slovak Republic and its amendment are undermined by the tool of party marketing.  The most discussed policy of the parliamentary majority is not the implementation of a government program but the pompous spending packages. Even the pension system will be remembered by some when they are desperate to prolong a political career.

When a new government asked MP’s for trust in March, many people were wondering about the fact that they took over the program statement of the previous government. The fact that the new government did not have to change two-year old commitments was a bad report on the state of politics, a sad demonstration of the inability of the previous government to solve problems, to fulfill its obligations.

Before my appearance today in the plenum of the National Council with an address on the state of the Slovak Republic, I faced the dilemma on whether I would talk again about the children to whom we do not provide a good education. About patients who do not receive equal quality and affordable healthcare. About the Roma communities in which poverty is inherited from generation to generation due to the inability to help them.

The bitter truth is that I could copy all the addresses from past reports about the state of the republic and read them again. I do not mean to say that I have not seen any useful measures in the past year. Even now, I will take the opportunity to support the proposal to pay lunches for all children in schools from public finances. Experience from the world confirms the usefulness of this step. But I add that in order for us to reach visible results in important matters, a strong decision for the election period is not enough.  We need at least ten per year. 

Honest policy does not distinguish between words and actions. If we talk about something as a priority, it should be a priority in the planning of public expenses. In recent years, we have had enough money for investments thanks to Eurofunds. The expectations of tax revenue growth have been exceeded, and the state has had more than expected every year.

Public investment, which reached four percent of GDP annually, also contributed to this. We are among the countries with the highest share of investment across the EU. But success does not count with an amount of spent money. When the country is economically thriving, it is the role of politicians to use the resources reasonably with the greatest possible effect. The good times will not last forever.

Often, Slovakia’s repeated priorities are human health, children's education, science and research. But real investment from public resources do not correspond to this.  Only four out of every hundred invested euros are directed toward health care and its dilapidated hospitals. In developed European countries it was 12 percent. For education, science and research, Slovakia used less than one tenth of public investment; it was twice as much abroad. Information about the use of the Eurofunds for education and research has raised doubts as to whether or not the money has created a positive value.

Half of public investment in Slovakia was directed toward transport. This would not have to be criticized if in the long term megalomania did not win over common sense. There is no authority to strictly oversee the planning and financing of construction. An example is the highway around Ružomberok. Construction was planned for a long time and its completion was expected last summer. It did not happen. And it is clear that the highway will not be completed this year, or in the next year, even in 2020. Around 20,000 cars and three thousand trucks will be still passing through the city and surrounding villages.

Instead of building highways where the traffic burden demands it, we rely on magnificent plans that we may not complete in a hundred years. We have suffered the illusion that only highways bring prosperity to the regions, and lower-class roads are crumbling all over the country. More than 40 percent of the first, second and third class roads are in an emergency or inconvenient state. Three times more people travel on these roads per year than on highways and expressways.

There is no more important challenge that we will face than the aging of population. The average life expectancy has increased by seven years since the fall of Communism. In the upcoming decade, we will be the third-fastest aging EU country. That is why a discussion about the pension system is appropriate. Unfortunately, politicians competing to offer a lower retirement age are examples of a dispute that lacks sensitivity, honesty, and courage.

An existing commitment to retirement for an average survival time is a reasonable and fair solution. It guarantees approximately the same amount of time spent on retirement across generations, which we can also manage financially. If some people want to limit the retirement age, even in an institution, have the courage to tell people what the cost is. And tell our children to know what kind of burden you are placing on their shoulders. Either pensions will be lower or taxes higher.

The really important issue is not the retirement age. The real challenge is to ensure seniors to have a dignified life. We do not have enough nurses or capacity for caring for those suffering from a long-term sickness. There are many barriers that limit pensioners. I am asking how Slovakia wants to improve the quality of life of seniors when it does not have the money. And I do not think it is a good idea for the Constitution to tie up the hands of anyone who will be troubled by the current generation of politicians.

Before I come to the conclusion, I will mention the conditions on agriculture and in the countryside. A substantial part of the last article by Ján Kuciak was dedicated to them, followed by important findings from his colleagues. Farmers have described a wild El Dorado in business and receiving subsidies.

Years of neglecting problems have led to state authorities to closing their eyes to extortionist practices in the regions, to tolerating threats and physical attacks, or even standing on the side of aggressors. These failures of the state have specific victims. They are deceived, beaten farmers who have not received justice.

We see the unfortunate consequences across regions. Although Slovakia is predominantly a rural country, it has low employment in agriculture. Farms have large areas with a European comparison but low productivity. Despite the half billions euros that go to agriculture every year, Slovakia is not self-sufficient in the production of food. The countryside is neither an attractive nor a prosperous place to live.

The situation in the Agricultural Paying Agency and the Slovak Land Fund is so severe that the Prosecutor General also stated that the state is failing to enforce the law. The Supreme Audit Office reached similar conclusions. So I am surprised that even convincing discoveries have failed to change the status quo in these two institutions. I do not know if it is indifference or purpose.

It is, however, the role of the state to restore order, rule of law, and to help resolve property rights. In Slovakia, there are many people who have not obtained their own land 30 years since the change of regime. The Public Defender of Rights stated that, at the current pace, restitution proceedings in many districts will not be completed for even ten years. There are solutions to this, and land fund managers have space to help people settle their land. 

Money for rural development is targeted at those who want to produce — big farms and small farmers — not speculators. There are many tools to uncover speculators. We just have to start using them. It is time to use money properly and halt the growing gap between several dynamically developing cities and the predominantly stagnant rural areas.

In 1918, together with the Czech nation, we declared our own existence based on the most modern values of the democratic rule of law. In 1944 we faced fascism with the Slovak National Uprising. In 1989, with keys in hand, we expelled totalitarianism and welcomed democracy and freedom.

In the spring of this year, 25 years since the establishment of our state, many have subscribed to value, for which we have long sought a suitable word. Tens of thousands of people have said aloud that, in addition to being independent and democratic, they are searching for a decent Slovak Republic.

Now it is up to us, the politicians, to make the same choice. In order to prevent society’s disintegration as a result of distrust in the state and the ability of politicians to address problems. This means, among other things, returning an honest and sensitive discussion to the public space. Having the courage to talk fairly and honestly about the difficult themes — the Istanbul Convention, the rights of minorities, abortion, the situation of the Roma. We must again occupy a space through which fanatics and extremists are spreading due to the passivity and detachment of political leaders.

It is also the absence of a courageous, honest, and sensitive discussion, which makes the views of different parts of society about the values that the Slovak Republic should stand, are not approximating one another. On the contrary, they are dramatically diverging.  But without building our common identity, we are resigned in our common interest. Without coherence and solidarity, we will search only for short-term goals that will not surprise, nor tempt, moving us nowhere. And a country that cannot move from a place is sentenced to failure.

Slovakia is hungry for something to be proud of. Not a false nationhood, not an aggressive restriction against people of another color, faith or sexual orientation. If the relationship of people to Slovakia is to be defined by love and pride, we have to offer them more than a nice nature and skillful athletes. We need a bond that makes the stories of successful individuals the story of a successful country.

We repeatedly demonstrate that we can work together to remedy the wrong decisions. We organized a rebellion against the regime of the Slovak war state. We defeated Mečiarism that diverted us from the road to the West into the European Union. Last year, we chased fascists from the region of Banská Bystrica. Sometimes it takes time, but Slovakia and its citizens have a gift, which is the privilege of democracy — the will and the ability to remedy the mistakes of the past.

The role of leaders is to lead and to address problems. To inspire people and prepare the country for the future. Represent the values on which the state stands. To help create and maintain a common identity that can be a source of pride in the Slovak Republic. If every one of us is better today than yesterday, our country would be great and glorious. A man who stood a hundred years ago at the head of the struggle for the freedom of Slovakia in Czechoslovakia believed in this. Milan Rastislav Štefánik. He knew that ‘whoever thinks others are fighting for his freedom is not worthy of it.’ This is, ladies and gentlemen, a reference to the most celebrated figure of our modern history.

That is also the biggest challenge we face. Trying to be better than yesterday. Building healthier principles of the Slovak Republic than those we have let corrode after 25 years. In order to be a state whose confidence firmly stands on common achievements.”