The Shortest of Honeymoons

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Thousands of Slovakians took to the streets in the country’s major cities to protest against the government’s plan to do away with federal investigations into corruption and soften penalties for graft, racketeering and other crimes, the Associated Press reported.

Left-wing populist and pro-Russian Prime Minister Robert Fico wants to scrap the mandate of the special prosecutor’s office for handling these crimes, and return these investigations to regional offices, which have little experience of handling them.

But critics say this plan will weaken and disrupt the legal system, especially because the office in question is still investigating around 1,000 cases.

As a result, peaceful crowds gathered in the capital Bratislava and smaller cities, chanting slogans such as, “We’ve had enough of Fico.”

It is Fico’s fourth stint as Slovakia’s leader, which followed his Smer party’s victory in September’s general election. In 2018, he was ousted after the murder of an investigative journalist – who was also investigating Fico and other members of his circle – which brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets in protests. This case was among those probed by the special prosecutor’s office that the government wants to eliminate, Politico noted.

Before Fico’s return to power, his predecessor had led a purge of high-ranking officials close to Fico, who were charged with corruption or other crimes.

But since September, some elite investigators and police officials who deal with top corruption cases have been dismissed or furloughed. The planned changes in the legal system also include a reduction in punishments for corruption.

The opposition called the government’s proposal a “pro-mafia package,” while President Zuzana Caputova opined that it was contrary to the rule of law. Critics worry it could steer Slovakia towards anti-Western democratic backsliding, and compared Fico to Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

The European Union urged the Slovak justice minister to halt the plan and denounced the government’s use of a fast-track legislative process to vote on the amendments.

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