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Winter of discontent in Slovakia: Why the new government is already under scrutiny

Winter of discontent in Slovakia: Why the new government is already under scrutiny
Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Julian GOMEZ
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Opposition parties, NGOs, legal experts, journalists and activists have strongly criticised PM Robert Fico and his plans to scrap Slovakia's Special Prosecutor's Office, which is currently handling several cases involving Fico's own party.

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It has taken just a few weeks for the new government in Slovakia to attract an eclectic movement of discontent, gathering not only opposition parties, but also NGOs, legal experts, journalists and different activists from civil society.

Our reporter Julián López went to the very heart of the protests to try to understand exactly what is happening.

Protests against Prime Minister Robert Fico and his plans to scrap the Special Prosecutor's Office have lately gained momentum in Bratislava and other Slovak cities.

The Office deals with high-level corruption and organised crime. It is currently handling several cases involving Mr Fico's own party.

Even the European Commission has raised concerns about the move.

"We are here to show our support and solidarity for democracy and the rule of law. Because basically he (the Prime Minister) is corrupting the judicial system here", one protester said. 

"From the outside we are like the beautiful democratic land in Eastern Europe, but if you look inside, it is polluted with crime and oligarchs. That's why I think it is the black hope of Europe," another added.

Robert Fico became Prime Minister for the fourth time last Autumn leading a coalition of left-wing populists and ultranationalists. Critics say his campaign was rife with pro-Russian, anti-Ukraine, anti-American and anti-immigration rhetoric.

Is Fico's return to power a real threat to democracy in Slovakia?

Slovakia is currently ranked 50th out of 180 countries in the Global Corruption Index -its best position in 10 years, said experts at Zastavme Korupciu -and NGO engaged in the fight against corruption. 

But, Xénia Makarová, an analyst and Zastavme Korupciu spokesperson, added that there is not much to be proud of: "Public corruption in Slovakia happens precisely in the areas that our Foundation focuses on, namely public procurement, conflict of interest of politicians when they put their own interests before the public interest, and corruption."

The Prime Minister has labelled NGOs as "foreign agents, thieves and liars," and the government has proposed rerouting their public funding to pensioners instead. Some of the organisations don't know if and for how long they will be able to continue operating.

Some Slovak journalists also accuse the Prime Minister of calling them "prostitutes, snakes and mad." Euronews tried to reach out to the government, but they repeatedly rejected all our interview requests.

The new government has also sent mixed messages about the war in Ukraine. Prime Minister Fico first said that no more weapons would be sent. He has since tempered that approach, but the some 150,000 Ukrainians living in Slovakia are worried. We met some of them at Mareena NGO, where they learn Slovak to better integrate. 

"I'm a little worried about how far down the list of priorities the topic of Ukrainians and Ukrainian inclusion and integration has gone and will be in the coming years," the NGO's director and co-founder Michaela Pobudová admitted.

Slovakia will soon return to the polls, as Presidential elections have been set for 23 March.

Watch our full report in the video player above.

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