Reminding the public of equal rights for all
In the most colorful watchdog activity of the month, four Slovak organizations organized the Rainbow PRIDE Bratislava 2013 march second half of Septembermarch. The watchdogs’ goal was increase the visibility of the non-heterosexual community and to draw attention to need for all people to enjoy equal rights regardless of their sexual orientation. In preparing the event, Oueer Leaders Forum, Initiative Otherness, Nomantinels Theatre and TRANSfusion reminded Slovakia of the right to non-discrimination based on grounds such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, as set out in Article 21 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the Europen Union. The organizers praised the event for good attendence and great atmosphere. Most importantly, no security incidents occured, unlike in some previous years.
Speaking out for freedom of the press
Tom Nicholson, founder of NGO Underneath the Surface and a famous independent journalist alerted to a controversial formulation of Slovak press legislation. Nicholson, who is working as an independent had been asked to a hearing by the Ministry of the Interior, where he refused to divulge the source of documents used for one of his stories. He argued that press legislation mandated he was obligated to protect the identity of his sources. However, he was by a Ministry official asked to prove that he was, in fact, a journalist. Following up on his hearing, Nicholson found out that Slovak press legislation merely protects publishers, their employees, and people who have entered into contract with them for the purpose of providing information. He argues, that this is un unhappy formulation. In fact, he stated, a ‘broader interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights applies to all who work and identify themselves as journalists.’ Nicholson thus raised the point that the formulation of Slovak legislation results in poor protection of journalists’ sources and infringes on the freedom of the press.
In an article published in mid-September, the IVO Institute for Public Affairs exercised its expert function when it analyzed the way the Hungarian minority is used in the public discourse in Slovakia. The article followed an IVO survey mentioned in the August report, which pointed out that Slovak citizens are dangerously prone to conspiration theories. In the new analysis, IVO warnes that relations with certain nations and states and their interpretation by opinion leaders may strengthen conspiration views in the society. The long and complicated relation of Slovaks with Hungarian is a prime example. IVO argues that Slovaks’ misconceptions about their Hungarian compatriots as well as nationalist politicians fuel the idea that Hungary and Hungarians are attempting to meddle in Slovak affairs. The watchdog conceded, that Slovak-Hungarian relations are currently significantly better than in 2006-2010, at the time of the first government led by the current prime minister Robert Fico. However, the watchdog argues, the danger that the ‘Hungarian question‘ will be used to win votes in elections, remains high.
Watchdogs intervene to ensure environmental protection and public participation
Watchdogs Via Iuris and Slatinka intervened for the public’s greater say in environmental issues concerning water. The organizations managed to have their proposals included into a legislation amendment proposal, which is currently being prepared by the Ministry of the Environment. As a result, the public should be able to sue in court if unlawful rulings are made based on water legislation. Furthermore, the public should be better informed about new construction of waterworks. To draw attention to their proposals, Via Iuris and Slatinka organized a petition, which was eventually signed by more than 900 people. Consquently, the watchdogs were invited to advocate their proposals in direct negotiations with the Ministry of the Environment and succeeded on several points. The amendment was to be discussed by the government at the end of September. In this way the watchdogs intervened for greater environmental protection, as guaranteed in Article 37 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Greenpeace Slovakia intervened to ensure that the public may be represented when decisions are taken on the construction of a two blocks of Slovakia’s Mochovce nuclear power-plant. Similarly to Slatinka and Via Iuris, it may be argued, that Greenpeace Slovakia acted in support of Article 37. The intervention followed last month’s development, when the Slovak Constitutional Court ruled that Greenpeace Slovakia had been unlawfully excluded from the authorization process for the construction and that the process would have to be started anew. As a result, Greenpeace argued, the construction should be halted immediately. Following the Court’s decision, the Nuclear Regulatory Authority of the Slovak Republic ruled that there would be no delay and the construction should go on as planned. Greenpeace called the decision unlawful. To ensure public participation in the process, the watchdog appealed to the General Prosecutor’s Office in the first half of September, asking for the general prosecutor to protest the Authority’s decision.
This text is a result of a research prepared within the project “Powerful Watchdogs” supported by a grant from Switzerland through the Swiss Contribution to the enlarged European Union. The report aims to show the up-to-date information regarding activity of watchdog organizations in a given country. The author refers to the classification on watchdog functions, to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the international concepts of the transparent governance.