Slovakia gets its Madam President

, by Michał J. Ekiert

Slovakia gets its Madam President

Zuzana Čaputová has been elected Slovakia’s first female head of state, and one of the first women in the highest office in the Central Europe, notably first in the Visegrád Group. Although it has to be noted that Slovakia experienced a short tenure of a female prime ministership this decade, under Iveta Radičová, Čaputová’s strong personal standing makes her rather more of a ‘self-made’ figure who took the political stage of Slovakia by storm.

She defeated Maroš Šefčovič, a post-communist, Moscow-educated social-democrat Vice-President of the European Commission, albeit quite removed from the typical ideal of a European social democrat. He follows rather right-wing tones in his views on homosexuality and women’s rights. Šefčovič is also openly against the ideal of a federal Europe. Slovakia’s social democrats are known for a social stance very much similar to their nationalist coalition partners’ views, also for the sake of maintaining their lead over the far-right. We have just witnessed a sorry end to their tactic.

Native to the Bratislava region and an alumna of the local university, Čaputová pursued a lifelong career of a progressive lawyer working with the civil society sector, becoming famous especially after a successful anti-landfill litigation. In line with her – as she describes it – open-minded upbringing, she has pursued a kind of political activism that would bring Slovakia closer to the ideal of an open society. In 2017, Čaputová co-founded the Progressive Slovakia Party, a project which can be described as a more successful and durable render of the contemporary .Nowoczesna/Modern project in Poland.

What allowed this liberal, Roma-loving, LGBT-approving, pro-choice female lawyer to gain popularity at a rapid pace, rapidly enough to win the supreme (though mostly ceremonial) office of the country?

The brave message and incredible personal appeal of Čaputová are definitely worth much credit, but the biggest single reason may be the case of the journalist Ján Kuciak, who was murdered with his girlfriend by gangsters connected to the Italian mafia and the circles of Slovak government. This very crisis has totally altered Slovaks’ perspective on their domestic politics. The people demanded change.

And it was for Čaputová to deliver the message the citizens expected. The majority of people in Slovakia has shown that they are fed up with nationalist patheticism and so-called “traditional values” being used as a tool of political leverage. Čaputová was able to run a successful campaign, supported by some opposition parties, and was able to turn herself from a no-name candidate (who faced questions on when she would transfer her support to some other, ‘more serious’ candidate) into a serious player.

The President-elect’s ‘stand up to evil’ message was successful. It has to be noted that it wasn’t the far right that made it to the second round at all. It was a fight between the liberal, progressive, redemptive face of Central Europe, and the mossy and corrupted – albeit fairly centrist for the local environment – establishment.

After her victory, Čaputová greeted her supporters in Slovak, but also in Czech, Hungarian, Ruthenian and Roma languages. She is much in line with figures like Masaryk, Havel and Dubček, standing up for the best of what is left of the transgressing spirit of the post-Czechoslovak land.

While Čaputová’s new role is highly ceremonial, her electoral success gives hope for quite a different Slovakia after next year’s parliamentary election, a hope she frequently expressed herself. Therefore, her election may have marked a beginning of a new era for this inconspicuous country.

Slovakia is an example that, as an old Hussite motto says, in the end, it is the truth that prevails. Pravda víťazí. It is for us to hope that Čaputová’s success turns into a stable trend, and that she can serve as an example to the activists in other European countries, bringing a pan-continental progressive spring to life.

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