President delivers State of Republic Address to Parliament

President delivers State of Republic Address to Parliament

Slovakia is experiencing the most perilous times in terms of security in its modern history, and the war in Ukraine has called into question all the principles of European security and become the greatest threat to peace in Europe, said President Zuzana Caputova in her State of the Republic address to parliament on Tuesday. The president expressed appreciation for the contribution provided by Slovakia's membership of the EU and NATO, and for the fact that the majority of government officials, MPs and the public have taken the right side in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, namely the side of Slovak interests, the condemnation of aggression, respect for state sovereignty and assistance to those fleeing the war.

The president pointed out that Slovakia has long been a target of hybrid warfare. "Many still believe that disinformation and conspiracies are just a product of modern times and a phenomenon of social networks and the internet. Unfortunately, this is not the case - a massive part of it is caused by targeted propaganda," she remarked. According to Caputova, the aim of the hybrid war in Slovakia is to undermine Slovak institutions and trust in democracy, to wrest Slovakia away from the West and bring it back under the Russian sphere of influence. "In our ability to distinguish facts from lies, we are among the worst of all states in our region," stressed the president, while acknowledging that there has already been a response to this from some ministries and the police. However, even this, according to her, will not be enough if the existence of these threats isn't recognised across the board and if there is no appropriate response.

The President also appealed for people not to judge or condemn all doctors in general for the failures of individuals. "I've met several doctors who have resigned, and according to their very detailed explanations, I have no reason to doubt the honesty of their proposals, which went beyond their personal interests. Everywhere, even among doctors, we find people who fail in human or professional terms. However, let's not allow ourselves to judge or even condemn doctors across the board, based on possible failures by individuals. We mustn't feed a new wave of hatred in society against people, the vast majority of whom have been providing quality service to patients for years," stressed the head of state.
According to the president, it's been known for a long time that in order to improve the quality and availability of health care, a reduction in staff fluctuation, higher salaries, better equipment and education of new health-care workers are all necessary. "Postponing a solution, last-minute negotiations and frequently changed conditions have turned this situation into a drama," she said.

The President also stated that justice must abandon its long-standing underestimation of verbal attacks, condemning pressure on the law-enforcement authorities as well as verbal attacks and threats against journalists. Caputova noted that verbal attacks cannot be viewed through the lens of a few years ago, when the public dissemination of information was the domain of the regulated press and broadcasters, arguing that social media have completely changed the situation. "If we want to protect society, the time has come for all relevant institutions to focus their efforts on the judicious use of the rules that are already in place. If we don't protect democracy, we may be the last generation to experience it," she opined.
The president pointed to the fact that judges, prosecutors and investigators are also targets of intimidation and hate attacks, which, in some cases, are encouraged by political representatives. "If a judge faces threats for his or her properly reasoned decision and has to seek police protection, the legitimate level of criticism has been far exceeded," she noted, adding that verbal attacks and threats against journalists are unacceptable as well. "Today, it is even more evident that even words are a weapon; they hurt, they inflict harm. Yet many people recklessly flood the [discourse] space with hatred, which mobilises others to hate as well," remarked the president.
On this note, Caputova called for an end to hatred within society, warning that it doesn't come without consequences, as it creates a precondition for materialisation in the form of physical attacks. "A few weeks ago, just a few metres from [Parliament], it cost the lives of two innocent young people," she said, referring to the shooting outside a gay bar that claimed the lives of two people in October.

The energy crisis will pose of the greatest challenges to tackle in the next year, the President also stated in her address. "Slovakia has diversified its energy supplies quite successfully and there's no imminent danger of shortage in the upcoming heating season. Significant energy savings have been made. Without compensation measures, however, the transfer of the soaring energy prices from European markets into retail prices for consumers and firms would have led to the collapse in economy and social contract. It's good, therefore, that the Government unveiled a scheme of support for businesses and is completing the support for households," said Caputova. Despite this, however, even with the compensation measures in place, some households will still find themselves in danger of poverty. Caputova believes that these groups should be helped with targeted aid, such as the housing subsidies.
The President however perceives the energy crisis as an opportunity to use introduce more long-term use of renewable energy sources.

Apart from MPs, Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OLaNO) and several ministers are present in the chamber. This is the third time that Caputova has delivered a State of the Republic address in Parliament during her tenure, the last time being in September 2021.

Varying reactions to President’s address in Parliament

According to former coalition member and SaS party leader Richard Sulik the President’s address confirmed that the incumbent government has lost its raison d'etre. "The President unequivocally named how and where the government has failed. This is clearly indicated by the erosion of public trust in the state and her comment that if the Government of Eduard Heger is unable to govern, then the people should have a snap election and elect their Parliament anew," said Sulik. According to Sulik, the President's speech captured well the prevailing moods in society, such as the spreading of hatred, increasing poverty and governance destructive to the country.

According to OLaNO caucus chair Michal Sipos the President mentioned some things in her State of the Republic address truthfully and slightly "forgot" about some others. According to Sipos, it's easy for the President to criticise when she doesn't have real power and responsibility in her hands. At the same time, Sipos welcomed the President's statement that a provisional budget would have been a loss for Slovakia.

Opposition Hlas-SD leader Peter Pellegrini stated at a press conference on Tuesday that he expected the head of state to use a harsher tone. "We could have been more resolute and trenchant. I guarantee that the majority of the people would have welcomed it because she would finally be speaking their language," he said. Pellegrini praised the fact that the President touched on the poverty of the people and insufficient aid, as well as her hint that a snap election might be one of the solutions.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OLaNO) praised the fact that President Zuzana Caputova appealed for the adoption of the state budget for next year in her State of the Republic address. The premier agrees with the head of state that Slovakia is facing hybrid threats that it wasn't prepared to deal with. According to him, populism in particular contributes to the polarisation of society. "Society is strongly polarised. We can look for the causes in the crises that we have been going through over the past two years. However, populism mainly contributes to polarisation, which, although it's part of the political struggle, its use today represents a gamble with negative sentiments. This is where I see our joint role with Ms. President, so that we can work together to change for the better," said Heger.

The prime minister noted that he perceives the president's address in the context of the fact that its purpose is to provide a critical view of current events in the country. "However, the president also praised the fundamental reforms that we managed to adopt in the areas of health care, education, the judiciary and nature conservation. She also highlighted the quality of Slovakia's Recovery and Resilience Plan, which is a key source of the country's recovery after the pandemic," he stated. (TASR)

Ben Pascoe, Photo: TASR

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