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Slovakia’s Interior Minister Steps Down After Rows With Police Leadership

Slovakia’s interim Minister of Interior Ivan Simko has stepped down following rows with top police over the management of the force. 

Simko had posted on his Facebook profile that “the police cannot do whatever they wish” earlier in July. Apparently they can.

Simko was removed by Slovak President Zuzana Caputova, who was formally asked to do so by interim Prime Minister Ludovit Odor, who will take over the post.

Caputova appointed the technocratic cabinet in May amid continued political instability in Slovakia, and Odor did not win the confidence vote in the parliament in June. The country is heading for early elections scheduled for September 30.

The dispute illustrates the weakness of the Odor cabinet as well as the difficulty in reforming the police, who were “captured” by the  populist government of Robert Fico in power before 2020 and obstructed investigations against figures close to the ruling Smer party and allies.

“Both parties reached a point at which it was impossible to renew confidence,”  Caputova said of the affair in which several high-ranking police officers refused to serve under Simko and threatened to resign.

Simko told local media that he regrets leaving the ministerial post, which he said was  “because a number of police officers threatened to leave their posts” and that the “president and prime minister decided to address this [issue]” using their powers.

Police President Stefan Hamran said at a press conference that he was hoping to sort out the problematic Facebook post personally with Simko, but that has never happened. Instead, Hamran pointed out Simko’s other posts in which Simko commented on a recent murder in the town of Dubnica nad Vahom.

“When I heard that [Simko] stands by those [posts] and he would do the same in the future, I understood that this cooperation won’t be possible,” Harman told journalists.  

Hamran was criticised by Mikulas Dzurinda, who served as the country’s premier in 1998-2006, and who said that Caputova and Odor were tricked by Hamran and other officers who helped trigger a “media hysteria against their minister”.    

The whole affair was unclearly communicated, Matej Kandrik, head of the think tank Adapt Institute and former editor at online outlet Infosecurity.sk covering security-related topics, told bne Intellinews

Kandrik added that Simko’s Facebook status “did not call for political control over police” but that the incident was quickly spun  by populist politicians as such, including former Prime Minister and leader of OLaNO Igor Matovic, who argued that “Simko wants to control police politically”.

Another populist, Robert Fico, whose Smer-SD is in the lead in opinion polls, had also jumped on the affair using his social media channels and made it part of his long-term aggressive criticism of  Caputova and successive cabinets which have been in power since 2020.

When asked whether the recent rows which led to Simko’s resignation could relate to efforts at dismantling the Fico-era kleptocratic networks in the state administration, Kandrik said that “it is undoubtedly true” that there are pockets of influence from the Smer-era as “you cannot replace everyone in three years.”

He added that “I personally read this [affair] as fuelled by the summer season” when politicians lack attention-grabbing topics and commentators and the media bandwagoned “very quickly”.

Kandrik explained that the pandemic and the war in Ukraine “turned the efforts at cleansing the public administration into mission impossible.” Such reform “would be very difficult to carry out even under stable political affairs and other favourable conditions, and none of these [conditions] were available in Slovakia,” which is still gripped by political turmoil.      

“If you bite into the changes whether in police or in politics in general” you will encounter a response as “these [kleptocratic power] circles view themselves as the state.”

Kandrik concluded that the combination of efforts at cleansing the public administration, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the ongoing investigation of clientelist networks had yielded the situation in which Slovakia is now. Kandrik doesn’t think “it will impact the election campaign in a significant way” as the usual narrative of Fico or Matovic will take place with or without this affair, and  “attacks against the president, the technocratic cabinet, and police have been going on for weeks and months.”  

Source : BNE IntelliNews