Slovaks turn out in droves to protest Fico government's penal code overhaul

  • Slovaks once again turned out by the thousands on Thursday to protest a planned penal code reform by the nation’s populist government.
  • Chants of “Mafia, mafia,” and “We’ve had enough of [Prime Minister Robert] Fico,” filled the streets of Bratislava and several other major municipalities across the Eastern European nation.
  • Fico’s plan, which includes the dismantlement of Slovakia’s special prosecutors’ office and reduced corruption penalties, has been slammed by opponents as overreaching and dictatorial.

Thousands of people took to the streets of major cities in Slovakia on Thursday to renew their protests against plans by the new government of populist Prime Minister Robert Fico to amend the country’s penal code.

The changes proposed by the three-party coalition government include abolishing the special prosecutors’ office, which handles serious crimes such as graft, organized crime and extremism.

Those cases would be taken over by prosecutors in regional offices, which haven’t dealt with such crimes for 20 years.

PROTESTS RAGE ON OVER SLOVAK GOVERNMENT’S PLAN TO AMEND PENAL CODE

About 20,000 protesters condemned the plan at a central square in Bratislava, according to police cited by local media.

Michal Šimečka, head of the liberal Progressive Slovakia, the strongest opposition party, was one of them.

“You’re making the same mistake as any other unsuccessful dictator,” Šimečka said in a message to Fico.

“You underestimate the desire of people for freedom and justice,” Šimečka said.

“Mafia, mafia,” and “We’ve had enough of Fico,” the crowd repeatedly chanted.

Slovakia penal code protest

Citizens protest planned amendments to the Slovak penal code in Bratislava, Slovakia, Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (Jaroslav Novak/TASR via AP)

The legislation approved by Fico’s government needs parliamentary and presidential approval. The three-party coalition has a majority to override an expected veto by President Zuzuana Čaputová.

Čaputová said she was also willing to use a constitutional challenge to the legislation. It’s unclear how the Constitutional Court might rule.

Fico returned to power for the fourth time after his scandal-tainted leftist party won Slovakia’s Sept. 30 parliamentary election on a pro-Russia and anti-American platform.

His critics worry that his return could lead Slovakia to abandon its pro-Western course and instead follow the direction of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Since Fico’s government came to power, some elite investigators and police officials who deal with top corruption cases have been dismissed or furloughed. The planned changes in the legal system also include a reduction in punishments for corruption.

Under the previous government, which came to power in 2020 after campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket, dozens of senior officials, police officers, judges, prosecutors, politicians and businesspeople linked to Fico’s party have been charged and convicted of corruption and other crimes.

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From the first relatively small protest of several hundred on Dec. 7 in Bratislava, the anti-government rallies have spread to 19 towns and cities.

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