Bratislava has fallen under the sweet spell of spring, with fragrant cherry blossoms bidding adieu to the afterthoughts of a mild (non-New Hampshire) winter. However, this welcomed explosion of spring merely serves as a backdrop to the country’s most stunning change in climate:
On March 31, Slovakia elected its first female president. Zuzana Caputová, now affectionately known as “Pani Prezidentka” (Miss President), won the second and final presidential election round with 58.4 percent of votes, beating out her more conservative and politically experienced competitor Maroš Šefcovic.
Caputová is not only the first woman to be elected to the top constitutional post in Slovakia; she’s also the first in the entire Visegrad region, which consists of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.
Cue Beyoncé’s anthem “Run the World (Girls).”
Caputová has had a long and successful career as a lawyer, but her time in politics has been much more brief. Many tried to use this against her, but the relatively unknown lawyer vowed to run a clean and honest campaign; not once did she make a disparaging remark about her competitors.
Furthermore, her liberal attitude reflects the shift in the public’s perspective that occurred following the horrific murders of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, last February, when many realized some serious changes had to be made in Slovak politics. She advocates for LGBT rights and freedom of the press, which many Slovak politicians have tried to limit.
This fantastic role model for young Slovak girls and women is both someone you can imagine having tea with and someone you can count on to represent Slovakia’s interests fairly and honestly in the ultimate playground of power: politics.
Caputová started out as an underdog, but her position in polls kept climbing. After one of her competitors, Robert Mistrík, left the presidential race and announced his support for her, she became the clear favorite. She won the first election on March 16 with 40.57 percent of the vote, after which she faced Šefcovic, who has ties to Slovakia’s strongest and most distrusted party, in the run-off round.
Come June, President-elect Caputová will enter a ring dominated by politicians who have been poisoned with power and corruption, their flippant distaste in decency increasingly apparent. She will lead a country rife with paradoxical politics, where the voices of those who promote honesty and inclusion are often overshadowed by those who confuse hate speech with freedom of expression.
Less than two weeks after she was elected, I found myself weaving through a crowd of angry men in camo (with just a few women in attendance) spewing their hateful rhetoric in protest. Their political party, the far-right L’SNS (neo-Nazis), could very well be deemed unconstitutional in Parliament and subsequently disbanded in the next few days. They openly call Muslims and immigrants “poison” and “rapists” who will jeopardize the sovereignty of Slovakia.
A version of their party was booted out of Parliament several years back. However, they simply reformed under a new party name. Sadly, there are still many in Slovakia who radicalize nationalism and politicize their hate for those who are not like them.
But there are also people like Caputová, sometimes called Slovakia’s Erin Brockovich following her victory in a big case involving illegal landfill dumping in her hometown of Pezinok. She could very well change not only Slovakia for the better but also serve as a positive example for U.S. politics.
In 2019 Slovakia, a woman’s place is in the Presidential Palace. In 2021, I think the White House could be, too.