In Slovakia, many organizations were in denial, saying there was no real threat” – Milan Sagat, Executive Director of Via Iuris

Slovakia has long been known for having a relatively open and liberal climate for civil society actors. Over the past two years however, organizations have been under attack. Civitates, has funded a new coalition to reverse this trend.

Milan Sagat is the executive director ofVIA IURIS, the organization with which Slovakia’s first female and recently inaugurated president Zuzana Caputova worked for more than 15 years. VIA IURIS is leading a new coalition of civil society actors in Slovakia.

What is the current playing field for civic organizations in Slovakia?
Two years ago we saw signals that civil society in Slovakia might be under attack. At that time, many organizations were in denial. They said that there was no real threat, and that what happened in other countries would never happen in Slovakia. But then investigative journalist Jan Kuciak was murdered last year. This was followed by massive demonstrations organized by activists.  Civil society became a target of hate speech and conspiracy theories, also in the political mainstream. Now the general perception among civic organizations has changed.

Is this all still topical with the new president in place?
Despite the election of a president who will fully support and protect civil society, I am quite realistic. Although her voice will be heard in the public discourse, the power of the president is limited. The parliamentary elections that take place in March 2020 will deal with the division of executive power. The new government could then make it really difficult for civic organizations to operate.

In January, Civitates supported VIA IURIS in the formation of a coalition of civic organizations in Slovakia. How far have you come since then?
We had already received a small amount of funding from Civitates last year to draft the roadmap. So when we started in January, the plan was ready. Now, a few months later, the coalition is almost formalized. We expect to start off with 20 to 30 members with different backgrounds from all over the country. The plan is to launch the platform in the autumn, as we still need to brainstorm with some creative people about the brand.

Is there anything in the process that inspired you, made you feel excited?
Having a group of organizations work together to defend the framework for civil society is like a dream come true for me. The creative work is really exciting and the prospective members are very engaged. They are not simply joining a formal platform; they have an honest and emotional interest in the issue.

What is your personal motivation to do this work?
I strongly believe in solidarity. It’s obvious that we are stronger together. Solidarity is a key value; we saw this in the cases of Hungary and Poland. It’s a pragmatic decision to work together to defend ourselves, but at the same time I think that the sole value of solidarity can really make our democracy stronger in the end.

What is your dream for Slovakia?
I just want Slovakia to be a normal country, governed decently. A place where I want to raise my kids. I feel that the work we do with VIA IURIS and the coalition enables this, and I am happy to be part of this mission.