-OpEd-

With Zuzana Čaputová, Slovakia enters the world political stage as a bearer of hope. Nothing similar has happened in Central Europe since Václav Havel became president of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution.

Čaputová, who is liberal and pro-European, won the election in Slovakia by a clear margin becoming the country's first female president. It is a major shake-up — one that was overdue and comes from a nation that is largely fed up with its politicians; a nation that held regular protests against corruption and abuse of power; a nation that distrusted a prime minister and ministers with connections to criminal networks. One of them is even charged with the murder of a journalist and his fiancé.

Now, the rebelling citizens have succeeded in electing a head of state who challenges certain established ideas in Catholic-influenced Slovakia: A 45-year-old divorced woman with two teenage girls; a lawyer with no political experience who is both realistic and friendly and is committed to protecting the environment, minorities, and other marginalized populations. She touched many with her honesty and openness. Others she convinced with reasoned arguments.

Is Slovakia, with its 5.5 million inhabitants, facing a new upheaval 30 years after the Velvet Revolution? Čaputová promises fairness, justice and decency. Everything indicates that she is serious. She has already struck a new, softer tone without personal attacks, without controversy. Fans and commentators now often repeat Václav Havel's sentence: "Truth and love triumph over lies and hatred."

There are overwhelmingly high expectations.

Indeed, Čaputová says she's inspired by the legendary late president and has become a role model in the neighboring Czech Republic. A new, clean generation of Slovaks should now seize the opportunity to fulfill Havel's legacy. It is in their hands to finally leave behind the authoritarian state and political aberrations and to work towards a fairer, more democratic political system.

There are overwhelmingly high expectations of the new head of state. Her supporters hope that she will put an end to the era of Robert Fico, who was forced to resign as prime minister a year ago but continues to pull the strings as the leader of the Direction - Social Democracy (SMER-SD) ruling party. Now Fico wants to extend his influence by becoming president of the Constitutional Court. As president, Čaputová will not agree. She wants to use all, albeit small, opportunities to introduce a new style of politics, which should also rub off on the government.

Still, hope for change is tempered by the turnout: Only 42% of voters showed up to the polls. The fact that the approximately one million Slovaks living abroad could not vote is only part of the explanation. Obviously, the spirit of optimism that emanates from Čaputová and the Progressive Slovakia movement still has not yet reached many corners. Convincing more citizens that change is possible will be the new president's biggest task. Her election does not yet translate into real change. But it is a clear and encouraging signal for a new beginning.


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