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Slovakia’s First Female President Was An Environmental Activist.

Updated: Oct 5, 2019

Nature and Environmental Writer: Katie Byng-Hall Investigates The Rise Of Slovakia's First Female Leader

Photo by Bálint Kulcsár | Taken at High Tantras, Slovakia

On 15th June 2019, Zuzana Čaputová was elected Slovakia’s first female president. At 45 years old, she is also the youngest person to become president, and she aptly brings a range of progressive ideas to the role.

Before becoming president, Čaputová was a lawyer and environmental activist. She supports LGBTQ+ rights and reproductive rights, and she focuses on enforcing an anti-corruption ideology. Her role is mainly ceremonial, but she can block motions and appoint top judges as well as being the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. With this power, she hopes to eliminate the corruption that has been rife in Slovakia for many years, and implement a fairer justice system.

Progress for the Progressive

Slovakia has been a typically conservative country for decades, but Čaputová’s win in the election by 58.4% of the vote reflects a shift away from populism and religious conservatism, and towards pragmatism and sensible policies. Her popularity among voters can be mainly ascribed to her vow to “stand up to evil” within her country, meaning that she wants to undermine the political and legal corruption which was allowed to occur under the previous president, Andrej Kiska, and which caused outrage among many Slovakian citizens.

Her appointment is also significant progress for women in Slovakia. They are currently ranked 83rd out of 149 countries included in the Global Gender Gap Report 2018, rated especially poorly regarding women’s participation in politics.

Čaputová’s leadership could spell advancement for women’s status in the country as a whole.

Erin Brokovich of Slovakia

Čaputová’s leadership could also bring improvement in the country’s approach to the environment, as she has been an environmental activist for many years. In 2016, she won the Goldman Prize for an environmental campaign she spearheaded.

Her work led to the closing of a toxic waste dump near her hometown of Pezinok. The waste was poisoning surrounding soil, air and water, and also caused acceleration of certain diseases in the nearby area, including one type of leukaemia which rose to eight times the national average.

This work has since encouraged similar environmental activism in the country, and has earned her the honorary title of the “Erin Brokovich of Slovakia”.

European Environmentalism

Čaputová’s election reflects a Europe-wide trend of increasing support for environmentally conscious candidates. Since the European elections earlier in 2019, 70 out of the 751 MEPs in the European Parliament belong to the Green party, up from 51 in the previous Parliament. In Britain alone, Green candidates received 12.5% of the vote in the European election. More pressure on nationwide authorities to take notice of environmental crises could be enough to kickstart some much-needed progress.

Like Sven Giegold, a senior German MEP, says, concern about climate change now has to be “no longer just symbolic, but concrete”. Zuzana Čaputová’s presidency could be a step towards this becoming a reality.

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