For the sake of good choice: To make your mum understand

3 800 signatures on the appeal, various media releases and intense public communication of Via Iuris exerted much needed social pressure preventing Štefan Harabin’s re-election. We have learned more about successful campaign and responds to it from Milan Šagát from Via Iuris.

How did the idea of organising campaign occur to you and why did you decide to go down that road?

It is true that For the sake of good choice had been our first major campaign in jurisdiction field. Since we are a group of legal experts fighting for public interests in judiciary, we used to be more focused on producing analysis, draft legislation and its consequent advocacy. The contents of our job is hard to grasp and explain to broad public. And at one moment, we realised that change is attainable and far more reachable if we focus all our activities and support on one spot.

Apart from producing legal analytical expertise we decided to organise an information campaign. We started to explain to people how jurisdiction influences their lives and encourage them to sign up the appeal to the Judicial Council and send it. As part of campaign, we created an explanatory webpage, we made one short video discussion and another short film on our ill-natured justice; we tried to explain to people in more comprehensible and popular manner that these things matter in their lives. The result was pleasing. According to our survey performed by Fokus agency, 60% of people knew about the actual elections of the Supreme Court’s Chairman. After the second round of presidential elections, it was difficult to attract attention of public, however, everything turned out well, finally. People noticed that elections are taking place and public pressure was strong. Štefan Harabin did not win, after all.

Was it important for you to carry out the campaign because you perceive people’s lack of interest in this topic?

For the most part, we understood that change will not be possible without increasing public awareness, first. Citizens have had a negative perception of judiciary for a long time. Slovakia has had the lowest rate of trust among European countries and judiciary is not working well. I believe it was a synergy of this kind of things. The NGO Support Programme, specifically its part on Democracy and Human Rights, helped us to carry out abovementioned public polls along with a targeted survey among judges, i.e. we were trying to incorporate as many tools as possible.

Did you find out anything surprising?

I can sincerely say that results of elections and public interest really surprised me. I had been wrong to assume that judiciary is an underground topic, but the fact that 60% of people actually knew about the elections and that 300 000 citizens watched commented elections on-line at, took me by surprise.

Our campaign was different and its aim was not to defeat one single person. We were seeking positive legacy communicating mainly values and principles. Somewhere along the way, that proved to be a good strategy, when it started to be clear, that there is more than just one candidate.

Naturally, when they asked us, who we would vote for, we said clearly: we would not vote for candidates who fail to meet professional and personal requirements, which are internationally defined, accepted and respected. That means clear no for Štefan Harabin, too.

Did you work along the agency and other consultants on a similar campaign for the first time? What kind of experience was it for your agency?

I may be repeating myself, but we are an expert organisation. Lawyers think and express themselves in a different way, we engage ourselves in different activities such as strategic litigations and analytical stuff. It meant a challenge for us, but we felt it was important and we needed to find ways in which we could bring the topic closer to people. In other words, to make your mum understand that things happening in judicial system do actually affect her everyday life. On the other hand, we wanted no sensation to be made of this topic. We always wanted the flair of Via Iuris to be present there. All in all, I can say that the experience of working with SCR agency was very positive.

What could happen now, if people cease to pay attention to jurisdiction?

We definitely want to carry on with campaign since Supreme Court’s Chairman had not been elected in May. At the mean time, we are waiting for the names of candidates, we are discussing the topic with people from business environment, media, civil society and we keep explaining to them what we have done and what can they do. We try to motivate others to pay attention to the topic.

Author: Michaela Kučová 12.08.2014