Caputova: Slovak president is outsider, environmental lawyer

Laszlo Juhasz
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Caputova, reviewing the guard of honour during her inauguration ceremony, compaigned under the slogan "Stand up to evil" yet the community activist had previously been largely unknown

Caputova, reviewing the guard of honour during her inauguration ceremony, compaigned under the slogan "Stand up to evil" yet the community activist had previously been largely unknown (AFP Photo/VLADIMIR SIMICEK)

Bratislava (AFP) - Slovak government critic Zuzana Caputova, who on Saturday was sworn in as the EU member's first female president, is an environmental lawyer and anti-corruption activist.

"I did not come to rule, I came to serve the citizens and residents of Slovakia," the 45-year-old said in her inauguration speech.

The community activist whose campaign slogan was "Stand up to evil" was largely unknown before she launched her presidential bid in the eurozone member of 5.4 million people.

She won the March election with 58 percent of the ballot thanks in part to voter disillusionment with the governing coalition a year after an investigative journalist's murder plunged the country into crisis.

Caputova was among the tens of thousands of protesters who took to the streets after journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova were gunned down at home in February 2018.

Kuciak was about to publish a report on alleged ties between Slovak politicians and the Italian mafia and associated irregularities in EU farm subsidy payments.

The premier at the time, Robert Fico, was forced to resign but he remains the leader of the ruling Smer-SD party and is a close ally of current Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini.

- Outsider -

Caputova, who gave up her membership in the non-parliamentary party Progressive Slovakia before the presidential run-off, has vowed to fight for justice for all.

Following the election, her party skyrocketed in polls and currently ranks second after Smer-SD.

"In the eyes of voters, she is a response to our current problems," analyst Grigorij Meseznikov told AFP.

Analysts compare Caputova to French President Emmanuel Macron, a fellow outsider who swept to power in 2017 on a reformist agenda.

Caputova has a gift for rhetoric and was endorsed by outgoing liberal president Andrej Kiska as well as Jozef Kuciak, the slain journalist's brother.

She is pro-choice and promotes greater rights for same-sex couples, arguing that a child "would be better off with two loving beings of the same sex" than having to grow up in an orphanage.

Caputova considers her greatest disadvantage to be her lack of knowledge in the field of defence and security.

"I will have to rely on my advisors when it comes to those topics," she said on the campaign trail, adding: "Also, punctuality is not my strong suit."

- Landfill lawyer -

Born in the capital Bratislava on June 21, 1973, Caputova spent her early years in the nearby town of Pezinok.

After studying law at Bratislava's Comenius University, she joined Via Iuris, a leading Slovak legal advocacy organisation.

There, she spearheaded a successful campaign to block a waste dump site proposed for her native Pezinok that would have been the size of 12 football fields.

For 14 years the town's residents fought against the planned landfill, with Caputova organising what was dubbed the largest mobilisation of citizens since the 1989 Velvet Revolution -- the peaceful uprising that toppled the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

In 2013, the Slovak Supreme Court ruled in favour of the residents and annulled the authorisation to build the landfill.

The case also prompted the Court of Justice of the European Union to lay down rules requiring public access to urban planning decisions concerning projects that affect the environment.

"This story from small-town Slovakia has actually had an important international impact," Caputova later said.

Caputova won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, the world's top award for grassroots environmental activism, for her efforts.

The English-speaker lists drawing, basketball, hiking and swimming among her hobbies.

She is divorced and has two teenage daughters. Her current partner is a musician and photographer.