“I want to be the voice of those who are not heard…I’m not here to rule, I’m here to serve.”
Zuzana Čaputová was born in 1973 in Bratislava, then Czechoslovakia. She grew up in a middle-class family near Bratislava. She graduated at the Faculty of Law and soon after that started her career in Open Society Foundation, focusing on the issue of abused and exploited children. She continued to work as a lawyer for civic organization Via Iuris and as an activist. She became firstly known as an activist and forefront of public campaign against the toxic landfill that would aggravate pollution and potentially endanger health of citizens. After 14 years of fighting against the most powerful people in Slovakia, as for example, businessman Marián Kočner now charged with ordering the murder of the Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak, she won the case. For her success, she won the Goldman Environmental Prize and her fight has been often compared to the fight of the American Erin Brockovich.
In 2017, she joined a newly established political party Progressive Slovakia and in 2018 she announced her candidacy for the president of the Slovak republic. Her campaign was something unseen up till that point in the Slovak political culture. She stood up for unpopular and rejected issues in Slovakia and openly, calmly and with expertise presented her opinions. She fully supported LGBTQ rights, equality, reproductive rights, the Istanbul Convention. Although she brought up a lot of liberal opinions in a very conservative region, she was elected as the youngest and the first female president in the history of Slovakia.
Although Čaputová has been president for only one year, she became a very important figure not only in Slovakia but also in Europe. She brought a positive light and international recognition for Slovakia and to the whole Visegrad region (Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland), which is in a human rights crisis nowadays. She has experienced a lot of successful foreign visits, for example, with the president of France Emmanuel Macron or with Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. Furthermore, she was awarded as The European Personality of the Year and won the European Prize for Political Culture.
Although she is still very vocal when it comes to equality and women´s rights, she has a difficult time with her competencies to protect the rights of women and minorities against the very conservative Slovak parliament. Slovakia repeatedly rejects the ratification of Istanbul Convention and while Čaputová is doing everything in her power, she is not succeeding in this process. However, she tries to bring awareness to the issue of violence against the women and children as much as she can. During the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, she met with the representatives from non-governmental organizations devoted to the prevention and solving of the violence against women and children. She openly condemned all forms of violence claiming that: “We must overcome ideological disputes, lock ourselves together and condemn together the violence we face in our society, as well as creating prejudices from which it is very close to violence.” During the coronavirus crisis, she spread awareness about rising numbers of violence. She appeared on the most watched TV station in Slovakia where she discussed violence against women and children during coronavirus pandemic. In addition, in the Presidential palace, she created the space for discussion between non-governmental activists and police forces in order to prevent and solve violence and fully supported their development of an app for women in violent households which can help them call for help more effectively and safely. Moreover, she publicly supported several campaigns against violence, for example campaign Zastavme násilie na ženách (Let’s stop violence against women). It is the first time in history of Slovakia, when president recognizes the work of non-governmental institutions that seek to eliminate violence and help women and children.
Zuzana Čaputová is a symbol that with an open mind, kind heart and hard work, we all can be a positive force for change, also in an adverse environment.
Written by Mária Trubanová, WAVE Intern