Juraj Seliga – John Jay Fellow, Fall 2015
A Decent Slovakia
Juraj Seliga completed the John Jay Fellowship in the fall of 2015. Today he stands at the crossroads of history.
Seliga is one of the cofounders of “A Decent Slovakia.” Founded in March of 2018, this initiative is bringing radical, historical, and necessary changes to the CE republic.
A native Slovakian lawyer and frequent contributor to the journal SME*, Seliga studied political science and legal philosophy. He never imagined how tangibly he would see the outworking of these philosophical studies come to fruition.
* From Wikipedia: “SME or Denník SME (in English: WE ARE Daily) is one of the most widely read mainstream broadsheets in Slovakia. Their website, SME.sk, is one of the most visited Internet portals in Slovakia.
On February 21, 2018, Slovakian investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova, were murdered in their home, 50 kilometers east of Bratislava. The murder changed the lives of many—Seliga included—and would ultimately alter the political landscape and begin the process of tearing down a culture of corruption. Seliga recalls the momentous day that led him to organize the largest peaceful protest in Slovakia since the Velvet Revolution:
“I believe that Kuciak was a national prophet. His final, unfinished, (posthumously published) piece investigated a connection between the Slovakian government and the Italian mafia operating in the eastern portion of the country. He was unmasking corruption and so they murdered him. The entire nation was shocked. After the murders, we organized an assembly and lighting of candles to pay tribute. We chose a location in the center of Bratislava—the Square of the Slovak National Uprising—and lit candles beneath a memorial plaque to the Velvet Revolution.”
The turnout was remarkable—over 500 people attended the first assembly and many more lit candles in front of the ktuality.sk newsroom where Jan Kuciak worked.
Still recovering from years of communism and oppression, Slovakians have long been aware of some degree of political corruption, but this was the last straw. When the mafia connection to the government and the prime minister’s close colleagues became public, the people would no longer sit idly by.
“We knew that we couldn’t stop there. The murders were not simply a tragedy—they were an outrage. So, we organized a memorial march. Almost 135,000 people took to the streets in Bratislava and 55 other Slovak cities. Slovak people living in foreign countries joined the movement, organizing smaller gatherings in their city squares around the world.”
The demonstrations were described by the New York Times as “the largest in central Europe since the fall of communism.” Yet, the manner in which they were carried out—peacefully—is significant. These weeks of protests by thousands of people were characterized by a complete lack of violence and crime. ‘Decent’ is indeed the appropriate word to describe the work of “A Decent Slovakia.”
Moreover, the surge of pressure from the streets eventually forced the resignation of three of the country’s most powerful men: Prime Minister Fico, Interior Minister Robert Kalinak, and Police Chief Tibor Gaspar.
“During this process we realized that, though we were able to effect change through the city square, real, lasting change would have to come through elections.”
Seliga and his colleagues began organizing activities to endorse worthy candidates, motivate voters, and lead a campaign for election to the EU Parliament. And Slovak citizens are responding. They realize that they are the source of power in a democratic nation, and they are calling for change.
Juraj is quick to explain how vital the John Jay Institute was in preparing him for this unexpected role:
“We are attempting to formulate a new political culture. At John Jay, we read deeply about democracy, but now I have a chance to live it out in a real life. Because of my time at John Jay, I have been able to articulate and communicate what democracy is really about, and how we might function better than we did in the past. Everything is linked to the readings and to the atmosphere of understanding freedom, as we studied in the Institute.
The second vital (and surprising) takeaway from my experience as a Fellow is an understanding of how to behave and interact in certain social settings, e.g., in my meetings with the prime minister and the delegations. One of the five component of the John Jay program is hospitality. Those experiences gave me the experience, confidence, and protocol for communicating properly in such situations.”
Democracy is based on the power of the community. When Seliga and his colleagues founded “A Decent Slovakia,” they knew from the start how critical fostering a sense of community would be. The success of the movement was due, not simply to the protests in Bratislava, but the greater movement that was taking place across the country and around the globe. For, Seliga, this put the truths he read at John Jay into focus:
“There are many different people, many different communities. We have to find a way to talk to each other, to pinpoint our common goal and common purpose, and in the process, be sensitive to each other. This is something that I experienced at John Jay; I learned on a smaller scale what would, in turn, serve me well this last year. I come from a Christian family and lived in an active community. But at John Jay, we were given the opportunity to discuss many different topics through the lens of Christianity. We are standing on the same spot, only with some differences.”
True politics must be done in service to the people, by means of reaching the community with the promise of principled leadership—a tenet of what Fellows learn at the John Jay Institute. Seliga believes that, though this principle is important for all nations, it is especially true for Slovakia in this transition.
“A greater understanding of principled leadership as taught at the John Jay Institute is one of the greatest gifts I received during my time as a Fellow; we were taught how to think about service, politics, and public institutions and were taught to ask what their purpose is. By what means can we achieve them and fulfill their purpose for the service of the people?”
In the past few months, Seliga met with the President of the Slovak Republic, who is founding the new political party. Together, they met with the European Union Commissioner and with members of Parliament.
Slovakia’s future can’t be determined, but Seliga is certain of one thing:
“All that has happened here in Slovakia is a miracle of mercy. I recently met the leader of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. She told me that they were able to maintain peaceful protests for three weeks. She and so many others were amazed at our ability to do this peacefully for so many months. This truly showed me what an important role the John Jay Institute has in shaping my story. As the founder of John Jay once said to me, ‘If you have faith, you will do it right. God will do something; just go, obey, and do something.’”
Young men and women come to the John Jay Institute to develop and nurture a vision for principled leadership. Like Juraj, they receive intellectual, spiritual, and cultural training to impact society for Christ’s sake. The John Jay Institute is grateful for the example of Juraj Seliga in the outworking of this vision—bringing the teachings of the fellowship to mark out change for a nation, all for the glory of God.