We are delivering the winter issue of the online journal V4 Human Rights Review, which provides information on the developments in the areas of human rights and democracy in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia.

We bring you an interview with Mr Pavol Žilinčík, who is a member of the Judicial Council in Slovakia. His professional focus is on safeguarding judicial independence and strengthening the accountability of the judiciary. How does he evaluate the developments in Slovakia and other V4 countries?

Jana Šikorská then informs us about the new pact of the four capital cities - Budapest, Warsaw, Bratislava and Prague - in which the mayors pledged to stand against illiberal policies in their respective countries.

In the Czech section, Pavel Doubek discusses a dispute between Archbishop Dominik Duka and a theatre, which was characterised by a conflict between religious freedom and freedom of artistic expression.

Alíz Nagy from the Hungarian section focuses on cases of segregation of Roma children in primary schools. What was the courts’ reaction and the opinion of the Prime Minister?

In the Polish section, Witold Płowiec explains the ruling by the Court of Justice of the EU, which held that the Supreme Court must ascertain the independence of the new Disciplinary Chamber.

Erik Láštic from the Slovak section reflects on the state of the judiciary. Although it was granted self-regulation, it is confronted with the lowest trust among public institutions. What led to such a situation?

We are delivering the second issue of the new online journal V4 Human Rights Review, which updates you on recent developments in the areas of human rights and democracy in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. We are proud to organize this project together with our expert partners from all V4 countries.

The introductory contribution was written by Kateřina Šimáčková, a Judge of the Constitutional Court of the Czech Republic, who is also a representative in the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe. In her article, Judge Šimáčková focuses on how the Venice Commission deals with issues regarding judicial independence, illustrating the problem on examples of recent developments in Hungary and Poland.

In the Czech section, Aneta Frodlová starts with the 30 years of freedom anniversary and looks back on the 1989 Velvet Revolution in the former Czechoslovakia, as well as on the events in other V4 countries.

In the Hungarian section, Veronika Czina reflects on whether Hungarian judges can request a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice of the EU regarding their own independence. Péter Kállai then discusses the current situation with the Hungarian media.

Artur Pietruszka from the Polish section clarifies a smear campaign that was uncovered in August, in which several governmental officials created an informal group with the aim of discrediting some Polish high-level judges.

In the Slovak section, Erik Láštic explains how free access to information in Slovakia serves as an efficient tool to hold the government accountable. Furthermore, Max Steuer focuses on current issues concerning free speech in Slovakia.

We hope you enjoy reading it!

You have the first issue of the V4 Human Rights Review in front of you. How did this happen?

This year we commemorate 30 years since the four ‘Visegrad countries’, which include the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia, began their journey to become liberal democracies.  Over the years, these central European states established systems based on respect for personal liberties, rule of law and human rights.

Nevertheless, there are numerous threats to the quite new democracies, such as efforts to undermine judicial independence, restrict the rule of law or certain fundamental rights, as well as xenophobia, advance of populism and polarization of the societies. These challenges can only be successfully tackled if people are well-informed about the phenomena.

In our opinion, on the one hand, there are a number of rather superficial articles, both on paper as well as on the internet. On the other hand, there are also well-researched scholarly articles. However, the general public might find those too daunting to read, and thus their insights often go unnoticed outside of academia. Therefore, we decided to launch a joint project in which leading human rights institutes from each V4 country will choose experts to write shorter, easy to read articles on current developments in the areas of human rights and democracy.

We feel that in many ways the V4 countries tend to behave similarly. Thus, we believe that by objectively informing about actual developments, we can contribute to preventing democratic backsliding.

The V4 Human Rights Review will be an online quarterly publication. We wish you enjoyable reading!