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Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - The Slovak Republic

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1994
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - The Slovak Republic, 1 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca91c.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1993

Human Rights Developments

The Slovak Republic ("Slovakia") became an independent state on January 1, 1993, with the peaceful breakup of the Federal Republic of Czechoslovakia. Slovakia declared that it considered itself bound by the legal instruments ratified by the Federal Republic, including international human rights covenants. The Slovak constitution went into effect in September 1992, providing, inter alia, that international instruments on human rights and freedoms ratified by the Slovak Republic shall take precedence over national laws.

In 1992, the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar had announced that the Czechoslovak lustration law, which excludes former communist collaborators from certain appointive positions, would be abolished in Slovakia. However, a survey in early 1993 found that more than half of Slovak citizens supported retaining the law. Although it was notrepealed, Helsinki Watch had no information that the law was being enforced.

Direct censorship did not occur, but the Slovak government used various means to prevent journalists from criticizing its policies and tried to force journalists to give only positive accounts of the government. During the 1992 election campaign, journalists who failed to present what the government called the "true picture of Slovakia" were not invited to government press conferences and not allowed to participate if they attended without an invitation. Helsinki Watch received reports that the government cut subsidies for various periodicals based on their political content, although the government claimed that its subsidy policy was based primarily on educational goals.

In January, the board of directors of the state-owned newspaper Smena fired Josep Weiss, the director, and Karol Jezik, the chief editor, who had printed articles critical of the Meciar government. This intensified fears that press freedom in Slovakia was being curtailed in the new state. Despite this effort to intimidate independent journalists, Weiss and Jezik were able to establish an independent daily called Sme shortly after they were fired from their previous job. Sme operated without government interference.

Helsinki Watch received numerous reports of discriminatory policies and statements by local and national government officials against the Roma (Gypsy) minority living in Slovakia. On July 1, 1993, the village of Spisske Podhradie instituted a curfew for "gypsies and other suspicious persons" between the hours of 11 P.M. and 4:30 A.M. After an outpouring of protest from human rights and minority rights groups, the curfew was declared unconstitutional by the Slovak National Council.

According to a report in Slovakian Pravda on August 9, 1993, the management of a private hotel in Zilina decided not to allow Romas to enter the premises of its gambling halls in order "to protect private property and the good reputation of the hotel."

On September 3, in a clear reference to Romas, Meciar stated that it was necessary to curtail family allowances that encourage "widespread reproduction" because Gypsies are having children who are "mentally and socially unadaptable." Meciar was criticized by human rights groups for fostering ethnic hostilities and prejudice.

There are approximately 600,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia. They are primarily concentrated along the border with Hungary, and constitute the country's largest ethnic minority. Although they have achieved greater rights and freedoms over the last four years, there are ongoing concerns regarding language rights and access to Hungarian-language education.

During 1993, the Slovak government initiated a series of measures criticized by the Hungarian minority as a policy of harassment. In many areas, even where Hungarians constitute the overwhelming majority, official road signs bearing Hungarian names of towns and streets were removed over the last year. Furthermore, a Slovak law on appropriate names for children also required that first names be chosen from an official list that excludes many Hungarian names. Ethnic Hungarian parents who attempted to give their children authentically Hungarian names were not allowed to register the children.

During the process of examining Slovakia's application for membership in the Council of Europe, a series of recommendations were made to the Slovak government, including amending its legislation to provide for bilingual signs and to allow Hungarian names. In response to the Council's recommendations, the Slovak Parliament passed a bill in July 1993 that would have allowed the use of Hungarian family names in official records without modification to comply with Slovak grammar and spelling rules. A week later, after Slovakia had been admitted to the Council of Europe, Meciar refused to sign the bill into law. Similarly, bilingual town and street signs, which had been installed as a concession to the Council of Europe prior to its vote on June 30, were ordered removed in early August. The Minister of Transportation justified the action by saying that bilingual road signs confuse motorists and tourists.

On September 5, Chief Rabbi Baruch-Meyers, a U.S. citizen and Slovakia's first chief rabbi in over twenty-five years, was attacked and beaten by a group of skinheads. President Michal Kovac issued a statement condemning the attack and emphasizing that it did not represent the attitudes of most Czech citizens.

An alternative university in Trnava, which is viewed as a haven for academics critical of the Slovak government, experienced government harassment during 1993 as it had the previous year. The government delayed the appointment of Dr. Anton Hajduk as rector. After international criticism from academic and human rights groups, however, the Slovak government finally released bank account funds that had been frozen in 1992, and appointed Dr. Hajduk. Nevertheless, the government continued to discriminate against the university by apportioning a smaller budget than the it was entitled to based on the size of its student body.

The Right to Monitor

Helsinki Watch was not aware of any interference in the work of human rights monitors by the government of the Slovak Republic.

U.S. Policy

On January 1, 1993, the United States officially recognized the Slovak Republic. In February 1993, the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives published the report of a November 1992 study mission, which included a visit to Slovakia. The report studied the implications for Slovakia of the dissolution of Czechoslovakia and recommended continued aid to support economic reform, democracy and human rights in Slovakia.

The report also noted some problems with the government's sensitivity to criticism and its desire to control the media and restrict academic freedom, as well as the concerns of the Hungarian minority. However, the committee recommended diplomacy and assistance to overcome these deficiencies, rather than condemnation.

Slovakia received over $80 billion of investment insurance assistance from the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

The Clinton administration made no significant additional comment on human rights practices in Slovakia in 1993.

The Work of Helsinki Watch

During 1993 Helsinki Watch's work in Slovakia focused primarily on the rights of minorities and restrictions on press freedoms.

On January 15, 1993, Helsinki Watch sent a letter to Prime Minister Meciar expressing concern about reports that the Slovak government had interfered with the independence of the press by firing the editor-in-chief and director of the daily Smena, and had attempted to silence those critical of the government's policies.

Helsinki Watch conducted an extensive investigation into freedom of the press in Slovakia during 1993, and scheduled a report on freedom of the press for late November.

On March 8, 1993, Helsinki Watch criticized a Slovak law that prevents ethnic Hungarians from freely choosing any name they want for their children. Helsinki Watch called the law "a violation of the fundamental right of an individual to express freely his or her ethnic identity and heritage." Helsinki Watch also criticized a decree from the director of the state-owned Slovak television banning Hungarian-language programs from using the Hungarian names for cities and towns. Helsinki Watch stated:

Given that the Slovak state still exercises a virtual monopoly over television broadcasting, it is incumbent upon the government to encourage diversity in its programming. Helsinki Watch considers this recent decree an unnecessary restriction by the government on the Hungarian-language programs.

In May, Helsinki Watch sent a mission to Slovakia to investigate allegations of discrimination against the Hungarian minority. A newsletter was published in November.

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