Nations in Transit - Slovakia (2003)
|Author||Grigorij Meseznikov, Miroslav Kollar, Michal Vasecka|
|Publication Date||29 May 2003|
|Cite as||Freedom House, Nations in Transit - Slovakia (2003), 29 May 2003, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473aff2bc.html [accessed 21 November 2014]|
Polity: Parliamentary democracy
Economy: Mixed capitalist
Private Sector as % of GDP: 80%
Life Expectancy: 73
Religious Groups: Roman Catholic (60.3 percent), atheist (9.7 percent), Protestant (8.4 percent), other (11.6 percent)
Ethnic Groups: Slovak (86 percent), Hungarian (11 percent), Roma [Gypsy] (2 percent), other, including Czech (1 percent)
|Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework||4.00||4.00||2.50||2.25||2.00||2.00|
Slovakia's conclusion of accession negotiations with the European Union (EU) in 2002 indicated that it had largely developed political institutions and an economic system that are compatible with the EU's demanding norms. Although the country opened accession negotiations with the EU two years later than most other candidates, it found itself in 2002 among a select group of top candidates that had reached preliminary agreements with the EU in a large number of areas. As recently as 1998, the EU had officially viewed Slovakia as a country that did not meet the political criteria for membership. In an October 2002 evaluation report, however, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said that the republic had fulfilled the political criteria for joining. The report also gave positive marks to Slovakia's economic and social reforms.
The successful negotiations came during a period of democratic consolidation that began in 1998. As a sign of the country's political maturity, Slovakia made important progress during this time despite being ruled by a broad coalition of parties that often bickered over ideology and policy priorities. Disputes over which social problems should receive priority treatment often reduced the cabinet's efficiency. Cooperation between center-right and leftist parties was also complicated by pressures from various economic interests that tried to lobby the government through personal ties with party officials. In 2000 and 2001, these pressures led to several internal crises that threatened to tear the ruling coalition apart.
Against this backdrop, Slovakia's largely successful EU negotiations were the culmination of a process that began in the early 1990s, when the country emerged out of the former Czechoslovak Federation and started creating its own legislative, executive, and judicial institutions. The main practical objective was to create favorable conditions for joining multilateral organizations of Western democracies, most importantly the EU and NATO, thereby becoming more integrated into the West. In the political arena, this goal included establishing a system of parliamentary democracy with effective checks on power, instituting a strong rule of law, including protection of human and minority rights, and creating favorable conditions for civic participation.
However, there were many setbacks for democratization between 1994 and 1998. Led by autocratic Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, the ruling coalition fought with the opposition over the very rules of the political game. The process of building the institutions of the new state took place against the backdrop of the democratic opposition's efforts to preserve the degree of freedom and democracy achieved during the initial transition period following the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989. The country was bypassed for the first wave of both NATO enlargement and entry negotiations with the EU.
The turning point came with the change in power that followed the 1998 parliamentary elections, which brought to office the reformist coalition government of Mikulas Dzurinda. Bringing together pro-democracy parties of both the left and right, the coalition included the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK); the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL); the Party of Hungarian Coalition (SMK); the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP); and the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). Among its reform accomplishments, the Dzurinda government, in 2001, got Parliament to approve several democratic constitutional reforms.
The key political event in Slovakia in 2002 was the September parliamentary elections, which saw four pro-integration parties form a new reformist government under Dzurinda that pledged to continue economic and social reforms. Meanwhile, Slovakia also received formal membership invitations from both the EU and NATO. While actual membership in each group is several years away, the prospect of eventual membership is of immense importance to Slovakia. In addition to enhancing the country's security, membership in these bodies promises to foster regional cooperation and create an even more favorable environment for continuing Slovakia's domestic political development.
With its industrialized market economy, the Slovak Republic became a full-fledged member of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2001. It has also been a member of the World Trade Organization since 1995. The private sector accounted for nearly 90 percent of Slovakia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2002. During the year, the country continued to face a high unemployment rate, which reached 16.8 percent, and a fiscal deficit of 5.1 percent of GDP. On the positive side, GDP grew by 4.0 percent at a time when many other European economies faced sluggish growth rates.
Electoral Process (Score: 1.50)
The Slovak Republic's electoral laws are conducive to free and fair elections, and in practice they are applied in a balanced and objective manner. Since 1990, the country has used a proportional system of parliamentary representation. The only significant (though temporary) change in electoral rules came in 1998, when the ruling coalition under Prime Minister Meciar pushed through an amendment to the electoral law that tightened the conditions for the participation of coalitions of two or more parties and introduced a single-election district for the entire country. In 1999, the Parliament controlled by the Dzurinda-led reformist coalition restored the original conditions pertaining to participation of party coalitions, though it left unchanged the single-election district.
Under Slovakia's proportional representation system, an individual party must gain at least 5 percent of the votes to win a seat in Parliament. Higher thresholds apply to coalitions formed by several parties: 7 percent for a coalition of two or three parties, and 10 percent for a coalition of four or more parties. Parties are increasingly building grassroots support bases. All parties currently represented in Parliament have networks and structures throughout the country.
In municipal, local, and regional elections, a modified form of the majority electoral system is used. Since 1990, when the law on municipal elections was passed, there have been no substantial changes in electoral rules. The only exception was an attempt by the Meciar administration in 1998 to introduce ethnic quotas, which would have required candidates' lists in municipal elections in a given municipality to mirror the ethnic makeup of that municipality. Before the change was implemented in an election, the Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional. A possible source of political instability is the fact that the Constitution does not explicitly require any particular type of electoral system; changes to electoral rules require merely a simple majority in Parliament.
The referendum process has the potential to be an integral democratic mechanism in Slovakia. Since 1994, the country has held four referenda; however, none of them met the requirements to be binding. Three referenda failed to achieve the necessary 50 percent voter turnout. The proposed measures in these referenda involved disclosure of the origin of funds used in privatization (1994); privatization of large state enterprises (1998); and early parliamentary elections (2001). Meanwhile, a referendum on direct presidential elections and Slovakia's accession to NATO held in 1997 was marred by irregularities allegedly caused by the Meciar administration.
According to the Slovak Constitution, the president must call a referendum if he is required to do so by a parliamentary resolution or if citizens collect and deliver a petition with at least 350,000 signatures. Referenda cannot be held on issues involving fundamental rights and freedoms, taxation, fund contributions, or the state budget. Slovakia will need to hold a referendum to ratify its accession to the EU.
The legal requirements for registering parties are not onerous. Under the Law on Political Parties, a party must submit to the Ministry of the Interior a petition signed by at least 1,000 citizens in order to be registered. If a political party aims to run in parliamentary elections, it must submit either a petition signed by at least 10,000 citizens or a list of at least 10,000 party members. Established parties that have an independent deputy caucus in Parliament (consisting of at least eight deputies) do not have to meet these requirements in order to participate in elections. As of December 31,2002, there were 117 political parties registered in Slovakia. Since 1990, no party has been outlawed, although the law allows the government to ban parties that violate the law or that have created their official organs in an undemocratic manner.
Many parties in Slovakia have built mass membership bases. Former Prime Minister Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) is the largest party, with approximately 35,000 members. Several other parties have between 5,000 and 25,000 members. According to various estimates, about 5 percent of Slovaks belong to a party. Most parties have democratic mechanisms that provide for rotation of top officials.
Between 1998 and 2002, Slovakia experienced a series of significant changes to its party system. A substantial regrouping within the center-right segment of the political spectrum gave birth to a new mid-sized party, the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU). This party was established in early 2000 by factions of the original SDK and has been headed from the outset by Prime Minister Dzurinda. In 2001, the Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO) was established; the chairman of this liberally oriented party is Pavol Rusko, founder and co-owner of Slovakia's largest private television station, TV Markiza. Important changes also occurred among left-of-center parties. In 1999, a new left-leaning party emerged called Smer (Direction); its leader is Robert Fico, former vice chairman of the post-Communist SDL.
In 2001 and 2002, several coalition and opposition parties experienced internal divisions, mostly owing to personality conflicts. After being elbowed out of the SDL, its former leaders, who had fruitlessly tried to transform the old-style Communist Party into a modern leftist party, formed the Social Democratic Alternative (SDA). Similarly, politicians who were pushed out of Meciar's HZDS founded the Movement for Democracy (HZD).
The most recent elections to the National Council of the Slovak Republic (Parliament) were held in September 2002. A total of seven parties – HZDS, SDKU, Smer, SMK, KDH, ANO, and the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) – overcame the 5 percent threshold necessary to win seats (see Table 1). The elections (as well as all previous parliamentary elections) were judged to be free and fair by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international and domestic monitoring groups. After the elections, four center-right parties – SDKU, SMK, KDH, and ANO – formed a coalition and created a new government led by SDKU chairman Dzurinda. It enjoys the support of 78 out of 150 deputies in Parliament. SDKU has the most cabinet seats, with 6, followed by the SMK, with 4 seats, the KDH, with 3, and the ANO, with 3.
Table 1. Results of 2002 Parliamentary Elections
|PARTIES||VOTES (%)||SEATS IN PARLIAMENT|
|Other Parties (13 total)||4.80||-|
Source: Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, 2002
While the center-right democratic political forces face the prospect of further consolidation following the 2002 parliamentary elections, the position of the nationalist and authoritarian forces has considerably deteriorated owing to internal conflicts, fragmentation, and their poor electoral showing. Neither of the two extreme nationalistic parties – the Real Slovak National Party (PSNS) and the Slovak National Party (SNS) – won seats in Parliament. At the same time, the future prospects of moderate leftist forces (the SDL and SDA) are deteriorating significantly. In contrast, the position of the KSS, which is ideologically and politically linked to the pre-1989 Communist regime, has been strengthened. In 2002, the KSS won seats in Parliament for the first time since Slovakia became independent.
Certain ethnic minorities have become mobilized politically. Hungarians, the country's largest ethnic minority, formed the SMK, which is part of the ruling coalition. It has four cabinet seats, six state secretary posts, the post of parliamentary first vice chairman, and two chairmanships of parliamentary committees. By contrast, Slovakia's Roma (Gypsy) minority has shown little political unity. There are almost 20 Roma political parties registered in Slovakia. Of these, two participated in the 2002 parliamentary elections but performed poorly. Slovakia's ethnic Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Poles have not established any parties. Their representatives operate within the nationwide parties.
The presidential election held in May 1999, Slovakia's first direct presidential vote, was free and fair. Ten candidates ran in the first round, with two advancing to the second round. In that round, Rudolf Schuster, whom the then ruling coalition supported, beat Vladimir Meciar, the opposition candidate. The main condition for participation in presidential elections is that a candidate have the support of 15 parliamentary deputies or submit a petition signed by 15,000 eligible voters.
Voter turnout in parliamentary elections in Slovakia is relatively high. (In 1990 the electoral turnout was 95.4 percent; in 1992,84.4 percent; in 1994,75.7 percent; in 1998,84.2 percent; and in 2002,70.1 percent.) Turnout for the 1999 presidential vote was 73.9 percent in the first round and 75.5 percent in the second round. Electoral turnout in municipal elections is traditionally lower: in 1990 it reached 63.8 percent; in 1994,52.4 percent; in 1998,53.8 percent; and in 2002,49.5 percent. The lower prestige of municipal elections compared with other types of elections is related to less-intensive election campaigning at that level by political parties and voters' perceptions that local government bodies have limited roles in administering public affairs and solving social problems. The first elections to regional governmental bodies, held in December 2001, brought only 26 percent of eligible voters to polling stations. The low turnout may have been caused by citizens' lack of experience with newly established regional self-governments. The turnout of male and female voters is usually about the same.
Civil Society (Score: 1.50)
Civil society in Slovakia is considered by most experts to be among the most dynamic in Central Europe. This view has been confirmed recently by several civil society surveys. For example, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development's NGO Sustainability Index, which consists of indexes on legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image, Slovakia ranked first among the countries of Central and Eastern Europe in 2000 and 2001. Nevertheless, the difficulty NGOs face in attaining financial sustainability, and a weak legislative environment, are persisting problems.
Many Slovak civic organizations were very active prior to the 2002 parliamentary elections. Get-out-the-vote campaigns in different forms and targeted to different groups of people played a crucial role in consolidating Slovakia's democracy and helping to secure and strengthen its path to EU and NATO membership. Projects focused on voter mobilization and education, as well as vote monitoring.
In June 2002, the Ministry of the Interior listed 16,849 organizations that could be considered NGOs in a broad sense. Of these, 15,984 were civic associations (societies, clubs, associations, movements, trade unions, international NGOs, and sports clubs); 479 were foundations; 281, noninvestment funds (a special category of organization that collects money and spends it for a specific purpose); and 105, nonprofit organizations. According to the Statistical Office, NGOs employ approximately 1 percent of the working population and account for approximately 1 percent of the country's GDP. Opinion poll data on volunteerism and personal charity shows that Slovak citizens' involvement in volunteerism is systematically increasing, though donating money is far more popular than volunteering. At the same time, public opinion polls show that Slovak citizens appreciate the work of civil society organizations in mobilizing voters. For instance, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs in October 2002, as many as 63.5 percent of respondents considered the attempts to increase election turnout to be positive; 72.5 percent considered voter education efforts that year to be positive.
The majority of NGOs in Slovakia operate under legal norms adopted after the end of communism. The basic legislative framework for the work of NGOs is provided by the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression (Article 29), freedom of assembly (Article 28), and freedom of association (Articles 29 and 37), as well as by several laws. Registering an NGO is an easy process, and government regulations in this area do not restrict groups. The Ministry of the Interior both registers and supervises NGOs. NGOs enjoy favorable tax treatment and do not have to pay taxes on gifts and income. They have enjoyed increased access to information in recent years, mostly owing to the use of the Internet.
The Slovak Parliament adopted three major laws relating to NGOs in December 2001 – the Law on Foundations, the Law on Nonprofit Organizations, and the so-called One-percent Law. The new Law on Foundations made the establishment of a foundation easier, in part by introducing an obligatory endowment of at least Slovak korunas (SKK) 200,000 (US$4,880). Similarly, the law on nonprofit organizations has made the establishment of a nonprofit organization easier. Most importantly, the law on income taxes was amended to allow individual taxpayers in Slovakia to dedicate 1 percent of their paid tax to services provided by NGOs. During the first year this option was available, 4,035 NGOs received more than SKK 120,000,000 (US$2,930,000) from more than 300,000 taxpayers. A further amendment, approved in April 2002, allows corporate taxpayers to dedicate 1 percent of their taxes to civil society organizations beginning in January 2004.
The NGO sector in Slovakia has a well-developed infrastructure, training base, and research base. The Gremium of the Third Sector (G3S), a voluntary advocacy group of elected NGO leaders, works to develop partner relations with the central and local governments, the business sector, and international organizations. Together with various service organizations, the G3S also provides the NGO sector in Slovakia with literature on NGO management issues in the Slovak language. There are numerous consultants and trainers for the NGO sector who are helping not only less-developed organizations in Slovakia, but also civil society organizations in other post-Communist countries.
Financial assistance from Western democracies has been instrumental in developing a vibrant civil society in Slovakia since 1989. Very few Slovak NGOs are publicly subsidized. Despite the contributions from the one-percent law, the problem of sustaining the activities of NGOs is likely to become more acute in coming years as contributions from the West diminish. Increasingly, larger organizations with professional personnel try to raise revenues from their own activities, for example, by providing courses, counseling publications, and welfare activities and by selling products made by the physically or mentally handicapped. Foundations, unlike civic associations, are not allowed to engage in most business activities, though they can lease property, organize public collections, operate lotteries, and arrange cultural, educational, social, or sporting events.
The government bureaucracy is increasingly open to the nonprofit sector and often utilizes its expertise, in part because some key positions in the state administration are held by people who worked in NGOs before 1998. Media coverage of the NGO sector is predominantly positive, with the focus being on groups involved in the provision of social services. The election campaign in 2002, however, brought NGOs some negative coverage in the Slovak media, mainly concerning the very high amounts of money provided by donors for electoral activities. Generally speaking, though, the public image of NGOs is positive. The media often call on the expertise of independent research institutions in their news reports.
The only women's association prior to 1989 was the Slovak Union of Women, which changed its name to the Democratic Union of Women following the collapse of communism. Later it was renamed the Union of Women in Slovakia (UZS). After 1989, many new women's organizations and initiatives were established, with their number currently estimated at more than 90. Most ethnic groups are reasonably well represented in the NGO sector, with the exception of the Roma. Out of almost 16,849 registered organizations in 2002, only 134 were Roma groups. Religious groups maintain a deeply rooted tradition of providing assistance to disadvantaged groups and today play the most significant and visible role in charitable activities. All major religious groups in Slovakia (Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, and Calvinist) are very much involved in charitable activities.
Slovak trade unions are free. While in 1990 the Confederation of Trade Unions represented 2.4 million workers, by the end of 2002 its membership had shrunk to fewer than 600,000. Although the most dramatic reduction of the unions' membership base coincided with the first years of economic transition, the contraction has continued ever since. Farmers' groups and small business associations do not play significant roles in the economic and political life of the country. The Association of Employers' Unions and Associations, an umbrella organization, is the best-known representative of business interests. The Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry is another prominent body representing business.
Slovakia has several NGOs that focus on analytical research. These think tanks are increasingly influencing public policy in Slovakia. There is no political influence or state propaganda in Slovakia's education system. State schools dominate the education system at all levels.
Independent Media (Score: 2.00)
Freedom of speech is anchored in the Slovak Constitution and is regulated by the press law of 1966, which is becoming increasingly obsolete and unsatisfactory. Article 26 of the Constitution outlaws censorship and guarantees freedom of speech and the right to information. It also stipulates that publications are not subject to prior authorization or approval, though radio and television stations must receive broadcasting licenses. As of the end of 2002, Parliament had yet to pass a new press law to replace the existing legislation, which does not cover all aspects of the current media environment. It is widely expected that adoption of new media legislation will be one of the new administration's top priorities.
In practice, the media in Slovakia are independent; however, certain media owners enjoy excessive influence, particularly those with political ambitions. For example, Pavol Rusko, founder and former co-owner of the influential private TV Markiza, has begun to expand his media influence into the field of radio broadcasting by acquiring a stake in Radio Okey, into the print media by founding the weekly Markiza newspaper, and into the domain of Internet media as well. Having won a seat in the September 2002 parliamentary elections, Rusko was elected deputy speaker of Parliament. Although in 2002 he formally gave up ownership of TV Markiza, the station's news broadcasts during the election campaign often provided excessive coverage of Rusko's party, the Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO). The Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission said that TV Markiza violated the law by providing preferential treatment to the ANO.
Slovakia's public media outlets continue to lack full independence. Parliament appoints the directors of the state-run Slovak Television (STV) and Slovak Radio (SRO) and decides the makeup of their supervisory organs. Moreover, public media outlets suffer from severe funding problems, which further increases their dependence on the government. The majority of members of the supervisory Council of Slovak Public Television and the separate Broadcast Council are appointed by political parties.
According to the EU's Eurobarometer 2001 survey, 59 percent of Slovak citizens watch television news broadcasts every day (the EU average is 70 percent); 47 percent listen to radio news broadcasts every day (the EU average is 41 percent); and only 25 percent of Slovaks read newspapers every day (the EU average is 41 percent). The most trusted news medium in Slovakia is the radio. (See Table 2.)
Table 2. Comparison of Slovak Electronic Media Usage and Access with EU Candidates
|FORM OF MEDIA||SLOVAKIA||EU CANDIDATE AVERAGE||DIFFERENCE|
|Television set with teletext||65%||54%||+11|
|Decoder for reception of paid TV channels||13%||14%||-1|
Source: Eurobarometer 2001, Applicant Countries. European Commission, March 2002
The country's television market continues to be dominated by the private TV Markiza. In August 2002, its average market share was 47.7 percent. The two channels of the public STV had a combined market share of 18.7 percent, while TV Joj, a new private, nationwide TV station that is connected to the largest private station in the Czech Republic, TV Nova, had a share of 8.2 percent.
The most popular radio station continues to be the public SRO, whose first channel has a market share of 44 percent. The SRO is followed by a handful of private radio stations (Radio Okey, Fun Radio, RadioTwist, and Radio Expres), none of whose ratings exceed 10 percent, and by several Hungarian-language stations, whose combined ratings are around 10 percent.
The financial viability of the Slovak media is partly a function of the country's small and relatively weak media market. Print media suffer from the fact that most advertising is placed in the television market. Only 15 percent of all advertising money is channeled into print media. Furthermore, dailies in particular face declining readerships because Slovak readers are increasingly shifting their attention toward lifestyle weeklies and monthlies. As much as 80 percent of television advertising revenues go to TV Markiza.
Publishers face no requirements regarding transparency of ownership, and laws specifically regulating media concentration are limited. However, the Law on Economic Competition does contain general provisions on media concentration. The Law on Broadcasting and Retransmission also contains certain limitations on cross-ownership of print and electronic media. Since 1998, the distribution network for Slovak print media has been in private hands. A continuing concern is the concentration of distribution networks and certain media in the hands of only a few owners.
In a gain for press freedom, Parliament in June 2002 repealed criminal defamation statutes from the criminal code. The Constitutional Court had ruled in January that these two statutes were not legally binding. They were last invoked by the Office of the President, which had filed a motion to launch a criminal prosecution of journalist Ales Kratky for alleged defamation of President Rudolf Schuster.
Table 3. Average Paid Circulation of National Dailies, December 2002
*Merged with the daily Praca in October 2002.
Source: Audit Bureau of Circulation of the Slovak Republic, 2002
The largest professional association of journalists is the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN), which includes some 80 percent of all journalists in Slovakia. Most of the remaining journalists belong to the Slovak Association of Journalists. As of December 2002, the SSN had 2,700 members, 37.6 percent of whom were women. Publishers of periodicals are organized under the Association of Periodical Press Publishers (ZVPT), while operators of private television and radio stations are organized under the Association of Independent Radio and Television Stations. In October 2001, the SSN and the ZVPT jointly established the Slovak Press Council as a self-regulating body for journalists.
The pace of Internet penetration in Slovakia slowed in 2002. According to a survey conducted in June 2002 by Taylor Nelson Sofres, an agency that specializes in developments in the Internet market, 21.8 percent of Slovaks use the Internet at least once a month. This represents a year-on-year increase of 4.7 percent, down from a 7.8 percent year-on-year increase the previous year. The main reason for the recent slowdown is the flat growth in the number of Slovak households connected to the Web (less than 3 percent of all Slovak households are connected), as well as increases in the cost of establishing a home connection.
Freedom House's annual Survey of Press Freedom rated Slovakia "Partly Free" from 1993 to 1998 and "Free" from 1999 to 2002.
Governance (Score: 2.25)
Slovakia's governmental system is sufficiently stable. One sign of this is the fact that the country has not held early parliamentary elections since 1994. That is, the two most recent administrations managed to stay in power until the end of their terms. In addition, relations between the government and President Rudolf Schuster have been largely cooperative. The president exercises his right to veto laws passed by Parliament in a way that does not exceed the constitutional framework and does not detract from the stability of the government.
Parliament and the president respect the verdicts of the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of laws and regulations. Ministries and other organs of executive power have adequate administrative capacities to properly perform their functions. Members of Parliament also have sufficient resources to fulfill their basic functions properly. Laws on the civil service and public service adopted in 2001 set the basic regulatory framework for staffing the institutions of public administration.
Parliament's plenary sessions are open to the public and are often broadcast on Slovak Television. Closed plenary sessions are held only if Parliament discusses issues involving state secrets, such as annual reports on the activities of the Slovak Intelligence Service. Transcripts of Parliament's deliberations are accessible to the public in print. Parliament's Web site contains an overview of the assembly's legislative activity, in addition to lists of all passed and rejected laws and detailed voting records.
After each session of the cabinet, the body's press department issues a detailed news release containing the session's entire agenda and a list of all adopted decisions. A press briefing with cabinet members is also held. In 2000, Parliament adopted the Law on Free Access to Information, which considerably improved procedures for the media and public to receive and disseminate information. The law requires all officials of state administrative and local government bodies to provide citizens with information to the extent stipulated by law. However, implementation of the law has been slow, largely owing to a lack of awareness on the part of many citizens of their rights to receive the information and of state officials about their obligations to provide the information.
In 2001, Parliament passed laws that created eight regional governments and transferred certain powers to them from the central government. The laws also established financing mechanisms for the new governmental bodies and procedures for regional elections. Taken as a whole, these measures created more favorable conditions for modernization and decentralization of public administration and boosted Slovakia's prospects for EU membership. The new legislation delegates more than 300 powers, competencies, and authorities to regional and local government bodies. Most delegated powers are in the field of education, social assistance, health care, culture, transportation, environmental protection, registration, and regional development. In December 2001, Slovakia held its first elections for eight regional governors and 401 regional assembly deputies. The campaigns and voting were free and fair.
One of the main objectives of public administration reforms is to loosen the government's centralized grip on the country's taxation and public expenditures systems. In 2002, the central government collected 87.2 percent of all tax revenues and distributed 78.5 percent of all public administration expenditures. In 2001, total municipal budgets amounted to SKK 32.7 billion (US$667.3 million) and total expenditures to SKK 30.6 billion (US$624.5 million), or 12.3 percent of state budget expenditures. The share of state budget revenues in total local revenues was 35.9 percent in 2001 (SKK 11.75 billion, or US$239.7 million total); of this, subsidies represented SKK 2.41 billion (US$49.2) and central government tax revenues SKK 9.34 billion (US$190.6 million).
The transfer of powers from the central government to local bodies is being accompanied by a transfer of employees (see Table 4). Nevertheless, a substantial number of regional and local employees, including teachers, are still paid directly by the central government.
Table 4. Change in the Number of State Administration Employees after the Introduction of Regional Self-Governing Bodies
|Employees of State Administration||Employees of Self-Governing Bodies||Total|
|After full implementation of law||125,971||37.1||213,938||62.9||339,917||100|
Source: Draft Law on Transfer of Powers from the State Administration Organs to Communities and Higher Territorial Units, Ministry of the Interior, 2001
Another key goal of public administration reform is to rationalize the structure of state administration and improve the professionalism of civil servants. Current professional standards are satisfactory but could be improved through enhanced education and training programs. In 2001, Parliament adopted amendments to the Labor Code, the Law on Civil Service, and the Law on Public Service that resulted in a general recodification of Slovakia's labor law. The latter two acts in particular were favorably reviewed by the EU for their impact on the performance of state employees. In March 2002, a new Office for State Service opened. The office is responsible for setting qualifications for civil servants and appointing and recalling the heads of the ministry offices. In 2002, there were no known cases of government representatives exerting political pressure on civil and public servants.
Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework (Score: 2.00)
Slovakia has an effective system of checks and balances. The Slovak Constitution outlines the country's basic institutional structure and stipulates the powers of particular government organs. The supreme legislative body is the National Council of the Slovak Republic (Parliament). The supreme executive body is the government. The head of state is the president, who is directly elected for a five-year term and has certain executive powers. A parliamentary standing order stipulates that parties with seats be represented proportionately in its committees. The president may veto laws, though bills passed repeatedly over a presidential veto become law. Members of the cabinet must approve certain presidential acts such as the granting of amnesties.
Parliament consists of 150 deputies elected for four-year terms. As an indication of parliament's professionalism, between the years 2000 and 2002 the Slovak Republic managed to close preliminarily 28 chapters of the Acquis Communautaire in its negotiations with the EU. Preliminary closure of each chapter required Parliament to pass a number of laws in conformity with EU legislation.
Parliament's standing order, which was introduced in 1996, enables it to approve laws by a so-called accelerated legislative procedure, which means that all three necessary readings take place during a single plenary session. This procedure gives the cabinet a means of speeding up the lawmaking process for urgent legislation. Between 1998 and 2002, Parliament passed 104 out of 532 laws using the accelerated procedure. However, it passed only 5 percent of all laws in 2002 by this method, and much of the legislation needed for EU accession was approved using normal procedures that allow for greater deliberation.
The Constitution of the Slovak Republic was adopted in September 1992, several months before the split of the former Czechoslovak Federation. Since 1992, the Constitution has been amended several times, including in 2001 when Parliament approved extensive amendments aimed at conforming Slovak laws to EU norms by, among other things, giving precedence to legally binding EU regulations over domestic legislation. The amendments also created a legal framework for Slovakia's membership in organizations of collective security, such as NATO, and gave human rights treaties precedence over Slovak laws. The amendments also revoked the president's power to grant an amnesty to a criminal suspect before a court issues its verdict, gave the president the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of a referendum question, and increased the quorum necessary to override a presidential veto to a majority of all deputies from a majority of all deputies present. The president also gained the right to appoint judges on the advice of the Judicial Council of the Slovak Republic, a newly established body of judicial self-regulation. Finally, the amendments established the office of the public ombudsman for human rights. However, the first ombudsman, former HZDS Member of Parliament Pavel Kandrac, has drawn tepid reviews since Parliament elected him in March 2002.
The most frequent examples of judicial enforcement of the Constitution are rulings of the Constitutional Court. In 2002, the Constitutional Court ruled unconstitutional provisions of two laws approved by Parliament in 1999 and 2000, respectively. One law related to children and youths, and the second to the administration of state property. Neither case was politically controversial.
In 2002, Slovakia's penal legislation underwent several changes. In June, Parliament amended the Criminal Statute to add several new criminal offenses, including terrorism and harming the financial interests of the EU, and to specify and toughen the punishments for corruption and domestic violence. The amendments also abolished criminal defamation of the state and its representatives. The same month, Parliament amended the criminal procedure code to stipulate conditions for an accelerated criminal procedure and to regulate the use of wiretapping and other surveillance techniques by the state. Parliament also approved an amendment to the Criminal Statute introducing so-called probation surveillance of particularly dangerous recidivists after they are released from prison.
An accused person can be detained and arrested only if a judge has issued a written warrant for his or her arrest. A judge must hear the arrested person's plea within 48 hours of detention and subsequently order that the person be further detained or freed. The media published several reports in 2002 of detained persons allegedly being mistreated by police officers. The Ministry of the Interior launched internal investigations into the matter and discharged or prosecuted officers when the allegations were confirmed.
The Constitution of the Slovak Republic, domestic laws, and treaties that are part of the country's legal order provide a sufficient framework for the protection of human rights, including the right to own private property. The Bill of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, which was adopted in 1991 in conformance with international human rights covenants, is part of the Slovak Constitution. The Law on Political Parties and various electoral laws regulate the implementation and exercise of political rights. Several other laws add to the legal framework for human rights protection. The country is also complying with all 18 conventions and protocols that were stipulated by the EU in the field of human rights.
The status of ethnic minorities is a high-profile issue in Slovakia, where nearly 15 percent of the population belong to an ethnic minority. The status of ethnic Hungarians, who make up nearly 10 percent of the population, is generally good, as evidenced in part by their significant political representation. However, residual tensions between ethnic Slovaks and Hungarians remain, creating space for nationalist politicians on both sides. Slovakia's second-largest ethnic minority, the Roma, have a generally low social status and are subject to insufficient levels of education and poor living standards. The cabinet recently created a special post called the Government's Plenipotentiary for Solving Problems of the Romany Ethnic Minority, which is currently occupied by Klara Orgovanova, a Romany civil rights activist. The government has identified the tackling of problems faced by the Roma as one of its four main priorities.
In 2001 and 2002, a team of legal experts coordinated by Pal Csaky, the deputy prime minister for human and minority rights, prepared a draft antidiscrimination law that is designed to enshrine official definitions of direct and indirect discrimination, harassment, and victimization. The draft was submitted to Parliament in June 2002. Owing to resistance by conservative deputies, who disagreed with certain provisions of the draft relating to homosexuals, the law was not included on Parliament's agenda for 2002. The new Parliament is likely to discuss the antidiscrimination law in 2003.
According to the Ministry of the Interior, 28 racially motivated criminal offenses were reported in the first half of 2002, of which 24 have been solved. Most of these crimes were violent, with the assailants generally being neo-Nazi skinheads and their victims overwhelmingly Romanies. In 2002, a number of NGOs took part in an antiracist information and educational campaign that received the cooperation of many governmental agencies, including the police. To identify illegal Nazi, fascist, and racist signs and symbols, police officers use a handbook prepared by NGO experts.
The Slovak legal order embodies the principle of equality for men and women, though no law specifically provides for equal rights for women. NGOs are striving to increase the public's sensitivity to gender issues by highlighting persistent inequalities, especially in connection with the employment of women who are elderly, pregnant, or have small children, and the protection of women against domestic violence. In August 2002, Parliament adopted an amendment to the civil code aimed at helping women who suffer abuse by their husband or partner.
The Slovak Constitution guarantees all citizens freedom of worship. A total of 18 faiths and religious associations are registered, and all freely pursue their activities. In March 2002, Parliament approved a "treaty" between the Slovak Republic and registered churches and religious associations that has the force of law. The treaty guarantees the independence of churches and the freedom of religion.
International institutions generally confirm that Slovakia's judiciary is independent. In 2002 there were no known instances of the cabinet or other executive bodies attempting to pressure judges. Verdicts issued by the Constitutional Court in 2002 were respected by all state bodies. Courts handed down several rulings that generated controversy because they seemed to protect certain officials of the former Meciar government, particularly the former leadership of the Slovak Intelligence Service. Observers noted that the judges in these cases had been appointed by the Meciar government, though the judges themselves denied that this fact influenced their decisions.
In criminal matters, the state must provide accused persons with a lawyer if they are unable to afford one themselves. Overall, the efficiency of the Slovak judiciary is undermined by the fact that many courts continue to be overwhelmed by a backlog of cases. The Ministry of Justice has accepted international assistance in modernizing the court system.
Corruption (Score: 3.25)
Slovakia has several laws aimed specifically at fighting bribery and other forms of corruption. These include a 1995 law aimed at preventing conflicts of interest among top officials and senior civil servants. The law bans the president, members of Parliament, members of the cabinet, justices of the Constitutional Court, and other supreme state officials from pursuing any business activities, mediating for remuneration business relations between private entities and the government or state-owned corporations, and receiving income generated by either a side job or a contractual business relation that exceeds the minimum wage.
These officials and senior civil servants must declare their incomes annually. Their declarations, however, are submitted directly to a parliamentary committee tasked with preventing conflicts of interest and are not available to the public. In 2002 Parliament failed to pass a bill that would have significantly increased the number of officials subject to the conflict of interest regulations. The Dzurinda government has said that passing an enhanced law on conflicts of interest is one of its priorities.
In 2002, the government continued to implement the national Fight Against Corruption program, which the cabinet adopted in 2000. A key problem with its implementation has been the vague descriptions of tasks stipulated in ministries' action plans. Other factors hindering the implementation of the program are the dearth of officials skilled at fighting corruption and the slow pace of reforms in some areas of public administration.
On a positive note, Parliament amended the Law on Political Parties in October 2000 to outlaw anonymous contributions to parties and require that their annual financial reports be publicly accessible. Another amendment to this act, passed in April 2001, introduced compulsory audits of parties' annual balance sheets. The Slovak Chamber of Auditors assigns auditors to particular political parties by drawing lots.
Slovakia's law on public procurement has been in force since 2000. The law increased the transparency of public procurement by providing for independent monitoring of public tenders. The law was amended twice in January 2002 to introduce additional anticorruption measures and to regulate public procurement whose total value does not exceed SKK 500,000 (US$10,200). In 2001, an amendment to the law on budgetary rules took effect that raised the quality of administration and supervision of budgetary funds and funds provided by the EU and other international organizations.
In recent years, the judiciary has tightened its anticorruption mechanisms. Under the Law on Courts of Law and Judges that took effect in 2002, cases in all courts in Slovakia must be assigned to individual judges by random computer selection in order to minimize the possibility of influencing the assignment of cases. The Criminal Statute was also amended to include the offense of interfering with the independence of a court. In another anticorruption initiative, Parliament in 2001 adopted laws on the civil and public service that carefully spelled out the process of selecting, appointing, supervising, and remunerating civil servants and created a new class of civil servants with special financial and executive powers and for whom stricter anticorruption rules apply. The laws took effect in April 2002, and in August a new Bureau for Civil Service handed down an ethical code for civil servants. The government also has tried to reduce corruption by publishing all basic information on public procurement over the Internet, making state audits available to the public, and posting the register of companies in Slovakia in full on the Internet.
In 2002, police continued to pursue corruption cases. Two officials from the previous Meciar government were charged with accepting bribes: Peter Bisak, former minister of privatization, and Stefan Gavornik, former president of the National Property Fund. According to the Ministry of the Interior, 58 cases of bribing a public official were registered in Slovakia during the first six months of 2002. In 39 of the cases the person offering the bribe was detained, while in 19 cases public officials accepting the bribes were put in custody. There have been no known attempts to exert political influence over the investigation of corruption cases.
The relatively low number of registered corruption cases in Slovakia testifies to the low efficiency of law enforcement bodies in their campaign against graft. Furthermore, the police generally target low-level suspects rather than the public officials behind the most notorious and politically sensitive cases. In 2002, several public officials faced accusations and suspicions that they were abusing their posts for private profit. Perhaps the most infamous corruption case was the suspended tender for selecting the supplier of 35 light trains for the Slovak Railways. In the course of the tender, strong suspicions arose that the process had been influenced by people who were personally involved in the transaction. After examining the circumstances surrounding the tender, Prime Minister Dzurinda submitted in June 2002 a proposal to President Schuster to remove Jozef Macejko, the minister of transportation, post, and telecommunications. The president subsequently fired Macejko.
Until recently, public administration in Slovakia was highly centralized, with the executive branch wielding excessive influence and local bodies having limited powers. This concentration of power increased the possibilities for corruption. In view of this, recent decentralization efforts may help alleviate corruption and improve the quality of public administration.
Public opinion polls in Slovakia over the past several years have indicated that Slovak citizens perceive corruption to be widespread, especially in the health service, judiciary, police, ministries, customs offices, and schools. On the positive side, though, public opinion polls also show that between 1999 and 2002 citizens' perception of corruption declined in all areas in which reform measures were implemented, including tax offices, trade offices, banks, and labor bureaus.
In 2002, governmental institutions, in cooperation with NGOs, held a number of conferences, seminars, and other events that focused on fighting corruption. Transparency International Slovakia (TIS), an NGO that focuses on combating corruption and enhancing the transparency of public life in the country, prepared an educational series that has been broadcast by the state-run Slovak Television. Before the 2002 parliamentary elections, TIS prepared a series of 10 broadcasts featuring experts and politicians discussing anticorruption measures. TIS also publishes a monthly anticorruption update called Pod Lupou (Under Scrutiny) and organizes competitions for young people that focus on the issue of combating corruption. In addition, TIS successfully lobbied the State Pedagogical Institute and Slovak universities to include the issues of transparency and combating corruption in their curriculums. TIS regularly organizes seminars and discussion forums and has published a number of studies that deal with anticorruption tools, public procurement, and conflicts of interest. TIS also has organized several training programs for teachers and other public employees, NGO workers, and media professionals.
The NGO alliance Stop Conflicts of Interest actively encourages Parliament to adopt tougher anticorruption legislation. In 2002, it initiated a public debate on various anticorruption themes, helped organize a meeting between parliamentary deputies and media representatives, and regularly published proposals for new legislation. In addition, the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, in cooperation with major foreign corporations, developed an ethical code for entrepreneurs. Before the most recent parliamentary elections, a civic initiative called Fair Play was established to monitor and evaluate political party financing of election campaigns. The Citizen and Democracy foundation systematically monitors the implementation of the law providing free access to information.
In Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index, Slovakia ranked 52nd out of 102 countries surveyed in 2002. The country ranked 51st out of 91 countries in 2001.
Grigorij Meseznikov, the president of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO), has written and edited numerous publications on Slovakia's political development. Miroslav Kollar, a program director at IVO, is the author of numerous publications on the media, culture, and the church. Mr. Meseznikov and Mr. Kollar are coeditors of the Global Report on the State of Society in Slovakia, IVO's analytical yearbook. Michal Vasecka, a program director with IVO, specializes in the study of civil society and ethnic minorities.