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Freedom in the World 2008 - Slovakia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 2 July 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2008 - Slovakia, 2 July 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/487ca25a69.html [accessed 2 October 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.

Capital: Bratislava
Population: 5,400,000

Political Rights Score: 1
Civil Liberties Score: 1
Status: Free

Overview

The unusual coalition of Prime Minister Robert Fico's leftist and populist Smer party, the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), and the People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS) managed to remain not only stable but popular for much of 2007, thanks in part to a healthy economy. However, the dismissal of the LS-HZDS agriculture minister in November spurred acrimony within the coalition and almost collapsed the government. Meanwhile, tensions between Hungary and Slovakia continued.


Anti-Communist opposition forces brought about the collapse of the Czechoslovak government in 1989, and the country held its first free elections the following year. After elections in June 1992, negotiations began on increased Slovak autonomy within the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. These discussions led to a peaceful dissolution of the federation and the establishment of an independent Slovak Republic in January 1993.

From 1993 to 1998, Vladimir Meciar – who served twice as prime minister during this period – and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) dominated politics, opposed direct presidential elections, flouted the rule of law, and intimidated independent media. Meciar's policies resulted in Slovakia's failure to meet the criteria necessary to open European Union (EU) accession talks and join NATO.

In the 1998 parliamentary elections, voters rejected Meciar's rule and empowered a broad right-left coalition. The new parliament selected Mikulas Dzurinda as prime minister and worked to enhance judicial independence, combat corruption, undertake economic reforms, and actively seek membership in the EU and NATO.

Of the 25 parties that competed in the September 2002 parliamentary elections, only seven exceeded the 5 percent representation threshold. Meciar's HZDS led with 19.5 percent of the vote, but Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) formed a center-right government in partnership with the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and the Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO).

In April 2003, the legislature ratified Slovakia's accession to NATO. In a binding national referendum that was held the following month, Slovaks voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the EU, with 92 percent supporting membership. Slovakia duly joined NATO and the EU in April and May 2004, respectively.

Meciar led the first round of the April 2004 presidential election, but he lost a runoff against a former ally, Ivan Gasparovic. In 2005, the government's economic reforms caused it to lose popular support. Opposition legislators boycotted the opening of parliament, leading to a lack of quorum that delayed the new session.

In February 2006, the KDH left the coalition, prompting the government to schedule early elections in June. In the balloting, the leftist, populist Smer (Direction) party took the largest share of the votes, winning 50 of 150 seats. Dzurinda's party came second, but several of his potential coalition partners failed to make the 5 percent threshold. To some surprise, Smer's leader, Robert Fico, formed a coalition with the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) and Meciar's party, now called the People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS). International and domestic concern immediately arose about the unusual new coalition's stability and responsibility. The Party of European Socialists (PES), the EU-level grouping of center-left parties, suspended Smer in October for its coalition with the SNS, which the PES leadership considered racist and extremist. When a scandal involving the Slovak Land Fund emerged, Fico ordered the dismissal of the deputy director of the Fund, Branislav Briza, and the LS-HZDS-appointed agricultural minister Miroslav Jurena. Bitter accusations between coalition members escalated into conflict between Fico and Merciar, and almost broke the coalition in late November 2007.

Despite initial predictions, Fico's government remained stable in 2007, thanks in part to robust economic growth and falling unemployment. Plans to join the euro currency system in 2009 remained on track, and Slovakia became a candidate for a place on the UN Human Rights Council of 2008-11. The inflammatory behavior of SNS leader Jan Slota, who continued to make insulting comments about the Hungarian and Romany minorities, did little to dampen popular approval of the government. The tense relationship between Hungary and Slovakia was strained further when the Slovak parliament approved a resolution in September that reaffirmed Czechoslovakia's World War II-era Benes Decrees, which effectively stripped ethnic Germans and Hungarians of their citizenship and led to their deportation to Germany, Austria, and Hungary after the war.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Slovakia is an electoral democracy. Voters elect the president for five-year terms and members of the 150-seat, unicameral National Council (parliament) for four-year terms. A 2001 law granted voting privileges to noncitizens, allowing permanent residents to vote in elections for municipal and regional governments. The prime minister is appointed by the president but must have majority support in the parliament in order to govern. Parliamentary elections in 2006 were considered free and fair.

Slovakia's political party system is fragmented. In 2007, the governing parties were Direction-Social Democracy (known as Smer), the LS-HZDS, and the SNS. The SDKU, the SMK, and the KDH form the opposition. All other parties failed to reach the 5 percent electoral threshold required for representation in parliament.

Corruption remains a problem in Slovakia, especially in health care, education, law enforcement, and the judiciary, according to the European Commission, the EU's executive arm. The government began a program of reforms in 1999 that have centralized and increased staffing for anticorruption efforts. Moreover, the Law on Free Access to Information has contributed to improved transparency. Slovakia was ranked 49 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are guaranteed by the constitution; any restriction must be designed "to protect the rights and liberties of others, state security, public order, or public health and morality." Slovakia's media are largely free but remain vulnerable to political interference. Media watchdogs have cautioned the government on increasing verbal attacks on journalists by politicians. The government does not limit access to the internet.

The government respects religious freedom. Registered churches and religious organizations are eligible for tax exemptions and government subsidies. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the country and consequently receives the largest share of subsidies. Although Slovakia has not banned or impeded any groups from practicing their faith, the U.S. State Department has noted the persistence of anti-Semitism among some parts of the population. In April 2007, the 200-member Baha'i community registered as an official religious community shortly before the laws changed to make registration more difficult, while the Slovak Muslim community decided against registering. Academic freedom is respected in Slovakia.

The authorities uphold the rights to assemble peacefully, petition state bodies, and associate in clubs, political parties, and trade unions. However, civil society is not as active as in other countries in Central Europe. Judges, prosecutors, firefighters, and members of the armed forces may not strike, but in February 2007, air traffic controllers went on strike for six days to protest unsafe working conditions.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and a Constitutional Court. An independent Judicial Council oversees the assignment and transfer of judges. The European Commission has noted the perception of a high level of corruption in the Slovak courts and expressed concern over the judiciary's perceived lack of impartiality. Corruption and a significant backlog of cases have raised questions about the judicial system's capacity to function at EU levels.

There are more than 10 recognized ethnic minorities in Slovakia. While minorities have a constitutional right to contribute to the resolution of issues that concern them, Roma continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in education, housing, employment, public services, and the criminal justice system. In 2003, there were reports of coerced or forced sterilization of Romany women the year before, on the orders of local health officials. Roma also face the persistent threat of racially motivated violence. Even though the law criminalizes such acts, reports indicate that law enforcement officials do not always investigate crimes against Roma. In response to these problems, the government began a program to improve education and housing for Roma in 2002. The government has also established an informal advisory board to widen dialogue with the Romany community.

In December 2003, Slovakia reached an agreement with Hungary on the application of Hungary's Status Law, which grants special health and educational benefits to ethnic Hungarians residing outside of Hungary. A foundation in Slovakia will administer the support for Hungarians living there. Hungarians are represented by the SMK in the Slovak parliament, currently in opposition.

Slovakia has a market economy in which the private sector accounts for approximately 80 percent of gross domestic product. Official unemployment remains high – approximately 10.8 percent in mid-2007 – but has fallen steadily in recent years. The government contends that many of those who collect unemployment benefits may simultaneously be working on the black market.

Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, they continue to be underrepresented in senior-level business positions and in the government. Domestic violence is punishable by imprisonment, but remains widespread. Human trafficking from and through Slovakia, mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation, remains a problem. In 2007, Slovakia was one of two initial signatories to the Council of Europe's Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.

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