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Freedom in the World 2011 - Slovakia

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 12 August 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Slovakia, 12 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e4518e513.html [accessed 24 April 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 ruling populist Smer party won a plurality in June 2010 parliamentary elections, but the center-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union-Democratic Party (SDKU-DS) formed a majority coalition with three smaller partners, and Iveta Radicová of the SDKU-DS became the country's first female prime minister. Supreme Court president Stefan Harabin resisted efforts at judicial reform during the year and continued his attacks on the press, filing a $290,000 libel suit against Rádio Expres. Meanwhile, the Radicová's government took steps to address corruption, including requiring that information related to state contracts be published online.

Czechoslovakia was created in 1918 amid the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Soviet forces helped establish a communist government after World War II. A series of peaceful anticommunist demonstrations in 1989 brought about the collapse of the communist regime, and open elections were held the following year. After another round of elections in 1992, negotiations began on increased Slovak autonomy within the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. This process led to a peaceful dissolution of the federation and the establishment of an independent Slovak Republic in 1993.

From 1993 to 1998, Vladimír Meciar – who served twice as prime minister during this period – and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) dominated politics, flouted the rule of law, and intimidated independent media. In the 1998 parliamentary elections, voters rejected Meciar's rule and empowered a broad right-left coalition. The new parliament selected Mikulás Dzurinda as prime minister and worked to enhance judicial independence, combat corruption, undertake economic reforms, and actively seek membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO.

The HZDS led the 2002 parliamentary elections, but Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) formed a center-right government with three other parties, allowing the country to complete reforms associated with EU and NATO membership. Slovakia formally joined both organizations in 2004.

Meciar lost the 2004 presidential election to a former HZDS ally, Ivan Gasparovic. The governing coalition fractured in February 2006 amid unpopular economic reforms, prompting early parliamentary elections in June. The leftist, populist Smer (Direction-Social Democracy)led the voting and formed an unusual coalition with the HZDS – now allied with the People's Party (LS) – and the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS), raising concerns abroad that a government consisting of the left and right wings of Slovak politics could adopt destabilizing policies.

Following a corruption scandal involving the Slovak Land Fund in November 2007, Prime Minister Robert Fico of Smer dismissed the deputy director of the fund and the agriculture minister, who had been selected by the LS-HZDS. The ensuing conflict between Fico and Meciar almost broke up the coalition. In January 2008, the three opposition parties brought an unsuccessful no-confidence motion against Fico, accusing him of complicity in the corruption case.

Supported by Smer and the SNS, President Gasparovic won a second term in a two-round election held in March and April 2009, defeating sociologist Iveta Radicová of the SDKU (now allied with the Democratic Party, or DS) with 55 percent of the vote in the runoff.

Smer won the largest share of votes in parliamentary elections held in June 2010, taking 62 of the 150 seats. The SDKU-DS placed a distant second with 28 seats, followed by the center-right Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) with 22, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) with 15, the new ethnic Hungarian party Most-Híd with 14, and the SNS with 9. For the first time since 1991, Meciar's party did not win any seats, having failed to reach the 5 percent vote threshold for representation. Despite Smer's plurality, the SDKU-DS was able to form a center-right majority in July with the SaS, the KDH, and Most-Híd, and Radicová became the country's first female prime minister. The new government pledged to tackle unemployment and reduce the large budget deficit.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Slovakia is an electoral democracy. The presidential election in 2009 and parliamentary elections in 2010 were considered free and fair. Voters elect the president for up to two five-year terms and members of the 150-seat, unicameral National Council (parliament) for four-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president but must have majority support in the parliament to govern. Slovakia's political party system is fragmented. The current governing parties are the SDKU-DS, the SaS, the KDH, and Most-Híd, while the opposition consists of Smer and the SNS.

In response to a law enacted in Hungary allowing Hungarians living abroad to apply for citizenship as of January 2011, the Slovak parliament amended the Citizenship Act in May 2010, pledging to revoke Slovak citizenship from those holding another citizenship. Ethnic Hungarians make up roughly 10 percent of Slovakia's population.

Corruption remains a problem in Slovakia, and protection for whistleblowers is poor. A new anticorruption law adopted in March 2010 allows state police and prosecutors to investigate the origin of anyone's assets if they amount to more than $630,000; assets of undetermined origin can be confiscated by the courts. The law drew criticism for placing the burden of proof on the defendant. A judge was convicted in April for accepting bribes during a 2005 real-estate dispute, and was sentenced to three years and six months in prison, marking the country's first successful prosecution of a judge for corruption. Multiple cases of corruption were exposed after Prime Minister Iveta Radicová took office in July 2010, including alleged misuse of EU and regional aid funds. The new government took some steps to correct its predecessor's lack of transparency regarding public procurement processes, initiating the online publication of information related to state contracts. Transportation Minister Ivan Svejna of Most-Híd resigned in October over an apparent conflict of interest involving state contracts awarded to his private consulting firm, Hayek Consulting. Radicová ordered the dismantling of the National Agency for the Development of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (NADSME), which is accused of misplacing millions of dollars in state funds, and at year's end the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) was investigating NADSME's use of €50 million (approximately $72 million) in EU funding. Slovakia was ranked 59 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Slovakia's media are largely free but remain vulnerable to political interference. Journalists have faced an increasing number of verbal attacks and libel suits by public officials. In the run-up to the 2010 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Robert Fico's government continued to pressure the state-owned public broadcaster, Slovak Television (STV), to provide favorable coverage of official events. In March, Slovakia's largest financial group, J&T, purchased Pravda, the country's second-largest daily; the firm had acquired a popular television station in 2007, raising concerns about ownership concentration. In May, the president of the Supreme Court, Stefan Harabin, sued Rádio Expres for approximately $293,000, accusing the station of falsely reporting that $47,900 in renovations had been made to his office restroom. The government does not limit access to the internet.

The government respects religious freedom. Registered religious organizations are eligible for tax exemptions and government subsidies. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination and consequently receives the largest share of subsidies. A 2007 law requires religious groups to have at least 20,000 members to register, effectively excluding the small Muslim community and other groups. Academic freedom is respected in Slovakia.

Authorities uphold the rights to assemble peacefully, petition state bodies, and associate in clubs, political parties, and trade unions. In May 2010, Slovakia's first gay rights rally was attacked by neo-Nazi counterdemonstrators, and the police were widely criticized for failing to provide adequate security. In October, nearly 3,000 union members protested the government's proposed spending cuts and tax increases.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and an independent Judicial Council oversees the assignment and transfer of judges. However, the court system suffers from corruption, intimidation of judges, and a significant backlog of cases. Harabin, the Supreme Court president, has been criticized for intimidating the media and unfairly disciplining reformist judges. In November 2010, Justice Minister Lucia Zitnanska filed a complaint against Harabin with the Constitutional Court, accusing him of obstructing the Finance Ministry's efforts to carry out an audit of the Supreme Court. In response, the Supreme Court launched a criminal petition against Zitnanska for abuse of power, libel, and meddling with the court's independence. Both cases were pending at year's end.

Slovakia was criticized for its handling of high-profile immigration cases in early 2010. The country accepted three Guantanamo Bay detainees for resettlement in January 2010, but they were subsequently held in isolation under poor conditions in a camp for asylum seekers. Following a hunger strike by the three men in mid-June, they were awarded residency permits in July. Separately, in May, the government extradited Mustapha Labsi to his native Algeria, where he had been sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment on terrorism charges. Having already completed terrorism sentences in Britain and France, Labsi had sought political asylum in Slovakia, but was arrested in 2007 at Algeria's request. Both Slovakia's Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights had ruled against the repatriation, citing the likelihood that Labsi would face torture or other mistreatment in Algeria.

Roma, who make up some 10 percent of Slovakia's population, continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in education, housing, employment, public services, and the criminal justice system. Discriminatory practices include forced evictions and improper placement of Romany children in special education programs. Roma also face the persistent threat of racially motivated violence. In August 2010, six members of a Romany family were shot to death in their Bratislava apartment, apparently targeted for their ethnicity.

Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, they continue to be underrepresented in senior-level business positions and in the government. Only 23 women hold seats in the 150-seat parliament, though Radicová became Slovakia's first female prime minister in 2010. Domestic violence is punishable by imprisonment but remains widespread. Romani women have been sterilized by doctors without their consent. Human trafficking from and through Slovakia, mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation, is also a problem.

* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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