Freedom Rating: 1.5
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 1
Slovakia's political rights rating changed from 2 to 1 due to the new government enacting a previously suppressed law on direct presidential elections in January, followed by the election of Rudolph Schuster as president in May.
Less than one year after emerging from international isolation under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, Slovakia held direct presidential elections in 1999 and continued trying to catch up with its Central European neighbors in the race to join the European Union (EU) and NATO.
Meciar and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party have dominated Slovakian politics since the fall of communism in 1989 and the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakian in 1993. In the 1994 parliamentary elections, HZDS won 61 seats and formed a ruling coalition with the left-wing Workers Association (ZRS) and the ultra-right Slovak National Party (SNS). In 1995, Meciar moved to reduce the authority of President Michal Kovac, whom he blamed for the resignation of the previous HZDS government in early 1994.
By 1997, the EU and NATO had bypassed Slovakia in the first rounds of expansion because of Meciar's authoritarian rule. That summer, five opposition parties – the Christian Democrats, the Democratic Union, the Democratic Party, the Social Democrats, and the Green Party – formed the center-right Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK).
In September 1998, Slovak voters overwhelmingly backed the SDK and its allies. On October 30, the parliamentary chairman appointed the SDK leader Milukas Dzurinda prime minister. The government also included members of the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), which represented the country's estimated 500,000 ethnic Hungarians. In November, the ruling coalition won more than the three-fifths majority needed to change the constitution and implemented direct presidential election laws that Meciar had obstructed in 1997.
The new government's program included pledges to privatize banks, to stabilize the economy, to make human and minority rights top priorities, and to push harder for membership in NATO and the EU.
The government allowed NATO to use Slovakia as a land corridor to Kosovo in April 1999 and pursued reforms of the bureaucracy and social welfare system. In October, the European Commission recommended starting EU membership negotiations with Slovakia. The government also investigated Meciar-era corruption. In February 1999, parliament waived immunity guarantees for government officials and indicted the former interior minister for forging ballots in a 1997 referendum. In April, a secret service agent confessed to participating in the 1995 kidnapping of the son of Michal Kovac, a former president and an opponent of Meciar's.
In July 1999, there were signs that Slovakia's strong growth would slow from 6 percent in 1998 to 4.4 percent in 1999. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned about high spending, but praised the country's macroeconomic policies. Yet austerity programs reduced government approval from 58 percent in June to 53 percent in July and contributed to growing divisions within the coalition as well as rising popularity for the HZDS and other right-wing parties by September.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Citizens can change the government democratically, and the 1998 parliamentary elections were free and fair. In May 1999, the government-supported candidate Rudolph Schuster, of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP), defeated Meciar in runoff presidential elections, getting 57 percent of the vote to Meciar's 42 percent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) found the elections to be fair and media coverage balanced.
Article 26 of the Slovak constitution guarantees freedom of expression and the press. In August 1999, parliament began consideration of a new draft media law that would end years of ambiguity and political fighting about media regulation in Slovakia. The law would meet EU requirements, although the International Centre Against Censorship noted that access of information to the public and whistle-blower protection could be strengthened. Article 103 of the Penal Code penalizes defamation of the president, but enforcement has been selective in the past. All major dailies are private. There are some 20 private radio stations. The state-owned Slovak Television, which reaches the whole country, broadcasts on two channels, STV-1 and STV-2. Private stations include TV Marzika and VTV, which broadcast via cable and satellite. In 1997, a private information agency, SITA, was established.
Freedom of religion is respected in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country. Only registered churches and religious organizations have the explicit right to conduct public worship services. There are no significant restrictions on freedom of assembly.
Slovakia is a multiparty state, and there are some 90 political parties and movements. No parties have been banned.
Article 37 of the constitution allows for independent trade unions, and almost all are represented in the Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ), which has 1.1 million members and 42 branches. In July 1999, more than 16,000 teachers protested in Bratislava against government budget cuts.
The court system consists of local and regional courts with the supreme court as the highest court of appeals except for constitutional questions, which are considered by the constitutional court. Most judges rule fairly and impartially, though the judicial system is overburdened. Throughout 1999, courts supported and upheld parliamentary decisions to investigate and prosecute officials from the previous government for corruption and illegal activity.
The Hungarian and Roma (Gypsy) minorities have faced discrimination in the past. The parliament approved a new language law in July 1999 to give more linguistic rights to the ethnic Hungarian minority. The law incorporated EU and OSCE suggestions, but ethnic Hungarians and the Hungarian government felt it did not offer Hungarians enough protection. Following migration attempts by groups of Roma in July, the Slovak government offered to work with the Czech Republic in resolving discrimination against the Roma in both countries.
There are no significant restrictions on freedom of movement, or choice of residence and employment. Article 20 of the constitution guarantees the protection of property rights. There are no serious impediments to operating a business, though growing tax and insurance burdens, increased administrative difficulties, and a shortage of loans and capital have had an impact on small and medium-size enterprises. While "insider" privatization and corruption have effected equality of opportunity, Slovaks generally do have the means to share in legitimate economic gains. In May and June, the government announced new plans for increased privatization of the banking, power, and telecommunications industries.
Women are equal under the law and enjoy the same property, inheritance, and other legal rights as men; they are represented in the professions, government, and higher education although wage discrepancies tend to favor men. In the first round of the May 1999 presidential elections, Magda Vasaryova, a sociologist and film star, finished third with six percent of the vote.
Disclaimer: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved
This 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.