Freedom Rating: 1.5
Civil Liberties: 2
Political Rights: 1
The Czech and Slovak Republics celebrated the end of their "velvet divorce" in 2000. Slovakia also began European Union (EU) accession talks, joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), intensified efforts to join NATO, and launched a national anticorruption program. The government of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda survived two constitutional challenges to its power by Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). President Rudolf Schuster survived life-threatening complications from surgery.
Communism in Czechoslovakia collapsed in 1989. The country held its first free elections in 1990 and began negotiations on separation into two independent states in 1991. In 1993, an independent Slovak constitution took effect and the Czechoslovak union was formally and peacefully dissolved.
Vladimir Meciar and the HZDS dominated Slovak politics until 1998. Meciar, who served three times as prime minister, battled with President Michal Kovac over executive and government powers, opposed direct presidential elections, resisted economic liberalization, and disregarded the rule of law and a free press. He is suspected of involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of Kovac's son. Under Meciar, Slovakia failed to meet the criteria for opening EU accession talks and to receive an invitation to join NATO.
In 1998, Meciar's HZDS received 27 percent of the vote and 43 seats in parliamentary elections. However, the opposition Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), which received 26.33 percent and 42 seats, managed to form a new government with the Democratic Left Party (SD), the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), and the Party of Civil Understanding (SOP). SDK leader Mikulas Dzurinda became prime minister.
Parliament failed five times in 1998 to elect a new president with a three-fifths majority. Finally, in January 1999, parliament amended the constitution and instituted popular presidential elections. Ten candidates participated in the May 1999 voting. Rudolph Schuster of the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) defeated Meciar in the second round with 57 percent of the vote. Under Dzurinda and Schuster, Slovakia has improved judicial independence, intensified efforts to combat corruption, jump-started economic reforms, and become a candidate for membership in the EU.
In 2000, several events electrified Slovak politics but proved the constitution at work. In June, when President Schuster suffered life-threatening complications from surgery, his powers were transferred to Prime Minister Dzurinda and Parliamentary Chairman Jozef Migas. A month later, Schuster's powers were restored. The Dzurinda government survived two challenges from the HZDS – a failed no-confidence vote in April and an invalidated referendum in November on early parliamentary elections.
Corruption took the spotlight in 2000 when allegations of abuse of office touched the police, parliament, Meciar, and even Dzurinda. These accusations were balanced, in part, by the introduction of the National Program to Fight Corruption. Parliament approved laws on money laundering and freedom of access to information; the Justice Ministry launched a transparent privatization register on the Internet; and Bratislava police declared war on organized crime. By year's end, though, nongovernmental organizations had grown weary of bureaucratic delays in implementing the program.
Also in 2000, police closed their investigation into the 1995 abduction of former President Michal Kovac's son. Parliament lifted the immunity of 12 suspects, including former intelligence service chief Ivan Lexa, and prosecutors indicted them on charges of kidnapping and other crimes. In late December, though, parliament rejected legislation abolishing amnesties that Meciar granted in 1998 in connection with the case. It's unclear how this decision will affect the prosecution of Lexa and others.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
Slovak citizens aged 18 and older can change their government democratically under a system of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. Voters elect the president and members of the unicameral National Council of the Slovak Republic (parliament).
Ten candidates competed in the 1999 presidential race. Public television channels gave equal airtime to candidates, and polling and vote counting were transparent and well organized. Rudolph Schuster, representing the SOP, defeated Meciar in the second round of voting. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) gave the new presidential election law a positive evaluation.
Parliamentary elections in 1998 were also free and fair, but the OSCE criticized Meciar-inspired restrictions on private media and preelection coalitions. Sixteen parties participated, and six met the five percent threshold for securing seats. The HZDS lost its majority to a coalition of the SDK, the SD, the SMK, and the SOP. Parliament reversed the restrictions in 1999.
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech and bans censorship. The majority of media outlets are privately owned, and more than 80 percent of journalists belong to the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists. In June 2000, President Schuster signed a freedom-of-information law designed to increase government transparency and reduce corruption. The law takes effect in 2001. In December 2000, the controversial and pro-HZDS newspaper Slovenska Republika folded. After the HZDS defeat in 1998, the paper encountered difficulty attracting advertising revenue and ultimately could not overcome its debts.
The government respects religious freedom. Churches and religious organizations that register with the state receive government subsidies. In 2000, the government designated September 9 as Holocaust Victims Day of Commemoration, agreed to compensate the Jewish community for assets taken during World War II, and helped resolve a dispute between the Greek Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church over property seized from the former and transferred to the latter by the former Communist government. The government also completed a general treaty with the Vatican, but critics vowed to oppose future subtreaties that might affirm pro-Catholic views on divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and Catholic education in public schools. Approximately 60 percent of the population is Roman Catholic.
The government respects the right of persons to assemble peacefully, strike, petition state bodies, and associate in clubs, political parties, and trade unions. Judges, prosecutors, firefighters, and members of the armed forces may not strike. The Interior Ministry has identified more than 17,000 associations, foundations, and nonprofit organizations.
Minorities and ethnic groups have a constitutional right to help resolve issues that concern them. In 1999, parliament passed the Law on the Use of Minority Languages in Official Communications. In addition to Slovak, minority languages now may be used in locales where a minority group makes up 20 percent of the population. Roma continue to experience discrimination, but the Dzurinda government has taken positive steps to begin improving their situation. In 2000, 14 political parties and 29 nongovernmental organizations agreed to form a Roma coalition for the 2002 parliamentary election.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and a constitutional court. In 2000, nine new judges, including two ethnic Hungarians and one woman, joined the constitutional court. A United Nations envoy called the government's unsuccessful effort to fire supreme court chief Stefan Harabin "politically motivated," while the European Commission criticized some judges for perpetuating court delays, accepting bribes, and succumbing to political pressure. In July, parliament passed, in its first reading, extensive constitutional reforms designed, in part, to strengthen judicial independence, improve efficiency, and harmonize Slovak law with other Western legal systems. Final passage is expected in 2001.
Slovak citizens enjoy a range of personal rights and liberties. The government respects the inviolability of the home, the right to privacy, and the right to move and travel freely. The constitution provides protections for marriage, parenthood, and the family.
Slovakia has a market economy in which the private sector accounts for approximately 85 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Small and medium-sized businesses alone account for 50 percent of GDP and approximately 70 percent of all enterprises. In 2000, the government sold the steelmaker VSZ, the nation's largest employer, to a U.S. concern and accelerated plans for privatization in the banking, energy, and telecommunications sectors. Despite progress in stabilizing the economy and accelerating reforms, unemployment topped 20 percent in 2000.
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