Nations in Transit 2009 - Slovakia

  • Author: Grigorij Meseznikov, Miroslav Kollár, Michal Vasecka
  • Document source:
  • Date:
    30 June 2009

by Grigorij Meseznikov, Miroslav Kollár, and Michal Vasecka

Capital: Bratislava
Population: 5.4 million
GNI/capita: US$19,220

The data above was provided by The World Bank, World Bank Indicators 2009.

Nations in Transit Ratings and Averaged Scores

Electoral Process2.502.251.751.501.501.251.251.501.501.50
Civil Society2.252.001.751.501.
Independent Media2.
National Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a2.
Local Democratic Governancen/an/an/an/an/a2.
Judicial Framework and Independence2.502.
Democracy Score2.712.502.

* Starting with the 2005 edition, Freedom House introduced separate analysis and ratings for national democratic governance and local democratic governance to provide readers with more detailed and nuanced analysis of these two important subjects.

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s). The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year.

Executive Summary

Nineteen years after the fall of the Communist regime, Slovakia has a pluralistic democratic political system and functioning market economy. From 1993 to 1998, democratic political forces were threatened by the authoritarian practices of nationalist and populist parties that ruled the country at that time. The 1998 parliamentary elections brought to power a broad coalition of democratic political forces that promptly remedied deformations caused by the previous authoritarian administration. Thanks to extensive political and socioeconomic reforms, Slovakia managed to catch up in the European integration process and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004. The taxation system's reform, changes in labor law, recovery of the banking sector, and decentralization of public administration made the country attractive to foreign investors, boosted its gross domestic product, and substantially reduced the unemployment rate.

Frequent political conflicts and corruption scandals, however, have reduced voter support for reform-oriented democratic forces. The 2006 parliamentary elections brought to power a coalition government comprising parties that had criticized the liberal reforms and used populist methods of appealing to voters – Smer-Social Democracy (Smer-SD), self-declared social democrats, the Slovak National Party (SNS), radical nationalists, and the People's Party-Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS-HZDS). The inherited economic development created comfortable conditions for the new government led by Prime Minister Robert Fico, chairman of Smer-SD. In 2008, Fico's cabinet was not forced to adopt any austerity measures – the ruling coalition enjoyed a comfortable parliamentary majority, and the Fico administration de facto halted the process of liberal reforms. During the year, the following trends could be observed: broadened state interventionism in the economy and social policy, clientelism in filling government and public posts, and an increased ethnocentric element in domestic politics.

National Democratic Governance. In 2008, the political system in Slovakia remained stable, and government institutions performed their duties relatively effectively. At the same time, problematic trends inherited from 2007 developed. The ruling coalition continued to use its majority in Parliament to negate legislative initiatives by opposition deputies. Parliament passed declarative documents in an attempt to usurp powers that did not belong to it, and party clientelism became the modus operandi of the ruling coalition (supported by Prime Minister Robert Fico). Retroactive efforts to intervene in previously agreed rules undermined the principle of legal safety, particularly in relations between government and owners of privatized enterprises. Owing to disturbing nonconsensual elements in Parliament's performance, confrontation between the ruling coalition and opposition, and challenges to the established system of checks and balances, Slovakia's rating for national democratic governance worsens from 2.50 to 2.75.

Electoral Process. In 2008, Slovakia did not hold any nationwide elections and no principal changes were made to the currently valid electoral legislation, which provides adequate conditions for fair political competition. The only legislative change was a technical amendment to the Law on Elections to the European Parliament. In one regional Parliament, the ruling coalition attempted to change the borders of constituencies in order to achieve political profit; furthermore, this case of gerrymandering was aimed against political representatives of ethnic Hungarians. The seats in the national Parliament are divided among six (three ruling and three opposition) political parties. The power ratio between the ruling coalition and the opposition in Parliament remained unchanged in 2008. The situation of two opposition parties Slovak Democratic and Christian Union – Democratic Party (SDKÚ-DS) and Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) became complicated after several deputies deserted their parliamentary caucuses; however, they have not joined the ruling coalition and operate in the assembly as independent deputies. The country's rating for electoral process in 2007 remains unchanged at 1.50.

Civil Society. In 2008, Slovakia's civil society remained vibrant. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector has a well-developed infrastructure, training, and research base. The legal and regulatory environment is free of excessive state pressures, and taxation is favorable. Yet the Fico administration is less open toward NGOs than its predecessor, and the government is not receptive to policy advocacy groups and civic initiatives. The processes of re-etatization of various activities in the public sphere continued, while civic initiatives mobilized against certain governmental institutions and powerful financial groups. Owing to the Fico administration's evident distrust of civil society, frequent verbal attacks by ruling politicians, and the absence of legislation improving the long-term sustainability of civil society structures, Slovakia's rating for civil society worsens from 1.50 to 1.75.

Independent Media. In 2008, the ruling political elite, courts, and regulatory organs continued to pressure Slovak media and journalists. Verbal degradation of journalism as a profession and the recently adopted Press Act may in the long term negatively affect media independence. The government strengthened its influence over public service media along with legislative proposals seeking to increase their financial dependence on government, which reduced space for their desired and law-envisaged role within society. In 2008, officials articulated attitudes and positions on the media that created space for increasing the ruling political elite's influence over media content and performance. Owing to politically motivated legislation, restriction of the space for freedom of speech, government pressure on public service media, and frequent verbal attacks by Prime Minister Fico on independent journalists, the country's rating for independent media worsens from 2.50 to 2.75.

Local Democratic Governance. Thanks to public administration reform carried out between 2001 and 2005, Slovakia became a decentralized state with a relatively effective system of regional and local self-governance. The positive effects of decentralization continued to show throughout 2008. At the same time, the government furthered its centralist public administration concepts and strengthened positions of executive power and select economic groups at the expense of self-governments and their functions. Parliament did not approve any legislative initiatives to deepen decentralization or strengthen self-governance democracy. On the contrary, the associations of regional and local self-governance frequently clashed with the government over legislative bills concerning their performance. Owing to persistent centralist trends to limit the development of local democracy, the country's rating for local democratic governance worsens from 2.25 to 2.50.

Judicial Framework and Independence. In 2008, Parliament passed laws improving the protection of certain human rights, including amendments to the Antidiscrimination Act and Law on Free Access to Information. Yet the cabinet's measures in other areas ignored the rights of particular population groups (that is, ownership rights of people inhabiting areas intended for investment projects). The new Press Act poses significant risks to freedom of speech and the media. Measures by the justice minister provoked serious concern, and there were suspicions that the Constitutional Court's adjudication on certain cases was affected by political influences. In 2008, interethnic relations further deteriorated, exacerbated by a cabinet measure to replace Hungarian geographic names with Slovak equivalents in the textbooks of ethnic Hungarian pupils. Ruling coalition leaders made racist public statements, while the overall number of racially motivated crimes increased. Owing to negative developments in interethnic relations, Slovakia's rating for judicial framework and independence worsens from 2.50 to 2.75.

Corruption. Corruption continues to rank among the most pressing social problems in Slovakia. While anticorruption measures adopted by the previous administration created generally favorable institutional conditions to combat corruption, the intensity of the government's anticorruption campaign declined perceptibly in 2008. Several corruption and clientelism scandals broke out, and the cabinet was selective in calling involved officials to account. NGOs monitoring corruption and transparency of public life reproached the incumbent administration for its nonsystemic approach and increasingly prevalent clientelism. The prime minister repeatedly attacked such groups, questioning the moral integrity of their representatives and accusing them of furthering the political interests of the opposition. Owing to the passivity of the current administration in fighting corruption, the absence of important legislative initiatives, and the persistence of open clientelism, Slovakia's rating for corruption remains at 3.25.

Outlook for 2009. The ruling coalition of Smer-SD-SNS-LS-HZDS is very likely to preserve its strong position in 2009, continue to weaken opposition parties, and prepare the ground for ruling parties in the next parliamentary elections scheduled for 2010. In March-April 2009, Slovakia will hold direct presidential elections, elections to the European Parliament, and regional elections. Presidential candidates with realistic chances for election include the incumbent president Ivan Gasparovic, supported by ruling parties Smer-SD and SNS, and Iveta Radicová, a joint opposition candidate who has been endorsed by SDKÚ-DS, KDH, and the Hungarian Coalition (SMK). The implications of adopting the single European currency scheduled for January 2009, combined with the global financial crisis, may affect the public's political sympathies and electoral behavior.

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.