Freedom in the World
The center-left Social Democrats (SD) led Slovenia’s September 2008 parliamentary elections and formed a new coalition government with three smaller parties. SD leader Borut Pahor replaced Janez Jansa of the center-right Slovenian Democratic Party as prime minister. On the international front, Slovenia’s stint in the presidency of the European Union during the first half of 2008 was generally considered to be a success.
The territory of modern Slovenia, long ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, passed to the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) after World War I, and it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following World War II. After decades of relative prosperity, various elements in Slovene civil society began to part ways with the Communist system. In 1990, the Democratic United Opposition (DEMOS) defeated the ruling League of Communists in democratic elections, although former Communist leader Milan Kucan was elected president. The country declared independence in June 1991 and secured its status after a 10-day conflict with Yugoslav troops, escaping the war and destruction suffered by much of the rest of Yugoslavia as it disintegrated.
After 1990, Slovenia was generally ruled by center-left governments, the most important element of which was Janez Drnovsek’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDS). Drnovsek served as prime minister almost continuously from 1992 to 2002, when he was elected president. In the 2004 parliamentary elections, Janez Jansa’s center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) finally unseated the LDS-led government, and Jansa became prime minister.
Law professor and former diplomat Danilo Turk, running as an independent, received the backing of the Social Democrats (SD) and several other parties in the 2007 presidential election. He won the November runoff with 68 percent of the vote, defeating the government’s candidate, Alojz Peterle.
In the September 2008 parliamentary elections, the SD captured 29 seats and some 30 percent of the vote, followed by the SDS with 28 seats. SD leader Borut Pahor, who became prime minister, formed a coalition government with three small parties: the center-left Zares (9 seats), the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (7 seats), and the once-powerful LDS (5 seats). The remaining seats in the 90-member lower house went to the far-right Slovene National Party (5 seats), an alliance of the Slovene People’s Party and the Slovene Youth Party (5 seats), and the Hungarian and Italian ethnic minorities (1 seat each).
Slovenia held the rotating presidency of the European Union (EU) from January through June 2008, becoming the first to take up that responsibility among the former communist states that joined the bloc in 2004. In 2006, Slovenia had also been the first of that group to adopt the euro currency.
Slovenia is an electoral democracy. The country has a bicameral Parliament: members of the 90-seat National Assembly, which chooses the prime minister, are elected to four-year terms, and the 40-seat National Council, a largely advisory body, represents professional groups and local interests. The president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. Elections since independence have been considered free and fair. Slovenia’s main political parties are the center-left SD, led by current prime minister Borut Pahor, and the center-right SDS of former prime minister Janez Jansa. Such large parties typically govern in coalition with smaller parties.
One seat each is reserved in the National Assembly for Slovenia’s Hungarian and Italian minorities, and Roma are automatically given seats on 20 municipal councils. Citizens with origins in other former Yugoslav republics have encountered discrimination in Slovenia, but an ethnic Serb, Zoran Jankovic, was elected mayor of Ljubljana in the 2006 municipal elections.
Corruption, while less extensive than in some other Central and Eastern European countries, remains a problem in Slovenia, usually taking the form of conflicts of interest and contracting links between government officials and private businesses. Slovenia was ranked 26 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index. However, the head of the country’s Corruption Prevention Commission, Drago Kos, announced that he was “surprised” by the good ranking, and said that the public perception of corruption in Slovenia was higher than the score suggested.
Freedoms of speech and of the press are guaranteed by the constitution. However, insulting public officials is prohibited by law, and critics have complained that the Jansa government interfered with the media. The 2005 broadcasting law stipulated that 21 out of 29 members of the state-owned television and radio network’s program council had to be approved by Parliament. Opponents characterized the measure as an attempt by the Jansa government to obtain more control over the network, which it claimed was biased against the center-right. There are also reports of self-censorship and increasing government pressure on both media outlets and advertisers. Newspapers that are critical of the government, such as Dnevnik and Mladina, have faced difficulty securing advertisers. In January 2008, Matija Grah, a foreign correspondent for the prestigious daily newspaper Delo, alleged that he had been dismissed after Slovenia’s foreign minister called his editor to complain about a critical article. Substantiating Grah’s claims, 517 Slovenian journalists signed a complaint asking for an international commission to study media censorship in Slovenia. The Jansa government denied these charges. There were no reports of government attempts to restrict internet access during the year.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Most Slovenians (approximately 58 percent) are Roman Catholics, although the number of practicing Catholics has dropped in recent years. The Religious Freedoms Law, which entered into force in March 2007, is currently being challenged in the Constitutional Court by the National Council, which objects to some aspects of Article 20 of the law, which regulates the legal status of religious communities.However, the Constitutional Court has ruled that the law is in effect until it makes its final decision on the issue.
Societal discrimination against the small Muslim community remains a problem. A decades-long effort to build a mosque in Ljubljana appeared to make some progress in 2008, as a variety of legal hurdles were surmounted and construction was reportedly scheduled to begin in 2009. There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom during the year.
The government respects the right of individuals to assemble peacefully and form associations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate freely, and the government on the whole supports the role they play in the policymaking process. Workers enjoy the right to establish and join trade unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. The Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) has some 300,000 members and controls the four trade union seats in the National Council. In November 2007, labor unions launched the largest demonstrations in the country’s postindependence history to protest what they called an unfair economic development strategy that favors employers over workers. The main concerns of labor organizations are reform of the pension system, an increase in the minimum wage, and a halt to privatizations in health care.
According to the EU, the Slovenian judiciary enjoys a high degree of independence. The constitution guarantees citizens due process, equality before the law, and a presumption of innocence. However, the system faces a growing backlog of cases, with some criminal cases taking two to five years to complete. There are an excessive number of inexperienced judges and political infighting over the appointment of judges. Prison conditions are in line with international standards, although overcrowding has been reported.
Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offense. However, Slovenia has had persistent problems in dealing with various minorities—Italians, Muslim residents and guest workers, and citizens of the former Yugoslavia. Police harassment of Roma and residents from other former Yugoslav republics, the so-called new minorities, remains a problem. Some 18,000 non-Slovene citizens of the former federation who remained in Slovenia after independence had been removed from official records after they failed to apply for citizenship or permanent resident status during a brief window of opportunity in 1992; their status remains largely unresolved to date, despite considerable international criticism and a Constitutional Court ruling in their favor. These “erased” residents have been systematically denied driver’s licenses, access to state health care, and pensions. Some 95 percent of referendum voters in 2004 rejected a government-backed bill to grant residency rights to the erased, although only 31 percent of the electorate turned out. In December 2008, a Slovenian official suggested that the government may soon give the erased legal documents and provide other forms of compensation.
Freedom to travel and choose one’s place of residence, and the right to own private property, are generally respected in practice.
Women hold the same legal rights as men but remain underrepresented in political life. Currently, there are 10 women serving in the 90-seat National Assembly and one woman in the 40-seat National Council. After his election as prime minister in 2008, Borut Pahor named five women to his 18-member cabinet—the highest number in any postindependence Slovenian government. In 2005, Parliament adopted a measure requiring that 40 percent of the electoral lists for the European parliamentary elections be reserved for women. Some 60 percent of Slovenia’s women are in the workforce, the largest proportion of any of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004. On average, Slovenian women receive 90 percent of the pay of their male counterparts, which compares favorably with rates in Western European countries.
Domestic violence remains a concern. There are no laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. Slovenia is primarily a transit country, and secondarily a country of destination, for women and girls trafficked from Eastern Europe for the purpose of prostitution.