Freedom in the World
Slovakia received an upward trend arrow due to an amendment to the Press Act that helps protect media from political influence and intimidation, as well as improvements in the independence of the judiciary.
A lack of consensus over Slovakia’s contribution to a eurozone bailout fund led to the collapse of Prime Minister Iveta Radičová’s government and the scheduling of early elections for March 2012. Radičová, together with Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská, had worked to reduce corruption, especially in procurement procedures and the judiciary. In September, the parliament passed an amendment to the 2008 Press Act, partially undoing the controversial law’s infringements on editorial freedom by limiting politicians’ “right of reply.”
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. 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 Mečiar—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 Mečiar’s rule and empowered a broad right-left coalition. The new parliament selected Mikuláš 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.
Mečiar lost the 2004 presidential election to a former HZDS ally, Ivan Gašparovič. 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).
Supported by Smer and the SNS, President Gašparovič won a second term in a two-round election held in March and April 2009, narrowly defeating Iveta Radičová of the SDKU (now allied with the Democratic Party, or DS).
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, Mečiar’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 Radičová became the country’s first female prime minister.
Slovakia attracted international attention in October 2011 when it became the only EU member state to reject the expanded European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF)—a proposed bailout fund necessitated by an ongoing eurozone public-debt crisis. Radičová combined the parliamentary vote for the bailout with a vote of confidence in her government so as to persuade the SaS to support the measure. The strategy failed, and the government collapsed. Smer then successfully organized support for the EFSF expansion in a second vote, in return for early elections. The bailout package was ultimately approved, and elections, originally planned for 2014, were scheduled for March 2012. Radičová and her cabinet would serve in a caretaker capacity until the elections.
Slovakia is an electoral democracy. Voters elect the president for up to two five-year terms and members of the 150-seat, unicameral National Council 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 ruling coalition of SDKU-DS, KDH, Most-Híd and the opposition party Smer was brought together to pass the EFSF, and left SaS in political isolation.
In 2010, the government passed the State Citizenship Act, which featured a ban on dual-citizenship in response to Hungary’s decision to allow ethnic Hungarians living abroad to apply for Hungarian citizenship. Ethnic Hungarians make up roughly 10 percent of Slovakia’s population. In February 2011, the parliament amended the Citizenship Act, allowing for some citizens to hold dual citizenship if they are long-term residents of another country or their parents were born in another state.
Corruption remains a problem in Slovakia. Throughout 2011, Prime Minister Iveta Radičová pushed an anticorruption agenda, beginning with a new law in January that requires mandatory online disclosure of contracts involving public authorities and state-owned companies. Several high-profile corruption scandals were unveiled during 2011, including charges against Radičová’s former advisor, Martin Novotný, over his alleged involvement in the granting of a state subsidy to build the Osrblie sports facility. Novotný was released from pretrial detention in October, but the case was ongoing at year’s end. A larger scandal emerged in late December, when the “Gorilla file,” purportedly a leaked intelligence document, raised allegations of secret privatization deals involving millions of euros in bribes paid to Slovak politicians by associates of the country’s largest private equity firm, Penta, during former prime minister Mikuláš Dzurinda’s second term. An anticorruption law passed in 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. Slovakia was ranked 66 out of 183 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Slovakia’s media are largely free but have been vulnerable to political interference. In recent years, journalists have faced an increasing number of verbal attacks and libel suits by public officials. In March 2010, 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. A September 2011 amendment to the controversial Press Act removed a requirement that media publish responses or corrections from public officials if they are criticized for their performance in office.
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 freedoms of assembly and association. 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 June 2011, a gay pride march in Bratislava was conducted without incident due to a stronger police presence. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) generally operate without government interference. Private funding is encouraged by a program allowing companies to donate up to 2 percent of their corporate income taxes to support NGOs. Labor unions are active in Slovakia, and organized workers freely exercise their right to strike. In October, a metalworkers’ union blocked six border crossings to protest raising the retirement age, tax increases, and payroll reform.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and an independent Judicial Council oversees the assignment and transfer of judges. However, the court system has long suffered from corruption, intimidation of judges, and a significant backlog of cases. The parliament and the Justice Ministry took strides to crack down on the lack of transparency and oversight in 2011. In February, the parliament overturned a presidential veto on judicial reform legislation designed to ensure greater transparency in the vetting of judges and public access to court proceedings, including through the publication of court decisions on the internet. In May, a revision of the Act on Judges and Judicial Assistants allowed Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská to remove 14 judges for failing to process cases in a timely manner—a common grievance among the public. Štefan Harabin, the Supreme Court president and a political opponent of Žitňanská, accused her of “political cleansing.” Žitňanská lodged several additional disciplinary complaints during the year, and Harabin attempted to delay them. In June the Constitutional Court ruled in favor of a November 2010 complaint by Žitňanská, finding that Harabin had obstructed the Justice Ministry’s attempts to conduct an audit of the Supreme Court and ordering a 70 percent reduction in Harabin’s pay for one year. In December, Žitňanská proposed that the Constitutional Court merge the multiple, ongoing complaints against Harabin into one hearing, and called for his removal as head of the Supreme Court. Žitňanská also pushed for transparency in the prosecutor’s office in 2011, submitting legislation—passed by the parliament in June—that requires prosecutors to publish their decisions on the internet, limits their service to a single term, and reforms the selection process for new prosecutors.
Roma, who comprise roughly 10 percent of Slovakia’s population, continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality. Discriminatory practices include forced evictions and segregation of Romany children in special education programs. In 2010, the government formally committed to ending the segregation of Roma in schools. However, a draft strategy that the Ministry of Education released in June 2011 was criticized for failing to adequately address the problem. Amnesty International expressed concerns that the document used language that blamed Roma for being “disinterested” in quality education. However, a Prešov district court set a promising precedent in December, when it ruled against a school in eastern Slovakia for intentionally segregating Romany children into separate classrooms without justification.
Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, they continue to be underrepresented in senior-level business positions and in the government. Although Radičová became Slovakia’s first female prime minister in 2010, only 23 women hold seats in the 150-seat parliament. Domestic violence is punishable by imprisonment but remains widespread. Romany women have been sterilized by doctors without their consent. In November 2011, the European Court of Human Rights delivered a landmark ruling against Slovakia for its forced sterilization of a Romany woman, clarifying that the practice violated the prohibition on inhuman and degrading treatment and respect for private and family life. Human trafficking from and through Slovakia, mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation, remains a problem.