Slovakia’s parliamentary system features regular multiparty elections and peaceful transfers of power between rival parties. While civil liberties are generally protected, democratic institutions are hampered by entrenched discrimination against Roma and growing political hostility toward migrants and refugees. Political corruption remains a problem.
- In February, the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO) party won the general elections and formed a new four-party coalition government, with its leader Igor Matovič as prime minister. OL’aNO, which had campaigned with a strong anticorruption agenda, and its two coalition partners control a three-fifths majority in Parliament, enabling them to pass constitutional amendments. Voter turnout was 65 percent.
- In March, 13 judges and a former Slovak Social Democracy Party (Smer–SD)–nominated deputy secretary of the Justice Ministry were detained on corruption charges, alongside several judges and prosecutors. Evidence retrieved from the phone of Marian Kočner—an oligarch charged with several crimes and who was linked to the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak—and testimony from the arrested judges, prosecutors, and others enabled the police to detain and charge a number of top officials from various law enforcement agencies later in the year.
- Amnesty International raised serious concerns over the government’s quarantine of five Roma settlements due to the COVID-19 pandemic in April. Authorities deployed army officers and heavily restricted freedom of movement, despite the low number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Human rights advocates claim that the state targeted Romany communities, further stigmatizing them and inaccurately associating them with high COVID-19 infection rates.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
Slovakia is a parliamentary republic whose prime minister leads the government. There is also a directly elected president with important but limited executive powers. In March 2019, an environmental activist and leader of the newly formed Progressive Slovakia party, Zuzana Čaputová, became the first woman elected as president. Čaputová won 58.3 percent of the second round of voting to defeat diplomat Maroš Šefčovič, nominated by Smer–SD, who took 41.7 percent.
Following the general elections held in February 2020, a new four-party coalition government was formed, headed by Prime Minister Igor Matovič of the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OL’aNO) party.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The 150 members of the unicameral parliament, the National Council, are directly elected to four-year terms in a single national constituency by proportional representation. In the February 2020 parliamentary elections, the liberal-conservative OL’aNO party received a plurality of votes (25 percent), defeating the previously dominant incumbent, Smer–SD. Two other previously governing parties, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and Most-Híd, did not clear the 5 percent electoral threshold. OL’aNO entered a coalition government with three other parties that control a three-fifths majority in Parliament (enough to pass constitutional amendments): the conservative We Are Family party, the liberal Freedom and Solidarity, and the newly formed For the People Formation. The vote took place peacefully, and its results were accepted by stakeholders and certified by the state’s election management body, the State Commission for Elections and the Control of Funding for Political Parties (known as the State Commission). Voter turnout was 65 percent.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||4.004 4.004|
The legal framework for elections is generally fair, and 2014 legislation that addressed some gaps and inconsistencies in electoral laws was praised by a 2020 Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) election monitoring mission. However, electoral legislation does not clarify whether meetings of the State Commission—which is tasked with oversight of party funding, vote tabulation, and electoral preparations—should be open to the public. The parliament in 2019 passed a law that would ban publicizing the result of opinion polls within 50 days of elections. The Constitutional Court ruled that the law would not apply to the 2020 parliamentary polls and did not decide whether the measure was unconstitutional by the end of 2020.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||4.004 4.004|
Citizens can freely organize in political parties and movements. In 2020, 24 parties competed in the year’s elections and 6 of them entered the parliament.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
There have been regular transfers of power between parties in the last two decades. President Čaputová, elected in 2019, was the chairwoman of the Progressive Slovakia party, which was formed in 2017. In February 2020, the three governing parties were defeated in the parliamentary elections and the four previous opposition parties formed a coalition government.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||4.004 4.004|
The citizens of Slovakia are generally able to make political choices free from external pressures.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Nearly all political parties in Parliament have expressed bias against LGBT+ people, who are poorly represented in politics. Roma are also poorly represented, and there have been reports of vote-buying in Romany settlements for local and regional elections.
Women hold thirty-two out of 150 elected seats and are underrepresented in politics generally. The government has worked to implement action plans aimed at increasing parliamentary gender parity, but no significant change has been achieved.
In October 2020, the leader of the far-right Peoples’ Party Our Slovakia Marian Kotleba was sentenced to four years and four months in prison for promoting an ideology that aims to suppress democratic rights and freedoms. Kotleba appealed the verdict to the Supreme Court. If his conviction is upheld, he would serve his prison sentence, lose his parliamentary seat, and be banned from running for future office.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||4.004 4.004|
Democratically elected politicians determine public policy.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||3.003 4.004|
Though corruption has long riddled Slovakian institutions, a series of anticorruption police raids in 2020 show significant government effort to address the issue.
In March 2020, 13 judges, several prosecutors, and a former Smer–SD-nominated deputy secretary of the Justice Ministry were detained on corruption charges. Evidence retrieved from the phone of Marian Kočner—an oligarch charged with a number of crimes and who was linked to the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak—and testimony from the arrested judges, prosecutors, and others enabled the police to detain and charge a number of top officials from various law-enforcement agencies, including the former head of the National Criminal Agency, the former head of the Material Reserves Agency, and former high-ranking police officials in November and December. In addition, three highly influential oligarchs with ties to top-level politicians were also detained and charged with corruption and related offences.
In November and December 2020, two former police chiefs were arrested on charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. In October, special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik, who had filed no criminal lawsuits as prosecutor despite his main responsibility to oversee top-level criminal cases, was charged and indicted for colluding with organized crime groups.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
In 2020, the government introduced two significant measures to increase its transparency: a new prosecutor general was appointed through a new, transparent public interview process. Further, new legislation increases the Judicial Council’s oversight powers of judges’ property and income declarations. These measures mark a significant effort by the OL’aNO government to ameliorate structural deficiencies in government openness.
Slovak law obliges mandatory publication of all contracts in which a state or public institution is a party, but enforcement is inconsistent. Many business leaders believe that corruption was the main reason behind their failure to secure public tenders.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because the government increased oversight of high-ranking judges and introduced a more transparent selection process for prosecutors general.
|Are there free and independent media?||3.003 4.004|
The February 2018 murder of Ján Kuciak, an investigative reporter who was working on corruption and tax fraud cases, represented the worst attack on media freedom in recent Slovak history. In September 2020, the court convicted and sentenced two men for carrying out the murder but acquitted well-known oligarch Marian Kočner and his associate, who were suspected of ordering Kuciak’s killing. The prosecutor and the victims’ families appealed Kočner’s acquittal to the Supreme Court.
In March 2020, Prime Minister Matovič suggested the government create a fund to support the journalists’ investigation into corruption. However, local media figures including the head of the Ján Kuciak Centre for Investigative Journalism and the head investigative reporting at the news outlet Aktuality.sk rejected the idea due to concerns that it could threaten media independence.
Verbal harassment of journalists by politicians when Smer–SD was in government were frequent. Though Matovič has spoken poorly of media members who criticize his proposals and performance in office, the OL’aNO government has largely refrained from harassing or intimidating journalists.
Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few business groups and individuals. The government postponed legislation that would protect the independence of journalists at the public broadcaster Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS) due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because there were fewer reports of the new government harassing or intimidating journalists, though concerns remain.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||4.004 4.004|
Religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution and generally upheld by state institutions. Registered churches and religious societies are eligible for tax exemptions and government subsidies.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||4.004 4.004|
Academic freedom is guaranteed by the constitution and upheld by authorities.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
People may discuss sensitive or political topics without fear of retribution or surveillance. Hate speech laws prohibit the incitement of racial hatred or violence and have been used in recent years to remove a parliamentarian after he made racist remarks toward Roma.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||4.004 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and upheld by state authorities, and peaceful demonstrations are common. The government’s second lockdown in October 2020 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus included restrictions on the right to public assembly. Several antilockdown demonstrations nevertheless took place in October and November, though police largely refrained from enforcing the restrictions. In October, police dispersed a far-right demonstration in Bratislava with tear gas and water cannon after protesters threw stones and flares.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||4.004 4.004|
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are free to operate and criticize state authorities. During former prime minister Robert Fico’s tenure, NGOs were accused of seeking to overthrow the legitimate government after some organizations supported and worked for the “For a Decent Slovakia” protests. The far-right Peoples’ Party Our Slovakia repeatedly attempted to pass a law that would apply a “foreign agent” label onto any NGO accepting donations from abroad.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||4.004 4.004|
Trade unions in Slovakia are pluralistic and operate freely.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||3.003 4.004|
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, there is a widespread perception of a lack of transparency and an abundance of corruption in the functioning of the judicial system. According to a September 2020 report by the European Commission, the judiciary is perceived by the public as lacking independence and integrity.
The new coalition government began their ambitious reform of the judiciary with a December 2020 constitutional amendment that changes the composition and powers of the Judiciary Council and incorporates an element of public oversight. A respected former head of the Constitutional Court was appointed its chairman earlier in the year. The Council gained the power to review property declarations of the judges.
The constitutional amendment prevented vacancies on the Constitutional Court, as happened in 2019, by extending the mandate for sitting judges until their replacements are elected by the parliament and appointed by the president. It further introduced a phased partial replacement of future constitutional judges: After the tenure of the present top court expires, new judges will not be appointed with the same term-lengths to prevent any parliamentary majority from packing the courts and endangering the judiciary’s independence. The amendment also sets up a new Supreme Administrative Court (to be created in 2021) and overhauls the structure of the judiciary in order to increase the specialization of the district courts.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||3.003 4.004|
Due process usually prevails in civil and criminal matters. However, there have been reports of warrantless detentions or detentions otherwise carried out without other appropriate authorization.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||3.003 4.004|
While Slovakia is free from war, insurgencies, and high rates of violent crime, police abuse of suspects is a persistent problem. Reports of police violence against Roma people emerge frequently.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||3.003 4.004|
Roma face persistent discrimination in many forms, including from public officials and in employment. Romany children in primary schools are regularly segregated into Roma-only classes, and many are educated in schools meant to serve children with mental disabilities. In September 2020, the European Court for Human Rights ruled that two Roma citizens who were beaten in a police raid in a town in eastern Slovakia in 2013 experienced inhumane treatment, and their right to judicial recourse was violated. The court also declared that the authorities had failed to conduct a proper investigation of the police officers involved.
Amnesty International raised serious concerns over the government’s quarantine of five Roma settlements in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Authorities deployed army officers and heavily restricted freedom of movement, despite the low number of confirmed coronavirus cases. Human rights advocates claim that the state targeted Romany communities, further stigmatizing them and inaccurately associating them with high COVID-19 infection rates. There were three cases of excessive and unnecessary police violence against Roma between March and May.
Women are underrepresented in senior-level business and government positions. The 2019 Gender Equality Index issued by the European Institute for Gender Equality indicates that in Slovakia the gender pay gap and the percentage of women in top posts in the private sector are among the worst in the European Union.
According to the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance’s 2020 report, there has been escalation of hate speech against LGBT+ people, migrants, Muslims, and Jews, especially online. While there are antidiscrimination laws in place, most cases of discrimination are unreported, and police do not always investigate or take action in cases of discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. A 2020 survey found that LGBT+ people have little trust in authorities’ antidiscrimination mechanisms.
The number of asylum applications is very low (only 220 in 2020) which reflects the status of Slovakia primarily as a transit country. However, Slovak authorities apply asylum protections very restrictively; by November 2020 just 10 out of 220 applicants had been granted asylum.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||4.004 4.004|
The government respects the freedom of movement and the right of citizens to freely change their place of residence, employment, and education.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||4.004 4.004|
In general, the government does not arbitrarily interfere with citizens’ rights to own property and to establish private businesses.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||3.003 4.004|
Personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, are guaranteed and upheld by the state authorities, but a 2014 constitutional amendment defines marriage as a “unique bond” between one man and one woman. Laws neither allow nor recognize same-sex marriages or civil unions. Public opinion has remained against granting couples in same-sex partnerships the same rights granted to unions between a man and a woman.
Slovakia permits abortions, although conservative and far-right groups in Parliament repeatedly propose restrictions, most recently in October 2020.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||3.003 4.004|
Severe marginalization of Roma harms their opportunities for social mobility. According to the US State Department’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, human trafficking is a problem, and mainly involves the transport of victims to countries in Western and Central Europe, where they are engaged in forced labor, sex work, and begging. The government has significantly increased antitrafficking efforts—including prosecutions and convictions—though victim identification and support services remain inadequate.
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