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 March, Prime Minister Igor Matovič stepped down in response to criticism from his party’s coalition partners about a secret deal he made to acquire 2 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, which had not been approved for use in the EU. Finance minister Eduard Heger was then appointed prime minister, and the coalition government remained intact under his leadership.
- Following the introduction of a national state of emergency in October, the Constitutional Court ruled that the country’s COVID-19-related lockdown measures and restrictions were legally permitted, and did not violate the fundamental rights of Slovakian citizens. New lockdown measures were introduced in November, before being partially lifted in early December, but the state of emergency remained in place through the end of the year.
- Despite COVID-19-related restrictions on public gatherings, a number of antigovernment and antilockdown demonstrations took place throughout the year. Several such protests became violent, and were forcibly dispersed by police.
- Dozens of state officials were charged with corruption, bribery, and misuse of power throughout the year, including the head of the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS), former finance minister Peter Kažimír. In September, former special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik was sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting bribes and colluding with organized crime groups while in office.
|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.
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. In March 2021, Matovič was forced to resign after his coalition partners discovered that he had made a secret deal to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, which had not been approved for use in the EU. After Matovič resigned, the president appointed then finance minister Eduard Heger of OĽaNO as prime minister, ending the month-long political crisis and allowing the four-party coalition to continue governing.
|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 Slovak Social Democracy Party (Smer–SD). 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 suspended the law before the 2020 elections, and in May 2021, found it to be unconstitutional.
|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. In February 2020, the three governing parties were defeated in the parliamentary elections and the four previous opposition parties formed a coalition government.
In May 2021, Smer-SD and two other opposition parties—the Slovak People’s Party (SNS) and the Voice-Social Democracy (Hlas–SD) party—presented a petition to the president, asking her to hold a referendum on calling early parliamentary elections. The Constitutional Court dismissed the petition in July, ruling that such a referendum would be unconstitutional.
|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 32 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 (ĽSNS), 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, but had not received a decision by the end of 2021. 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, the government has made a significant effort to address the problem in recent years, including conducting a series of anticorruption police raids in 2020 and 2021.
Since 2020, dozens of state officials have been arrested and charged with corruption, bribery, and misuse of power; though many deny the charges against them, several have pled guilty. Further corruption charges were brought against high-profile officials throughout 2021, including against the head of the National Bank of Slovakia (NBS), former finance minister Peter Kažimír, who was charged with bribery in October. In September, former special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik was sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting bribes and colluding with organized crime groups while in office.
The head of the Slovak Information Service (SIS), Vladimír Pčolinský, resigned in March after he was detained on corruption and bribery charges. He was released and all charges against him were dropped in August, after the General Prosecutor’s Office intervened in the investigation. Later that month, Slovakia’s top police official Peter Kovařík resigned after being charged with abusing his power and obstructing justice; Kovařík had allegedly attempted to prevent the arrest of several suspects in a high-profile corruption case.
In February, the parliament elected former interior minister Daniel Lipšic as special prosecutor; he was the only non-prosecutor considered for the position. The opposition criticized Lipšic's appointment to the role, citing concerns about his ability to act impartially.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||3.003 4.004|
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.
The Freedom of Information Act, adopted in 2006, allows citizens to request information from state and public institutions. In February 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that because state-owned companies are publicly funded, they must disclose their management of such funds—including the salaries of their executive staff—upon request.
In March, then prime minister Igor Matovič resigned after his coalition partners discovered that he had secretly made an unauthorized deal to purchase Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, which had not been approved for use in the EU.
|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 businessman Marian Kočner and his associate, who had been charged with ordering Kuciak’s killing. In June 2021, the Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and ordered a retrial.
In 2021, the government “embarked on a major overhaul of media legislation,” introducing new laws that would impose severe penalties for disseminating “false information.” International media rights groups have criticized the proposed legislation, expressing fears that it could be used to restrict media independence and curtail press freedom. The legislation remained under consideration in parliament at year’s end.
Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few business groups and individuals. Since 2020, the government has repeatedly postponed legislation that would protect the independence of journalists at the public broadcaster Radio and Television of Slovakia (RTVS). In April 2021, an RTVS journalist was fired for “professional misconduct” after raising concerns about the quality of the outlet’s reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic.
|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 imposed periodic lockdowns—which included temporary restrictions on the right to public assembly—in 2020 and 2021 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
A national state of emergency was declared in October 2021, allowing the state to regulate public gatherings due to “a threat to the lives and health of people” in Slovakia. The same month, the Constitutional Court ruled that such restrictions were permitted by constitutional law. Lockdown measures were partially lifted in early December, but the state of emergency was extended through the end of the year.
A number of antigovernment and antilockdown demonstrations took place in 2021, often initiated or attended by prominent opposition politicians. Several demonstrations featured violent clashes between protesters and police forces; in July, antivaccine protesters attempted to break into the National Parliament and were forcibly dispersed by police.
|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 ĽSNS 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. In February 2021, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) criticized the government’s slow progress in introducing measures to prevent corruption in Slovakia’s judiciary and prosecutorial systems.
Since 2015, Slovakian authorities have introduced a number of measures to increase the specialization of the district courts, which is intended to enhance the quality of judicial decisions and to strengthen the judiciary’s efficiency. In line with these plans, a new specialized court—the Supreme Administrative Court—came into existence in August 2021. In addition to hearing cases on matters of administrative law, the newly established court will carry out disciplinary proceedings against judges and prosecutors.
|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 Romany 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. In June 2021, the Slovakian government apologized for the 2013 police raid; six Romany men and women, who had been charged with making false accusations for reporting police brutality during the raid, were acquitted of all charges by a Slovakian court by year’s end.
Women are underrepresented in senior-level business and government positions. The 2020 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.
Though there are antidiscrimination laws in place, discrimination against minority groups often goes unreported. Police do not always investigate or take action in cases of discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. A 2020 survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) found that more than 50 percent of LGBT+ couples avoid holding hands in public, fearing verbal and physical attacks.
Slovakia receives very few asylum applications, and primarily functions as a transit country for asylum seekers. However, Slovak authorities apply asylum protections very restrictively; just 29 of 370 applicants were granted asylum in 2021.
|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 have repeatedly proposed restrictions.
|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. 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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