Slovakia

Consolidated Democracy
71
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 71.43 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 5.29 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
73 100 Consolidated Democracy
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Score changes in 2020

  • Electoral Process rating declined from 6.50 to 6.25 due to instrumental changes to the electoral framework and mistakes during the European Parliament elections that temporarily deprived an eligible party of a mandate.
  • Judicial Framework and Independent rating declined from 5.25 to 5.00 as the investigation into the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak revealed the influence of organized crime figures and oligarchs on the justice system.
  • As a result, Slovakia’s Democracy Score declined from 5.36 to 5.29.

header2 Executive Summary

By Peter Učeň

The 2018 murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, had a widespread impact on Slovak politics. The ramifications were still being felt in 2019 and profoundly influenced all areas of public life, including national democratic governance, independent media, civil society, the judiciary, and concerns over corruption.

The Kuciak murder, investigation, and subsequent revelations mobilized society in an unprecedented way and put the ruling coalition of Smer-SD, SNS, and Most-Híd in a defensive mode. On the one hand, the extent of the scandal led to an admission that corruption was a grave problem, and a political rather than a technical issue as previously described. On the other hand, among part of the ruling establishment, the crisis engendered a conspiratorial, anti-Soros discourse that interpreted the political developments in the aftermath of the murder as the result of an externally sponsored coup attempt. The murder investigation also negatively impacted parts of the ruling structure and those cadres serving out of loyalty or opportunism, who quickly lost the expectation of impunity and political protection.

The opposition, independent media, and parts of civil society from the start unequivocally presented the murders as a political affair—a culmination of the corrupt system introduced and cultivated by Smer-SD since its ascent to power in 2006. These voices also implied that, if not materially then at least on a moral level, the ruling coalition was responsible for the murders. This narrative would explain the mobilization of mass antigovernment demonstrations. The protests, organized by the reinvigorated anticorruption civic initiative “For Decent Slovakia,” demanded not only public oversight for the investigation but also put forward openly political calls for the resignations of the prime minister and minister of interior.

During the year, there was a notable increase in political polarization, which became even more prominent as former prime minister Robert Fico’s wing of the ruling Smer-SD party began to curry favor with various anti-systemic actors inside and outside Parliament and online. Wooing the anti-system electorate has become an essential part of the appeal of Fico’s faction within Smer-SD, and on occasion the SNS has assisted him. Their strategy has included fanning fear, anxiety, and an atmosphere of crisis; deploying allegations of a “culture war” waged by liberals against conservatives; and “constitutionalizing” political conflicts—that is, by attempting to institute certain government positions and policies as constitutional amendments in order to prevent them from being overturned by a future opposition majority.

Party pluralism also increased during the year as two new opposition parties emerged. Progressive Slovakia (PS) appealed to the interests of frustrated progressive voters, while For the People, helmed by former president Andrej Kiska, aimed to capture the opposition constituency’s disappointment with the performance of established anticorruption parties. These new parties altered the political discourse ahead of the 2020 elections.

New, or relatively marginal, political actors scored significant victories during the year, both during the March presidential elections and the June European Parliament vote, confirming the trend that Slovak voters do not hesitate to support nontraditional contenders to express their frustration with traditional parties. In the presidential polls, Slovakia once again witnessed the triumph of the underdog candidate, Zuzana Čaputová. Her electoral success—owed largely, some would say, to her personal charisma—gave important impetus to Progressive Slovakia (PS). The party rose to prominence in the second half of the year to begin influencing the national political discourse. Another presidential candidate who gained from the decline of traditional parties was Štefan Harabin, former justice minister and two-term chief justice of the Supreme Court, who capitalized heavily on radical anti-system rhetoric and won third place with 14 percent of the vote as an independent.

For the first time, the European Parliament elections brought successes to parties that campaigned on European Union (EU)–related topics, not domestic issues. Besides Progressive Slovakia (PS), the Euroskeptic People’s Party–Our Slovakia (L’SNS) also obtained a good result. The process, however, was stained by a serious legislative mistake that temporarily denied an eligible candidate her seat.

During the year, civil society organizations (CSOs) revived the 2017 anticorruption protests to pressure state institutions to prioritize the Kuciak murder investigation. In retaliation, some ruling politicians launched smear campaigns, questioning the organizers’ motives and denigrating the civic sector in general. Separately, CSOs contributed to the debate on introducing a central registry for the sector.

After the initial shock, the Kuciak murder investigation served to reinvigorate the country’s media sphere. Outlets effectively pressured authorities to follow through with the investigation. They also published leaks from the probe, explaining the murder within a broader critique of systemic pathologies that had allowed for the elimination of rule of law and checks and balances for select clients. In this atmosphere, the ruling party launched an initiative in the fall to revive the controversial practice of “right to reply,” which would require the media to publish rebuttals from public officials and politicians in response to any mentions of them in the press.

Slovakia’s justice system experienced significant trouble in 2019 in the wake of the Kuciak murder investigation, which revealed close connections between members of the judiciary and organized crime. Additionally, enmities between the ruling majority and former president Kiska effectively paralyzed the Constitutional Court in the first half of the year. While the immediate court problem resolved itself following the election of President Čaputová, the judiciary still struggles to eliminate the “judicial mafia,” which has long provided the privileged with illegal access to the justice system. As a combined result of external and internal pressures, a cautious self-cleaning process seemed to have begun within the judiciary by year’s end.

The fight against corruption progressed in 2019, largely the consequence of public outrage stemming from leaks in the Kuciak murder investigation. A positive trend was also observed in the activities of the Supreme Office of Control and the Office for Public Procurement, which began to carry out their mandates with true independence. Both offices published protocols from inspections critical to the proceedings of ministries, government agencies, and state-controlled companies, and did not hesitate to file cases with the police where there was suspicion of criminal activity.

National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 4.755 7.007
  • Slovak politics in 2019 retained its highly adversarial relationship between the governing coalition and the opposition. The ruling majority on a regular basis dismissed the opposition’s legislative initiatives, overused the accelerated legislative procedure to push through its own proposals, and on occasion relied on support from the anti-systemic, far-right People’s Party–Our Slovakia (L’SNS).
  • The governing parties also continued with a strategy to “constitutionalize” political conflicts—that is, calling for certain issues to be amended into the constitution so as to guarantee their protection from future (opposition-led) governments. Such proposals included the minimum wage, a de facto ban on adoption by same-sex couples,1 and reform of the healthcare system and Slovakia’s network of hospitals.2
  • The governing Smer-SD and SNS parties framed certain issues in the context of a “culture war” between conservatives and liberals. This strategy aimed to divert attention away from the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and its political implications. Issues promoted by the coalition included the tightening of abortion regulations,3 a ban on promoting pathological sexual practices (such as pedophilia or necrophilia),4 and repeated rejections of the Istanbul Convention on violence against women.5 Overall, these tactics promoted feelings of anxiety and crisis as the essential features of Slovak politics.
  • The ruling coalition also continued to bribe select groups of voters with giveaways from the state budget. These included, most importantly, a notable increase in the minimum wage (from 520 to 580 euros per month)6 and a set minimum amount for pensions.7 The coalition also increased the special tax levied on banks, converting it from a temporary to a permanent measure.8 A sort of competition developed between the SNS and Smer-SD on various social promises, which intensified as the 2020 elections drew closer.
  • The Kuciak murder investigation confirmed long-suspected connections between top echelons of power, the police, and the judiciary with various criminal elements suspected of involvement in the murder. Revelations of rampant corruption reinvigorated public and political pressure on Smer-SD, which vacillated in its response. A conflict emerged between the party’s wings, with the more conciliatory side represented by Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini (publicly popular but weaker within the party) and the belligerent wing headed by former prime minister Robert Fico, who remained Smer-SD’s uncontested strongman. Still, both sides were condemned to mutual cooperation as neither seemed capable of overpowering the other ahead of the 2020 vote.
  • Overall, the polarization of Slovak politics increased during the year, due in large part to Fico’s increasing overtures to voters of the anti-systemic camp. Such a strategy manifested in conspiratorial explanations for political developments, such as the claim that the demand for public control over the Kuciak murder investigation was motivated (financially, if not otherwise) by foreign powers, namely, the American-Hungarian billionaire philanthropist George Soros.9
  • The opposition camp was fragmented in its response during the year, competing over a limited pool of supporters. This competition intensified with the emergence of two new parties. Since 2017, Progressive Slovakia (PS) and its coalition partner SPOLU, while shying away from identifying as left-wing, tried to appeal to Slovakia’s progressive electorate, which had been poorly represented over the past decade. Additionally, former president Andrej Kiska’s For the People party, a new formation with the prospect of parliamentary representation, sported a more right-of-center image, while evoking the spirit of Kiska’s moderately anti-establishment 2014 presidential campaign.
  • Due to this rising fragmentation, some parties in the opposition were forced to consider joining forces in order to achieve an electoral victory over Smer-SD. This debate included sincere concerns as well as politically calculated arguments, but by year’s end, no agreement on any form of alliance or a common list had been reached. Thus, the opposition entered the 2020 election season with the prospect of parties hovering around the electoral threshold and some not making it into Parliament. Overall, public polling suggested a thin opposition majority as the year came to a close.10
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 6.256 7.007
  • In 2019, Slovakia held presidential and European Parliament elections. Both contests brought successes to new, unestablished actors representing a variety of groups whose voices had so far been insufficiently heard in the Slovak polity.
  • The early stages of the presidential campaign were dominated by a competition between opposition candidate Robert Mistrík (originally of SaS) and the Smer-SD candidate, European Commission member Maroš Šefčovič, who had been somewhat reluctant to accept his party’s nomination.1 The rivalry between two anti-system candidates, former Supreme Court chief justice Štefan Harabin and L’SNS politician Marián Kotleba, was another closely watched aspect of the election. Zuzana Čaputová, a civil sector activist and deputy chairwoman of Progressive Slovakia (PS), was originally the underdog but rose to prominence later as the campaign moved into televised debates. Based largely on her compelling personality and conduct, she garnered broad support across parties and social groups,2 to such an extent that Mistrík withdrew from the race in late February and announced his support for Čaputová.3
  • In the first round on March 16, Čaputová won 41 percent of the vote; Šefčovič obtained 19 percent, followed by the two anti-system candidates—Harabin and Kotleba—with 14 and 10 percent, respectively. Prior to the second round, Šefčovič tried to entice support from Smer-SD’s economically leftist but socially conservative constituency by adopting a number of conservative issues, but this pivot failed from clear hypocrisy, as Šefčovič was widely known to be a firm progressive.
  • The second round on March 30 resulted in Čaputová winning 58 percent and Šefčovič 42 percent of votes.4 While it was unclear to what extent people had voted for Čaputová’s political ideas or based on her personal appeal,5 her PS party—along with its coalition partner SPOLU—also scored a noteworthy success in the EP elections in May.
  • In a novelty for the European Parliament elections, Slovak political parties that actually campaigned on topics related to the European Union (EU) were rewarded. Besides the Euro-enthusiast PS/SPOLU, the Euroskeptic People’s Party–Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) most improved their standing as compared to previous elections, with 4 and 2 mandates, respectively. Other parties that had traditionally treated the EP elections as a second-order priority scored relatively less well, with Smer-SD obtaining 3 seats, SaS and KDH gaining 2 seats each, and OĽaNO securing 1 seat.6 Overall, the elections gave a notable boost to the newly formed progressivist as well as the more established anti-systemic camps in Slovak politics.7
  • The election results were, however, influenced by a serious breach of the fairness principle: when amending the Electoral Code to reflect the consequences of Brexit, the Interior Ministry had introduced a procedural mistake by confusing the rule of the highest remainder with that of lowest remainder as a criterion for distributing the remaining mandates in the second scrutiny. Overlooked by Parliament, the new rule gave the party with fewer votes, SaS, a direct mandate at the expense of the contender with the higher remainder, KDH, whose elected member of the European Parliament (MEP), Miriam Lexmann, had to wait to assume her mandate until after the United Kingdom left the EU.8 The State Commission for Elections was unable to revoke the unfair result, as it was fully lawful, and the understaffed Constitutional Court rejected the case filed by Lexmann’s KDH party.9
  • While voter turnout in Slovakia in 2019 marked the country’s highest rate ever—at 23 percent, an increase of 9 points since 2014—it was again the lowest turnout rate among all EU member states.10
  • Following the elections, the ruling coalition again amended laws regulating political party activities and campaigns. These October amendments aimed to help established parties at the expense of new and extra-parliamentary parties. The Constitutional Court, however, suspended the blackout on publishing poll results 50 days prior to election day at the request of the president in late December.11 Hence, the new rules will not apply in the 2020 elections.
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 6.256 7.007
  • Slovak civil society operated under significant pressure in 2019, mainly in the form of verbal attacks from parts of the ruling coalition (primarily SNS and former prime minister Fico) and from anti-system parties and actors. Fico and the SNS invoked an atmosphere of crisis, suggesting that civil society organizations (CSOs) had been involved in dishonest and politically motivated activities and, therefore, their operations needed to be further regulated by the state.1 At the same time, legislative proposals put forward by the government were welcomed as constructive and useful by the civic sector.2
  • New regulation of the civic sector included the introduction of a central registry of CSOs, which until then had been registered under four different laws. While Fico had argued for a central registry in order to publicly reveal CSO funding sources, no such requirement was included in the law adopted in December 2018. The central registry simply streamlined all information on CSOs in one place, including data on their statutory bodies. President Kiska objected to the latter point as unnecessarily extensive.3 The new central registry should become functional within two years, and CSOs failing to register would lose the right to apply for any public subsidies for their activities.4
  • While CSOs feared that the law would label groups that receive a certain level of financial support from abroad as “foreign agents”—as proposed by the People’s Party–Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) in three bills to Parliament since 20165—such a requirement did not enter the final version of the law.
  • Critics of the civic sector targeted a relatively small group of so-called political nongovernmental organizations that regularly focus on the political ruling class and policymakers, demanding more openness and transparency in politics. As in previous years, among the most targeted of these groups was the movement “For a Decent Slovakia,” which had organized public protests against corruption since 2017 and become more directly political following the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in February 2018. During the year, the movement continued to push for a proper investigation of the Kuciak murder and demanded “a new and trustworthy government.”6 For a Decent Slovakia also went through a soul-searching reappraisal of its role in Slovak public life, and one of its most visible leaders, Juraj Šeliga, left the movement to join former president Kiska’s new For the People party.7
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 5.005 7.007
  • Slovak politicians proposed changes to media regulation in 2019 that would further advantage those in power. And efforts to secure party control, primarily by the SNS, over public TV and radio continued during the year.1 On the other hand, following the Kuciak murder, some independent media proved to be effective in keeping government institutions accountable and preventing the police and prosecution from sabotaging the criminal investigation.
  • In February, politicians from the ruling coalition initiated a new campaign for an amendment to the Press Law that, having languished for several years, would reintroduce the so-called right to reply. The original proposal obliged the media to publish rebuttals by public officials and politicians in response to any mentions of them in the press—even in the case of factually true statements. In the final reading, the law guaranteed the right to reply only in cases where mentions were based on false, distorted, or incomplete information and could be considered an attack on an individual’s reputation.2 The law was adopted in September.
  • Other SNS proposals included establishing a State Press Council with oversight functions and executive powers to discipline journalists.3 In a separate initiative, People’s Party–Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) proposed to extend the applicability of the Press Law to online media.4
  • In a separate bill in September, the government lowered the VAT for print media (dailies) to 10 percent.5 Media allied in the Association of Print and Digital Media (ATDM) welcomed the change but noted that, in light of the Kuciak murder, the government seemed to care more about politicians’ right to reply than increasing protections for journalists.6
  • A number of outlets (Denník N, SME, Aktuality.sk, and Postoj.sk) were heavily involved in publicizing leaked information from the Kuciak murder investigation, including recorded phone conversations of the plot’s suspected mastermind, businessman Marián Kočner. The leaked conversations—confirming long-suspected illicit connections between the shady, politically backed entrepreneur Kočner and judges, prosecutors, and politicians—resulted in a remarkable level of public outcry and protest.
  • In October, the Czech company PPF owned by the richest Czech, Petr Kellner, acquired from AT&T the Central Media Enterprise (CME), a company owning outlets in five countries, including the most influential Slovak commercial TV, Markíza.7 Given claims that Kellner’s primary interest lies in the Czech TV Nova, allegations abounded that Markíza might end up in the hands of the Slovak private equity group Penta, which had been interested in the purchase for some time.8
  • A cofounder and partner at Penta, Jaroslav Haščák, was implicated in the Kočner leaks. During the Kuciak murder investigation, police found in Kočner’s residence what seems to be the original recording of the so-called Gorilla case—a corruption and abuse-of-office case that shattered the Slovak political scene in 2011, when the first transcripts of alleged secret meetings between Haščák and politicians from the era of former prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda, but also with former PM Fico, first appeared. Allegations of Haščák’s involvement motivated the new political party SPOLU to propose the so-called Lex Haščák, which would, among other things, prevent companies that have extensive state business from owning media outlets, as in the case of Penta.9
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 5.506 7.007
  • Amendments to the law on income taxes in 2019 raised the prospect of financial troubles for Slovakia’s local governments. Additionally, the opposition unsuccessfully tried to return to the previous two-round system of elections for regional governors.
  • Initiated by the ruling coalition—namely, the Most-Híd party—a September amendment to the tax law increased the nontaxable part of the gross income for dependent workers in order to increase their net income. Given that a significant part of the municipal budget comes from the transfer of 70 percent of the collected income tax of dependent workers registered in municipalities, the mayors and assemblies of bigger cities envisioned this move would result in budget gaps of millions of euros.1
  • Other legislative changes added to the municipalities’ burdens. A new law transferred the burden of road repairs to their owner, typically municipalities.2 Also, the government’s minimum-wage increase and give-away social packages will significantly increase the labor costs of municipalities.3
  • In order to mitigate the looming deficits, municipal governments announced and approved an increase in local taxes and duties, an unpopular measure that required very careful public communication.4 There were, however, dissenting opinions about the urgency of these measures, with claims that municipal incomes, especially in major cities, were sufficient to refrain from duty increases.5
  • During the year, the opposition SaS party tried to undo previous changes to the electoral rules for regional governors. Prior to the 2017 regional elections, the ruling coalition had amended the two-tier majoritarian system to a first-past-the-post system to prevent the success of anti-Smer-SD coalitions in the regions. The current SaS proposal aimed to restore the previous system, arguing that it had prevented the victory of extremist forces at the regional level. Even so, Parliament rejected the proposal in October.6
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 5.005 7.007
  • Slovak jurisprudence continued to suffer in 2019 from the prolonged conflict between the president and the parliamentary majority over the selection of judges to the Constitutional Court. While the court was eventually fully staffed, the judiciary failed to elect its supreme representative, the Chairperson of the Judicial Council, by year’s end. Yet, as a result of the revelations brought out by the Kuciak murder investigation, a limited process of purification in the judiciary seemed to have begun by year’s end.
  • In early 2019, the parliamentary majority signaled a willingness to cooperate with the president in the long-stalled selection process of candidates for Constitutional Court judges. The majority’s main condition was that President Kiska agree to appoint former PM Fico as Chairman of the Court.1 Following the president’s refusal to agree to such a promise,2 the process was marred by a series of procedural obstructions by the majority. In the end, Fico withdrew his candidacy, and the ruling majority postponed the selection until after the presidential elections in March, hoping for the election of a Smer-SD candidate.
  • As a consequence, in February, the majority of court mandates expired and the institution had only 4 out of 13 judge positions filled.3 One of the last decisions of the old court was a ban on security background checks for judges, a decision that the dissenting judges characterized as a major breach in the division of power.4
  • Former president Kiska had insisted on selecting all court candidates from the full list provided by Parliament under the law, rather than appointing them in installments as proposed by the majority.5 The same policy was retained by his successor, Zuzana Čaputová.6 Following her inauguration, President Čaputová managed to select new judges in September after Parliament in the fifth round provided her with a full list of candidates from which to choose.7 The political wrangling had eliminated all qualified (albeit politically linked) candidates. As a consequence, Slovakia now has a Constitutional Court almost fully staffed by novices with little to no experience in constitutional law.8
  • The Judicial Council—the justice system’s supreme self-government body—failed to elect its chairperson before the end of 2019. Even though two rounds of selection took place from among the applicants for the job, none managed to secure the required ten votes to be elected by the council.9
  • These events took place against the backdrop of the Kuciak murder investigation. The leaked transcripts of conversations of the suspected sponsor of the murder, Marián Kočner, strongly implicated a so-called judicial mafia.10 This term was coined to denote the network of judges and defense lawyers who had apparently enabled Kočner, and possibly others, to obtain confidential information from police cases and court files, as well as to influence court decisions in select cases, legitimizing Kočner’s predatory business practices in exchange for financial compensation.11 After the transcripts had been admitted as evidence by the court in one of the cases against Kočner (unrelated to the Kuciak murder), a series of disciplinary measures commenced against the judges and lawyers implicated in cooperating with Kočner.12
  • Several groups of judges publicly distanced themselves from the practices of the “judicial mafia” and appealed to the authorities of judicial self-government to proceed with disciplinary measures.13 While it is too early to know if this internally initiated purification effort will be a sustainable process, most of the implicated judges have renounced their positions. This atmosphere might have influenced the failure to elect the Judicial Council chairperson, as some candidates were confronted with their alleged links to Kočner in the nomination process.
  • In a reactive move, the government pushed through a law in December increasing the powers of the Judicial Council to temporarily dismiss judges suspected of illegal behavior. Previously, formal investigations had been required to allow such a move. The opposition criticized the law’s vague formulation of “reasonable doubts” as the basis for dismissal, describing it as a potential tool for politically or personally motivated harassment of judges. As a positive development, however, the law stipulated that all votes in the Judicial Council must be made public as opposed to the council’s previous rule of secret voting.14
  • With the decision of former chief justice, notorious anti-system activist, and presidential candidate Štefan Harabin to run in the 2020 parliamentary elections, the opposition proposed a new rule to force any active judge running for Parliament to renounce their current post. This so-called Lex Harabin was approved in Parliament in June 2019.15
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 4.254 7.007
  • Official information and leaks related to the investigation of the Ján Kuciak murder effectively prioritized and politicized the country’s stance on corruption during the year; this public movement successfully pressured the government to be more active in its anticorruption activities. As a result, the Slovak government in February established the Office for the Protection of Whistleblowers with well-defined powers.1 Additionally, anticorruption institutions, such as the Supreme Audit Office (NKÚ), properly fulfilled their legally defined mission, contributing significantly to anti-graft efforts.
  • In an unprecedented development, prosecutors of the Special Prosecutor’s Office, who were in charge of the Kuciak case, publicly appealed to all officials with connections to Marián Kočner, the businessman accused of ordering the killing, to report to the prosecution. The appeal was made after the prosecution acquired transcripts of Kočner’s conversations with specific individuals from the political and judicial establishment.2
  • The NKÚ and the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) became increasingly active, taking on cases within their own jurisdiction as well as filing motions with other state authorities. These cases had been largely ignored by the previous office heads as they touched on business interests related to the country’s political elite.3 The most sensitive NKÚ case was a problematic, decades-old public-private partnership (PPP) contract between the state and the private company SkyToll, which operates Slovakia’s highway toll system. At year’s end, it was revealed that the company had been legally pocketing the majority of revenues, resulting in losses to the state budget of hundreds of millions of euros.4
  • One of the issues that journalist Ján Kuciak had pointed out in his investigative work—later corroborated during the investigation of his murder—was the fraudulent use of EU agricultural subsidies. Politically connected landowners had benefitted from these schemes, which could not have been viable without political cover and tacit support from the relevant state institutions. As a consequence, the European Commission launched an investigation in May,5 and small farm owners, who felt themselves to be victims of the schemes, decided to establish a political party and run in elections.
  • Public procurement and EU subsidies were under investigation in the SNS-led defense and education ministries, as well, due to allegations of benefitting client companies linked to the party. Prime Minister Pellegrini and the NKÚ tried to stop pending public procurements under the auspices of SNS and its clients.6 Additionally, in November, the government merged the Research and Innovation Operational Program with the Integrated Infrastructure Slovakia program run by another ministry in order to take it out of SNS hands. The merger was justified by the repeated failure of the Education Ministry to correctly distribute subsidies from the fund, raising the threat of reclaiming the subsidies.7
  • Transparency International’s 2019 data showed a record low occurrence of petty corruption but also persistent skepticism regarding the fight against grand or systemic corruption. This resulted in Slovakia keeping its score of 50 but falling to 59th place in the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).8
  • Yet, the 2019 Eurobarometer results revealed that public trust in the legal system had increased from 25 to 33 percent since the Kuciak murder in February 2018. This is the highest level ever measured for Slovakia on this metric—but it still leaves the country fourth from the bottom among EU member states for public trust in the legal system.9

Author: Peter Učeň is a political scientist and former democracy assistance worker. He currently works as a policy consultant and evaluator in the area of democracy and development assistance.

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 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0–100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

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