Slovakia

Consolidated Democracy
72
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 72.02 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 5.32 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
71 100 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 2021

  • Judicial Framework and Independence: This rating improved from 5.00 to 5.25 due to the implementation of reforms aimed at curbing abuses of judicial power as well as the selection of a new prosecutor general under a more transparent procedure.

As a result, Slovakia’s Democracy Score improved from 5.29 to 5.32.

header2 Executive Summary

By Peter Učeň

The February 2020 parliamentary elections in Slovakia ushered in a new coalition government led by Prime Minister Igor Matovič. Previously in the opposition, the parties Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), and We are Family, complemented by the newly created For the People party, created a new parliamentary majority, thus ending the eight-year rule of the Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD) party. This change of power gave hope for improvements in the justice system, anticorruption fight, and trust in the political system, yet doubts remain as to whether such potential will be realized by Slovakia’s new leadership. This is due mainly to disagreements within the coalition on how to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and the prime minister’s aggressive style toward critics, including his own coalition partners. The breakup of the coalition remained a possibility throughout the year in spite of the partners’ shared anticorruption stance and strong opposition to the conduct of the previous ruling echelon. Consequently, the new government was frustrated by predictions of its own demise, which was averted by the fear that any party identified as causing its collapse would be punished electorally.

In spite of the governing coalition’s overarching anticorruption orientation, its members pursued narrow political stratagems focusing on their ministries and program preferences. This behavior reflected basic mistrust among the partners and the desire of each to notch policy achievements that potentially could be leveraged in the event of a snap election.

The manner of PM Matovič’s public communications with citizens, other state institutions, and the coalition partners was the frequent subject of wide criticism during the year. Matovič never chose a spokesperson but instead communicated directly with the public via his personal Facebook account.

The legality and constitutionality of the government’s COVID-19 response were occasionally challenged, for example, regarding the formation of a Permanent Crisis Staff—an extra-legal ad hoc body set up in spring 2020—as well as actions by the Public Heath Office (ÚVZ). Yet, although incorrect, there were no indications that such measures were designed to undermine democracy or civil liberties. Likewise, allegations of executive aggrandizement by some do not accurately reflect the government’s intentions or the situation on the ground. In reality, the picture was one of a new government acting with political expediency in a time of dire crisis, with officials performing beyond their experience of public health emergencies, including both politicians and institutions formally designated to care for public health. This inexperience was exacerbated by incoherence in Slovakia’s laws and other existing rules regulating governance in a time of crisis, which heretofore had been untested to the degree presented by the pandemic.

Elections in Slovakia continued to take place in an orderly manner, providing free and fair access to suffrage. However, voters showed evidence of becoming increasingly unpredictable, with a lack of party loyalty among a growing number of citizens. As a consequence, many voters now postpone making their voting decisions until closer to elections, even remaining undecided until election day. The February 2020 elections illustrated this trend, as then-ruling parties attempted to hide the obvious decline in their popularity by prolonging a moratorium on publishing party preferences prior to election day, while civil society actors fought to retain access to this public data. In general, political parties adapted their campaign strategies to address this trend, focusing their energies and resources almost exclusively on the last weeks of the campaign.

While the COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted civil society activities and funding, it was not a fatal blow. The most significant conflict in the sector took place between the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Confederation of Trade Unions concerning a rise in the minimum wage. Employer organizations and trade unions could not agree on the wage increase or reform of the mechanism to regularly update the minimum wage; therefore, the government imposed its own solution, a move that is almost certain to have social and political repercussions.

On the media scene, the new ruling coalition lacked the will to act against the leadership of RTVS, despite the fact that the public broadcaster had sided with the parties of the previous ruling coalition up to and during the 2020 parliamentary electoral campaign. This issue was overshadowed somewhat by the demands of the COVID-19 crisis on governance but could escalate in the future.

Slovakia’s local governments were overwhelmed by fiscal challenges and the extra strain imposed on municipal budgets by central executive decisions related to the pandemic. Tensions escalated as public health measures were designed and ordered without regard for the opinions or resources of local governments. So far, the central government has managed to prevent the outbreak of open conflict by instituting a program of interest-free loans to municipalities.

In 2020, there were conceptual and practical attempts to reform Slovakia’s shaken and distrusted judiciary. These developments first took form in two waves of investigations and arrests, in the spring and fall, of judges suspected of being complicit in illicit activities. Next, the work of the major judicial institutions was stabilized through the election of new leadership and amendments to procedural rules.

Achievements in the fight against corruption have been due mostly to the lifting of political pressure on police and prosecution rather than to systemic reforms. While police managed to open a number of high-profile investigations, attempts at systemic changes were overshadowed by the COVID-19 crisis. So far, the new government’s conduct has been marked by a lack of transparency in some cases but not outright corruption.1

As a result of the 2020 elections, the Hungarian minority is without parliamentary representation for the first time in Slovakia’s history. This was due mainly to disunity between the Party of the Hungarian Community (SMK) and Bridge, the two main ethnic Hungarian parties, who were at odds over domestic political strategy as well as their relationship to the governing regime in Hungary. Many in the community worry that ethnic Hungarian voters are no longer voting for ethnic parties and are either abstaining or choosing Slovak parties. While this trend has not yet been confirmed by data, polls of the minority voters show they want unified political representation, preferably a single party.2 Throughout 2020, SMK and Bridge tried to provide such unity but failed to overcome their differences on a number of occasions.3

Overall, Slovak politics in the immediate future will be shaped by tensions created in 2020 and increasing differences of opinion within the ruling coalition, which are likely unsolvable by traditional means. Yet the dissolution or reconfiguration of the governing coalition would increase the probability of the return to power of the previously ruling cadres, which is perceived by the public as a highly undesirable development. This frustrating situation, “between a rock and a hard place,” was fueled during the year by the emotionally charged and uncompromising attitude of Prime Minister Matovič, creating an unviable dynamic that even half of respondents in a December poll believed should be solved by snap elections.4 However, this option so far has been unacceptable to the current political elites and will likely continue to be the case at least until the public health crisis is under control. Afterwards, one or more members of the governing coalition could decide to cross the aisle and shape the future government in alliance with former prime minister Peter Pellegrini’s group of Smer-SD splinters, as well as extra-parliamentary factions such as Progressive Slovakia.

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
  • Despite the former ruling coalition’s intensive efforts and use of social spending to prevent further loss of voter support,1 the 2020 parliamentary election results brought to power a coalition of oppositional political parties, including OĽaNO, SaS, We are Family, and For the People (founded by former president Andrej Kiska). All members of the new majority ran on anticorruption platforms and were also united by the conviction that ousting the governing Smer-SD was of paramount importance to curbing corruption.
  • From the beginning, cracks could be noticed in the coalition, with OĽaNO and We are Family on one side, and SaS and For the People on the other.2 This conflict manifested in the assignment of executive ministries. While the new coalition started with the long-established pattern of ministerial cross-control via state secretaries nominated by different parties, OĽaNO and We are Family forced the principle that the party holding a ministry should be unchecked by coalition partners in running the ministry’s affairs.3 By extension, the coalition also agreed that the party in charge of the ministerial portfolio should be fully in charge of all nominations on the national or subnational level falling under the auspices of that ministry, thus replacing the previous arrangement where political appointments were proportionally divided among the ruling parties. As a consequence, coalition parties lost the power to check any questionable political personnel nominations made by their partners.4
  • One of the most important principles governing intra-coalitional interactions concerned “cultural-ethical questions,” namely, on abortion and LGBT+ rights, which were not covered by the coalition agreement. The parties retained the freedom to vote on these matters unless they cooperated with the opposition.5 This brought a fair share of trouble when the strong, conservative Christian faction within OĽaNO and liberals within SaS and For the People traded accusations of cooperation with the opposition, including with the far-right Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), by respectively advancing or blocking a series of (failed) legislative proposals aimed at limiting access to abortion.6 Conservatives inside as well as outside the coalition also put pressure on President Zuzana Čaputová to expressly announce Slovakia’s refusal to ratify the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention after the outgoing National Council rejected it in February.7
  • The election results accelerated dissent within Smer-SD between wings associated with the increasingly unpopular former prime minister Robert Fico and his freshly ousted but notably more popular successor, former prime minister Peter Pellegrini. Given Fico’s grip on the party machinery, Pellegrini’s group decided to split8 rather than take over the mother party, taking with them a number of members of parliament (MPs), rank-and-file party members, as well as popular support and possibly some Smer-SD sponsors.9 Pellegrini’s new party, Voice-Social Democracy (HLAS), was established in June and not only bested the mother party in opinion polls but became the most popular party in the country as of October.10 Fico’s rump party has continued to radicalize its stances (which began with the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée in 2018), moving closer to the anti-systemic/conspiratorial camp of Slovak politics.11
  • The formation of the new government coincided almost perfectly with the outbreak of COVID-19, and its social and economic policies have been influenced by the pandemic ever since. The extent and form of the government’s public health restrictions were also a bone of contention between the abovementioned coalition camps during the spring and autumn waves of the pandemic.12
  • In 2020, Slovakia’s response to the COVID-19 crisis raised questions over the legality and constitutionality of official decisions taken to fight the pandemic, including restrictions on some freedoms. In particular, Prime Minister Matovič was widely criticized for personally running the decision-making of the Permanent Crisis Staff and regular Crisis Staff while passing off the unpopular restrictive measures as decisions made by experts rather than the government. (The ad hoc, extra-legal Permanent Crisis Staff was meant to serve as an advisory body during the pandemic’s spring wave. By contrast, the regular Crisis Staff, a legally established body led by the Interior Minister, is meant to guide the country through extraordinary situations. Another legally based actor was the Pandemic Commission, led by the Minster of Health, which decided on public health measures during the pandemic.) These various bodies largely avoided enacting disproportionate measures or otherwise intentionally threatening rights and freedoms, but the extra-legal nature of the Permanent Crisis Staff and the seemingly unconstitutional basis for certain decisions raised concerns.
  • Disagreements over the government’s response to COVID-19 came to a head in late September when the government declared a state of distress that gave the executive branch additional powers to ostensibly streamline the pandemic response.13 The move was challenged at the Constitutional Court by both Smer-SD and the Prosecutor General,14 as well as the president over certain technicalities.15 The Constitutional Court, however, quickly confirmed the measure’s compliance with the constitution.16 In October, a bill was passed amending the powers of the Public Heath Office (ÚVZ) in order to address legal concerns over the office’s previous decisions.17
  • In a major initiative, apparently devised by the prime minister,18 the state attempted to test the majority of the population for COVID-19 with the help of the armed forces.19 Despite widespread political opposition,20 mass testing took place throughout the country in November, with the participation of around 3.5 million people.21 This was part of a de jure lockdown that lasted less than a month during a surge in COVID-19 cases. The armed forces and local governments contributed enormously to the campaign’s success by providing the material and human resources for the exercise, yet the relative political success of the campaign was complicated by problematic communications and unclear rules regarding the practical consequences of the testing. PM Matovič tried to sell testing as “the price for freedom,” arguing that it would secure a quiet Christmas for Slovakia. He hinted that people not participating in testing would be somehow disadvantaged by a stricter lockdown regime, but that never happened.22 Opponents, however, argued that people would interpret negative results of the relatively unreliable antigen tests as license to return to a normal lifestyle, which might have contributed to the dramatic increase in cases in December.
  • Following the November testing initiative, Matovič described the method as the ultimate tool, or “nuclear weapon,” against the virus, and suggested additional waves of nationwide testing before Christmas. Experts and politicians—including coalition partners like SaS leader and Economy Minister Richard Sulik—advised against this,23 provoking an aggressive response from the prime minister and his loyalists that poisoned the public discourse and relationships within the government.24 The conflict culminated in December when Matovič accused Sulik of sabotaging the efforts to fight the virus by failing to procure antigen tests for additional waves of nationwide testing. Matovič also called for Sulik’s resignation (though he did not force the issue) and labeled him responsible for many deaths.25
  • Symbolizing this breakdown, in mid-December, at least five members of the cabinet announced they had tested positive for the virus, including the prime minister.26 At the same time, the Supreme Office of Control, the state auditor, issued a report in which it assessed the preparedness of state institutions for the first and second waves of the pandemic as very poor.27
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
  • Regular elections to the Národná Rada (National Council), Slovakia’s unicameral parliament, took place on February 29, 2020. They were orderly and largely fair, but the electoral rules were altered by the ruling coalition through a series of instrumental amendments passed in 2019. The most important of these extended the two-week moratorium on publishing public opinion polls prior to election day up to fifty days. However, this particular amendment was defeated by the Constitutional Court in late 2019 and did not apply in the 2020 elections.1
  • Yet, even under the existing two-week moratorium on polls, a private initiative successfully crowdsourced public opinion data and provided results to “subscribers” on an individual basis for a symbolic fee. The Fifty Days initiative2 thus spread public awareness of the major trends in the relative support for political parties during the preelection period.
  • These trends included the steady decline in support for the parties of the ruling coalition—Direction-Social Democracy (Smer-SD), the Slovak National Party (SNS), and Bridge—and, most importantly, the last-minute skyrocketing interest in the opposition OĽaNO. The party boosted its support from around 6 percent in October 2019 to 25 percent on election day, winning the largest vote share.3 This was mainly due to OĽaNO’s convincing anticorruption agitation several weeks prior to the election and the fact that a remarkable number of voters made their voting decision in the last few weeks—even days—prior to the election based on this issue.4 OĽaNO’s agitation, for example, included travel to Monaco to put a sign reading “Property of the Slovak Republic” on the gate of a villa reportedly owned by a former finance minister widely considered to be the broker of many corrupt transactions.5
  • On election day, OĽaNO was followed by Smer-SD (with 18.3 percent, a decline of 10 percentage points from 2016); the opposition We are Family party (8.2 percent); the far-right ĽSNS (8 percent); the market-liberal Freedom and Solidarity (6.2 percent); and For the People (5.8 percent), a political newcomer. Another new political actor, the progressive coalition of the Progressive Slovakia and Together parties (PS/Together), obtained 6.96 percent of the vote, but since it ran as a coalition, it failed to reach the applicable 7-percent threshold.6
  • Overall, the 2020 election results represent a series of precedents, including a record-high 28.5 percent of votes cast for parties that did not clear the threshold for parliamentary representation. The former ruling parties SNS and Bridge contributed to this phenomenon by falling out of the parliament. Bridge’s departure means that Slovakia’s current parliament is the first in the country’s history not to feature a Hungarian minority party. Overall support for new parties was very high (18.7 percent), but the only new party to make it into the National Council was For the People. Thus, the unsuccessful new parties contributed some 10 percentage points to the “wasted” votes.
  • The overall turnout in the 2020 elections was 65.8 percent, an increase of approximately 6 percentage points compared to the 2016 vote.
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
  • In 2020, Slovakia’s civic sector was overwhelmed by the impact of COVID-19 on its activities as well as funding and sustainability. Many civil society organizations (CSOs) redirected their focus to helping those affected by the virus, while some struggled to move their activities online to compensate for restrictions stemming from social-distancing practices.
  • Available data suggests that, by August, the sum of tax revenue from private persons and companies dedicated to civil society had decreased by half compared to the previous year. This, however, was also a function of the postponed deadline for submitting tax declarations, the primary means through which donations are assigned.1
  • There were tripartite negotiations between labor, employers, and the government on an increase in the minimum wage.2 In September, a conflict over the minimum wage increase mechanism broke out between labor representatives and the government, represented by Labor Minister Milan Krajniak, who suggested that the format of Tripartite Council be amended. Up to that point, employers had been represented by four organizations and labor by only one, namely, the Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ). Krajniak pointed out that KOZ, the legal heir of the Communist-era trade unions, currently represents only a sixth of the country’s labor force. He therefore proposed that both sides should be represented by at least three organizations3 and announced that labor’s representation on the council would be based on a minimum number of union members. In October, the parliament approved his ministry’s proposal concerning the minimum wage.4
  • Major nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working in the anticorruption space mounted a campaign against the announced reform of the public procurement system (see “Corruption”) authored by the office of Deputy Prime Minister Štefan Holý (We are Family). The NGOs claimed the concept would diminish transparency and impede oversight and control of the system. In particular, they expressed concern over proposed limits on the powers of the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO). The NGOs wrote a letter to DPM Holý offering advice and asking for a personal meeting.5 However, their appeal was rebuffed and their expertise described as unnecessary.6
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
  • The most impressive achievement of the independent press in 2020 was its reporting on the high-profile investigations into the 2018 assassination of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírova. The trial of Marian Kočner, the prominent businessman suspected of ordering the murders, received wide coverage, which was marked by a number of leaks from the police and court files. Apparently, various parties had arranged the leaks to create pressure for a guilty verdict or, perhaps, to press authorities to investigate additional allegations that surfaced during the hearings.
  • Following the installation of the new government, no political changes were imposed on the leadership of RTVS even though the public broadcaster had actively sided with the former ruling coalition, notably the SNS, during the electoral campaign, for example, by shielding the party’s chairperson from potential scandal.1 The new government’s hands-off approach to RTVS was due in part to the COVID-19 crisis, which diverted the government’s attention, as well as the fact that no governing party forced the issue.
  • The government did, however, announce the development of a new system for financing RTVS as well as new rules for selecting the head of the public broadcaster, although it had not completed this work by year’s end.2
  • Some members of the parliamentary Media Committee consistently criticized RTVS and its supervisory council for failing to perform its mission and for the notoriously contentious atmosphere in the news section, which, in May, was rocked by another series of firings.3 In October, conflict broke out over the RTVS leadership’s decision not to air an investigative piece on the allegedly plagiarized university dissertation written by former health minister Andrea Kalavská (Smer-SD),4 among the senior-most members of the previous government “adopted” as an expert by the current administration. The clash between the investigation’s authors and editors of the public broadcaster’s news section renewed parliamentary interest in RTVS’s internal issues.5
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
  • In 2020, local governments, namely those organized under the Slovak Union of Towns and Cities (ÚMS), continued to lobby for further administrative decentralization.1 In their January statement,2 they demanded the right to propose national laws and expressed their willingness to take over, in the spirit of the subsidiarity principle, additional powers currently held by the regional level of the state administration.3 They also argued for the division of the electoral administration into eight districts (currently, all of Slovakia constitutes one district). So far, the new government has not given any indication that it plans a major reform of the local self-government system.4
  • There were several sources of tension between the central and local levels of government in 2020. First, municipalities argued they were not consulted before the central government committed to allowing students and pensioners to use public transport free of charge on the local level. As public transport in all municipalities is already subsidized by municipal budgets, the policy imposed additional fiscal strain.5 Following the outbreak of COVID-19, municipalities complained that many decisions aimed at protecting public health were taken without concern for the impact on municipal budgets.6
  • As a reaction, the central government came up with a program of interest-free municipal loans from the state budget to alleviate losses caused by “developments on the macro level.”7 Starting in September, a number of towns, cities, and regional self-governments applied for these loans. Overall, the government earmarked €174 million for the program.8
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. 5.255 7.007
  • In 2020, Slovak leaders faced intense pressure to address serious shortcomings in the country’s judicial system that were exposed in 2019 by investigations into the Kuciak-Kušnírova murders. In March, the authorities arrested several judges with alleged illicit connections to Marian Kočner, the suspected mastermind behind the assassinations. The judges were accused of giving Kočner exclusive access to information from court files and arranging judgments favorable to his business interests.1 In the wake of the arrests, a number of high-level judicial functionaries resigned, including the vice chair of the Supreme Court2 and one Constitutional Court judge.3
  • This pressure also resulted in a series of proposed or implemented systemic changes and reforms. The proceedings of the Supreme Judicial Council—the highest body of the judicial self-government—were reformed. First, the composition of the council was modified to include a greater number of members nominated by non-judges, which implies the greater involvement of the (expert) public in judicial self-government. The council elections (following the February parliamentary elections) changed its actual composition substantially, including the council leadership. Newly elected chair Ján Mazák, a senior legal professional and former head of the Constitutional Court, is the first chair chosen from nominees proposed by parliament and not by judges.4 The reformed council also elected a new chair of the Supreme Court.5 Overall, these developments marked an increase in oversight from outside the justice system.
  • In September, Mazák formally asked the president to recall 83 judges who had reached the age limit of 65 years, referring to a law that previous chairs had ignored or applied selectively.6 The president agreed with the proposal, in principle, but decided to implement it gradually so that some courts would not be disrupted.7 Out of 83 affected judges, only 39 were still professionally active, and this move was viewed more as a technical measure to get rid of the relatively small number of particularly controversial Supreme Court judges, all throwbacks to the 1990s, the era of former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar.8
  • Following the expiration of the term of embattled Special Criminal Court chair Michal Truban, the Justice Ministry selected a new chair, Ján Hrubala, in August.9
  • The new government’s Justice Ministry introduced a major reform of the judiciary, calling for the establishment of a Supreme Administrative Court in charge of, among other things, disciplining judges.10 Other proposed reforms included seriously restricting judge impunity and the introduction of a new criminal offense—“bending the law”—which would apply to arbitrary judicial decisions that disrespect the law.11 The judicial reform is supposed to be enacted in its entirety in 2021, while the constitutional amendments necessary for implementing the changes were passed in December 2020.12
  • The most debated change enacted so far was the constitutional amendment that stripped the Constitutional Court of the right to review amendments made through “constitutional bills” that require a qualified majority of parliamentarians. The expert community debated the desirability of this power, which the court assumed only in 2017, but political will to implement the change won out.
  • In the area of state prosecution, rules for the election of the Prosecutor General (and the special prosecutor) were amended to increase transparency in the process.13 The most controversial change was broadening the pool of eligible candidates to include those who are not prosecutors (though still from the legal profession).14 The new rules were used in the selection of the successor to former prosecutor general Jaromír Čižnár after his mandate expired in July. Čižnár had been widely considered a major obstacle to investigations of politically sensitive cases,15 and handling his replacement was a major political precondition for reforming the prosecution. The new prosecutor general, Maroš Žilinka, was elected in December in a public process that brought all candidates before the parliament.16
  • The trial of prominent businessman Marian Kočner concluded in September, with Kočner and alleged co-conspirator Alena Zsuzsová being declared not guilty of ordering and organizing the murders discussed above.17 After the protracted decision, marked by disagreements among the three-member tribunal, the judges ruled that evidence presented by the prosecution was circumstantial and failed to unambiguously prove the guilt of the accused.18 While the public considers Kočner guilty, the outcome was not unexpected among those familiar with the case. The verdict will be reviewed by the Supreme Court in 2021.
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
  • One of the most significant consequences of the government changes in 2020 was the removal of existing political pressure on the police and prosecution,1 as well as the elimination of external power brokers capable of stopping or otherwise influencing investigations, along with their henchmen in state structures.2
  • This change led to the recall and arrest of several figures within the justice system, including Robert Krajmer, former head of the anticorruption unit of the National Criminal Agency (NAKA);3 Pavol Vorobjov, former head of the financial intelligence unit at NAKA;4 and Ľudovít Makó, former head of the intelligence unit of the Financial Administration.5 They were all accused of illicitly providing selective access and services to criminal, oligarchic, and political groups.
  • Based on the information obtained from their hearings, another wave of arrests followed in the fall including Special Prosecutor Dušan Kováčik. The court stated that he was taken into custody over the concern that Slovakia’s rule of law was under threat as a consequence of his inaction.6 Also, the prosecution concluded that Kováčik had prevented investigations of myriad accusations against members of the political and business establishment since the late 2000s.
  • Kováčik’s predecessor, Dobroslav Trnka, was also detained in January.7 Trnka was known as an ally of businessman Marian Kočner, providing him impunity and access to the resources of the Prosecutor General’s Office since at least 2004.
  • Overall, some 20 people holding major positions in the police, judiciary, or prosecution as well as their political and business interlocutors were arrested in 2020.8 Practically all were considered part of an informal group that guaranteed members’ impunity through the misuse of official powers. Most importantly, information obtained from a handful of those who decided to cooperate with the authorities enabled the police to unprecedently classify their activities as those of an organized criminal group. Their conspiracies were linked to criminal operations such as, in some cases, providing favors to the mob or extorting businesses.9 In December, NAKA also arrested Jaroslav Haščák, leader of Penta, a major private equity group in the region, who was the main protagonist in the alleged corrupt transactions comprising the so-called Gorilla File scandal.10
  • In a similar vein, the police, also freed from political restrictions in 2020, initiated investigations into a number of high-profile corruption cases linked to the former political establishment and their nominees in state-controlled entities. These included investigations into the leadership of the Agricultural Paying Agency (PPA) as well as the State Material Reserves (ŠHR). In the former case, which saw the PPA’s leadership prosecuted for alleged bribery in allocating European agricultural subsidies,11 entrepreneurs Norbert Bödör and Martin Kvietik are suspected of acting as intermediaries to funnel money to the former ruling parties Smer-SD and SNS, respectively.12 The latter investigation was prompted by irregularities in the procurement of medical supplies in the spring during the COVID-19 crisis.13
  • Among proposals debated by the new government for curbing corruption, the most controversial was a plan to reform the public procurement process. The reform would focus on streamlining and accelerating the process by increasing the value threshold for which public tendering is deemed necessary, as opposed to other, less-controlled procedures.14 It also envisions curbing the powers of the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO).15 In the meantime, the ÚVO, along with civil society actors, suggested a compromise between existing procurement parameters and the government’s proposal.16 The political debate on this issue was still ongoing at year’s end, but the initiative could potentially damage the anticorruption credentials of the ruling coalition, namely, OĽaNO and We are Family.17
  • Also, the government reformed measures for fighting tax evasion via foreign shell companies. An existing rule had provided a loophole—widely considered to be intentional—by which only companies were taxed for foreign corporate profits. The reform now extends the applicability of the measures to private persons as well.18
  • Lastly, the Ministry of Justice amended the Criminal Code to include two new offenses, namely, “bending the law” (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”) and “inappropriate advantage,” which eliminates the possibility of bribing public officials with a series of smaller material or immaterial gifts, services, and favors.19

Author: Peter Učeň is a political scientist and former democracy assistance worker.

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