Consolidated Democracy
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 70.24 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 5.21 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. See the methodology.

header1 Author

Roman Hlatky

header2 Score changes in 2023

  • National Democratic Governance rating declined from 4.75 to 4.50 due to a multiyear trend of political dysfunction across institutions, exemplified by the government’s inability to reach consensus on key issues and an unstable minority coalition losing a vote of no confidence.

As a result, Slovakia’s Democracy Score declined from 5.25 to 5.21.

header3 Executive Summary

The year 2022 was tumultuous in Slovak politics. A series of political disputes eventually led to a successful vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Eduard Heger’s government. Record inflation, high energy costs, and unpopular policy decisions exacerbated these disputes and reinforced public dissatisfaction with the government. While the government continued its anticorruption efforts, inter-institutional conflicts and politicization hampered their efficacy, although some notable charges and convictions did take place. The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine left a mark on Slovak politics—by intensifying debates over Slovakia’s geopolitical orientation, and in terms of the more than 800,000 refugees who crossed Slovak borders.1 Lastly, a terrorist attack that resulted in the death of two LGBT+ individuals shook Slovak society.

Political disputes, both within the coalition and between government and opposition parties, marred effective governance, leading to public dissatisfaction and mistrust of government institutions. During the summer, Freedom and Solidarity (Sloboda a Solidarita, SaS) departed the governing coalition, leaving the government with a minority in the National Council, Slovakia’s unicameral parliament. While much of the conflict between SaS and the nation’s largest party, Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OBYČAJNÍ ĽUDIA a nezávislé osobnosti, OĽaNO), was rooted in programmatic policy differences, personal disagreements between SaS leader Richard Sulík and OĽaNO leader Igor Matovič also played a consequential role. Coalition stability fragmented when OĽaNO relied on votes from lawmakers elected on the ticket of the radical-right People’s Party Our Slovakia (Ľudová strana naše Slovensko, ĽSNS) to pass an “anti-inflation” package composed of subsidies for families with children (overriding a presidential veto in the process).2 Protracted negotiations over the summer failed to produce consensus, largely because OĽaNO’s parliamentary delegation was unwilling to approve SaS’s demand for Matovič’s resignation as finance minister.3

Governing without a stable majority, the coalition relied on votes from radical members of the parliament. In return, the coalition supported some of their policy priorities.4 Minority governance also led to parliamentary inefficiency.5 For example, it took three attempts to reach the necessary quorum to open the fall parliamentary session.6 The instability of the government came to a head in December when SaS indicated it would join with opposition parties to initiate a vote of no confidence against the government.7 During negotiations, OĽaNO’s Matovič offered to meet SaS’s demands to tender his resignation as finance minister, but he changed his mind at the last minute.8 The resulting no-confidence motion passed with 78 out of 150 votes on December 15, 2022, and early elections were eventually scheduled for September 30, 2023.

This period of instability was accompanied by multiple opposition efforts to unseat the government through referendums. The first attempt was referred to the Constitutional Court by President Zuzana Čaputová in 2021.9 In this case, the court ruled that the referendum question—whether the current parliamentary term should be shortened so that new elections could be carried out within 180 days—was unconstitutional.10 Undeterred, in 2022, the opposition again gathered enough signatures to propose new questions: (1) whether the government should, without delay, resign; and (2) whether the constitution should be changed to allow the parliamentary term to be shortened by referendum or by parliamentary resolution. The first question was ruled unconstitutional.11 But a referendum on the second question was held on January 21, 2023.12

Given these disputes, the government only managed to pass the state budget for 2023 on December 22. This approval was contingent on Matovič’s stepping down as finance minister in exchange for the necessary votes.13 During the year, the government also faced legislative motions to shorten the parliamentary term,14 numerous legislative motions to dismiss ministers,15 and intermittent threats of resignation from the remaining coalition members.16 The constant political turbulence even led to unprecedented criticism by President Čaputová in her annual State of the Republic speech.17 Ultimately, these disputes highlight the polarization, personalization, and volatility of Slovak politics and undermine public trust in government institutions.18

For the first time, regional and communal elections occurred on the same day in 2022, with independent candidates leading over established political parties.19 The nation’s ongoing crises increased concerns about a populist, extremist response to the nation’s ongoing crises, but these fears were proven unfounded. Most of Slovakia instead voted for continuity: six of the eight governors of self-governing regions were reelected, as were seven of the eight mayors of the regional capitals.20

Many of the inter-institutional conflicts that had emerged from the government’s anticorruption efforts persisted during the year. One such conflict, dubbed the “police war,” brought indictments by the Bureau of the Inspection Service (ÚIS) against members of the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) for abuse of public authority.21 Moreover, disputes between Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka and Special Prosecutor Daniel Lipšic hampered the effective prosecution of corruption.22 The interpretation and use of Article 363 of the code of criminal procedure by the Prosecutor General’s Office proved particularly contentious. Article 363 states that the prosecutor general may annul the decisions of other prosecutors and the police if any procedural steps leading to that decision occur illegally, and has been used in several notable cases.23 24 While there is increasing pressure to reform Article 363, particularly from civil society organizations, the latest effort in September narrowly failed on the parliamentary floor.25

Efforts at anticorruption and judicial reform in Slovakia have been marred by politicization. Political elites have few qualms about openly disputing the decisions of police, prosecutors, and judges. Despite these complications, anticorruption efforts still made some notable advances in 2022—the most dramatic being the indictments of former prime minister Robert Fico and former interior minister Robert Kaliňák.26 NAKA charged both individuals with organizing a criminal group and divulging confidential tax information. Fico and Kaliňák are the highest-ranking Slovak politicians to be charged with corruption since the 1990s. Fico disputed the charges as politically motivated.27 In late November, the Prosecutor General’s Office used Article 363 to annul the charges.28 Another important anticorruption step occurred with the conviction of former special prosecutor Dušan Kováčik for taking bribes and revealing confidential information from criminal proceedings.29 These cases, as well as other ongoing investigations, highlight the steps taken by the current government to advance the rule of law in Slovakia.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24 also shaped domestic politics. Slovakia saw an unprecedented number of border crossings due to the conflict’s escalation, and subsequently granted temporary protection to more than 97,000 Ukrainians. The invasion emphasized Slovakia’s struggles with disinformation;30 the National Security Authority (NBÚ) blocked access to several Russian-linked web portals, although access was later restored.31 Despite Slovakia’s being a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and consistently reaffirming the country’s Euro-Atlantic commitments and providing military aid to Ukraine, some opposition parties have nevertheless capitalized on underlying anti-American, anti-NATO, and pro-Russian sentiments for political gain.32 33

The killing of Matúš Horváth and Juraj Vankulič, two members of the LGBT+ community, shook Slovak society during the year. Their deaths highlighted the impact of societal prejudice, discriminatory legal frameworks, and hateful rhetoric from politicians who promote widespread intolerance towards Slovakia’s LGBT+ community.34 35 36 In response to the killings, which NAKA classified as a terrorist attack, 15,000 people marched in the capital Bratislava to show support for the LGBT+ community.37 Less than a week later, the National Council failed to pass a law ensuring fundamental rights for cohabiting same-sex couples.38 This unfortunate outcome is emblematic of the status of minority groups in Slovakia. Widespread discrimination is faced by Roma communities, while anti-migrant prejudice is also common.39 40

header4 At-A-Glance

National governance is democratic in Slovakia, although elite and institutional conflicts often lead to polarization, inefficiency, instability, and public mistrust of government. Slovak elections are free and fair, but the constitutionally appropriate use of referendums is disputed. The current government has attempted to incorporate civil society groups into the legislative process. However, the politicization of civic sector goals and the government’s inability to ensure equal rights for Slovakia’s minority groups continue to be problematic. In the media sphere, a package of reforms focused on financial transparency and the protection of confidential sources represents a step forward, but the government has yet to institute promised constitutional protections for journalists. “Alternative” news sources and disinformation outlets continue to be influential. Originating during the COVID-19 pandemic, conflicts between the national and local governments, largely over finances, featured prominently in the 2022 municipal and regional elections. While the government passed a significant judicial reform package, the departure of SaS from the governing coalition has delayed implementation of these reforms. Ongoing anticorruption efforts have resulted in notable indictments and convictions. However, such efforts have also caused increased politicization and inter-institutional conflict, especially over the use of Article 363 of the code of criminal procedure.

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. 4.505 7.007
  • Instability in Slovakia’s governing coalition hindered the effective functioning of government in 2022. Conflict between the coalition members, particularly OĽaNO and SaS, had been ongoing since early 2021, due largely to how Igor Matovič—leader of OĽaNO and prime minister until March 30, 2021—handled the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.1 In May of 2022, OĽaNO worked with lawmakers elected on the ticket of the far-right ĽSNS to override a presidential veto and pass a series of subsidies for families with children.2 The reliance on far-right votes and disputes over the content of the law resulted in SaS’s threatening to leave the coalition unless Finance Minister Matovič resigned.3
  • Protracted negotiations between the parties failed to produce consensus. OĽaNO refused to remove Matovič from his position and put forth other demands that SaS was unwilling to meet due to its programmatic commitments.4 As a result, SaS withdrew from the coalition, leaving it with a minority in the National Council, Slovakia’s unicameral, 150-seat parliament.5
  • Governing with a minority proved difficult—as evidenced by three attempts to open the fall parliamentary session,6 prolonged and politicized negotiations over the state budget,7 and multiple ministers facing parliamentary votes of no confidence, all unsuccessful.8 This ineffectiveness was even more problematic given the country’s record inflation,9 rising energy prices,10 and the precarious financial situations of both the healthcare sector and regional governments.11 12
  • Ultimately, the opposition’s efforts to call for early elections, initially waged through various referendum initiatives,13 were successful. In December, SaS indicated it would join with other opposition parties to support a no-confidence motion against the government.14 Last-minute negotiations failed to save Eduard Heger’s government, due largely to Matovič’s reluctance to resign as finance minister.15 In the end, 78 of the 150 members of the National Council voted in favor of the no-confidence motion. Matovič did eventually resign in exchange for the opposition votes needed to pass the 2023 state budget.16
  • Since 2021, the opposition had attempted to unseat the government through referendum initiatives.17 Across two such attempts, three questions were referred to the Constitutional Court. Two were direct calls for shortening the parliamentary term and demanding the immediate resignation of the government, both ruled unconstitutional.18
  • The third question—whether the constitution should be changed to allow the early termination of a parliamentary term by referendum or by parliamentary decision—was ruled constitutional.19
  • Anticorruption efforts reached the upper echelons of the Slovak political elite with the indictment of former prime minister Robert Fico and former interior minister Robert Kaliňák (see “Corruption”).20 Under Slovak laws concerning parliamentary immunity, pretrial custody of national lawmakers (such as Fico) must be approved by the parliament.21 After a highly politicized debate,22 parliamentary approval of the request fell short by two votes.23 In November 2022, the Prosecutor General’s Office used Article 363 of the code of criminal procedure to annul the charges, arguing that Fico did not possess the competences necessary to carry out the crimes, and that the charges were too vague to meet necessary standards.24
  • Inter-institutional conflicts between branches of the Slovak security apparatus continued with a series of charges levied against members of the National Criminal Agency (NAKA) by the Bureau of the Inspection Service (ÚIS).25 This so-called police war has undermined public confidence in the government’s ability to effectively combat corruption. Along with these disputes, the ongoing conflict between Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka and Special Prosecutor Daniel Lipšic (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”) has facilitated further politicization of the government’s anticorruption efforts.
  • Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February also influenced Slovak politics during the year. The government continually reaffirmed Slovakia’s Euro-Atlantic commitments and offered a variety of support to Ukraine (including military equipment). However, these decisions proved politically divisive as some opposition elites increasingly mobilized pro-Russian, anti-NATO, and anti-American sentiments.26 The Slovak public remains one of the most pro-Russian in Central Europe,27 making the defense agreement signed with the United States in February and the planned deployment of NATO troops in Slovakia contested issues.28 With early elections approaching, the politicization of the war will likely become even more pronounced.
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 a process initiated in 2022, a constitutional majority of National Council deputies voted in January 2023 to change the constitution and specify the conditions under which early elections may occur. The constitutional amendment is the result of a prolonged and politicized debate that emerged from opposition attempts since 2021 to unseat the Heger government.1 2
  • On October 29, 2022, Slovakia saw the first-ever combination of elections for municipalities and the country’s eight self-governing regions into a single “regional” election.3 This reform was passed by the previous government under Peter Pellegrini in order to increase voter turnout and minimize election costs.4 Importantly, while polling stations opened at the same time as in previous elections, they closed two hours earlier than usual. The shorter voting times and the decision to hold the elections during a holiday weekend were criticized by both the opposition and civil society.5
  • Despite these concerns, voting largely occurred without irregularities or problems,6 although some polling stations had to request to remain open past the official closing time due to technical difficulties.7 Additionally, the elections’ complex range of choices across multiple types of ballots led to an unusually high number of invalid votes.8
  • In total, 44 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the elections for the eight self-governing regions, a 14 percent increase from 2017. Turnout for municipal elections was approximately 46 percent of eligible voters, a 2.5 percent decrease from 2018 (see “Local Democratic Governance”).9
  • As of late October, the National Council was debating two electoral reforms proposed by the Interior Ministry. The first seeks to facilitate postal voting for presidential elections and to create a centralized registry of Slovaks living abroad in order to verify their voter eligibility.10 In the 2020 election, around 55,000 Slovaks cast their ballot from abroad (approximately 2 percent of the vote).11 The second proposal recommends combining the presidential and the European Parliament elections in order to cut costs and increase turnout for the European elections.12
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. 6.006 7.007
  • The current government has promised to actively work with civil society when crafting laws and policies. In pursuit of this goal, and in collaboration with civic sector partners, the government approved the “Concept of Civil Society Development for 2022–30,” which outlines reforms to encourage institutional cooperation and a more active citizenry.1
  • While the concept identifies key challenges and possible solutions, few substantive steps were taken during the year to meet these goals. In fact, the concept’s opening sentence was disputed by the labor minister and the prosecutor general because it used the adjective “liberal” to describe Slovakia’s democracy.2 The fact that such a minor issue was questioned reflects the challenges faced by Slovak civil society. Nonetheless, acknowledgment of these challenges represents progress for the civic sector when compared to the previous government’s combative relationship with civil society.3
  • In a recent survey, 80 percent of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) identified insufficient funding as the key barrier to achieving their goals.4 The primary source of NGO funds is the European Union.5 The EU’s project-based funding, administered by national agencies, is largely ad hoc and places a high administrative burden on organizations.6 Accordingly, the new concept proposes establishing state-financed sources to support civil society and streamlining the application process for requesting and administering EU funds.
  • The government faces a contentious relationship with Slovak unions. With the support of many opposition politicians, the Confederation of Trade Unions organized a series of protests in 2022.7 These focused largely on the lack of government support amid rising prices and stagnating wages in Slovakia. The government responded to this pressure by significantly increasing the wages of educators, civil servants, and medical professionals.8 9
  • The government has been embroiled in an ongoing conflict with Slovak universities. This dispute arose from the passage of a law restructuring the organization of various university administrative organs and the process for appointing university leadership.10 Proponents argue that the law is a step forward in modernization and transparency,11 while critics consider it a violation of the right of universities to self-govern.12 The dispute escalated when the government lowered state financial support to universities despite rising energy prices.13 Conditions deteriorated to such an extent that Slovakia’s main institution of higher learning, Comenius University in Bratislava, suggested it might have to shut down on November 17. Last-minute negotiations with the Education Ministry, along with nearly €17 million in new funding,14 averted the closure.15
  • The inclusion and integration of Roma communities in Slovakia remains a challenge. Often living in segregated rural settlements, many Roma lack access to basic infrastructure, such as water, sanitation, or electricity,16 and face discrimination in schools and workplaces.17 These issues received renewed attention when a European Parliament delegation visited Roma settlements in Slovakia and suggested that the allocated European funds had made little difference in improving their living standards.18 The government responded to increasing pressure from the European Commission by restructuring the administration of European funds, placing them under the supervision of the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities.19
  • Slovakia’s LGBT+ community continues to face widespread prejudice and institutional discrimination, which has sometimes led to violence.20 On October 12, Matúš Horváth and Juraj Vankulič were killed outside of an LGBT+ bar in Bratislava, what officials called an “act of terrorism.” In the aftermath, 15,000 people marched in Bratislava in support of the LGBT+ community. Yet, less than a week later, the National Council failed to pass a law guaranteeing equal rights for same-sex cohabiting couples.21 In Slovakia, neither registered domestic partnership nor marriage is legally recognized for same-sex couples.22 The government has promised to pass legislation aimed at improving LGBT+ rights, but no such reforms have been agreed upon.23 However, minor improvements have occurred through judicial action. For example, a 2022 ruling ensured that same-sex couples of mixed nationalities would be granted the same residency rights as heterosexual couples.24
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
  • In response to the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in 2018,1 media reform and the protection of journalists have become a policy priority.2 Yet three notable problems remain: the government has yet to formally institute protections for journalists, disinformation is prevalent, and politicians from both the government and the opposition openly challenge the media.
  • The Publications Act and the Media Services Act, passed in the summer of 2022, have led to significant changes.3 For the first time, digital and online-only news sources are defined and regulated in the same manner as more traditional forms of media, and all news sources are now required to formally register as “public sector partners” (a designation for individuals and entities supported by or doing business with the public sector).
  • Importantly, the new laws loosen regulations on how public officials and institutions may respond to articles that depict them in a misleading or false manner. Media outlets must now publish responses to potentially false reporting, unless the outlet can prove that the initial reporting was entirely factual.4 Critics of the provision, including President Čaputová, suggest it may be abused by politicians to challenge factual reporting.5
  • Other reforms are a major step forward for transparency, such as the new requirement that media publicly report all funders who allocate them more than €1,200 per year.6 And outlets are also required to disclose their ownership structures. These new regulations have significant implications for disinformation and “alternative” news sources since they are now required to reveal their funders.7
  • Lastly, the reforms implemented measures to strengthen the rights of journalists, although they fell short of the protections promised by political parties during their electoral campaigns. The Culture Ministry is currently working with a team of experts to create a preliminary set of recommendations to better safeguard journalists in Slovakia.8 One significant improvement was the provision that reporters are not obliged to reveal their confidential sources to public institutions.9
  • Disinformation is particularly prevalent in Slovakia, and rates of conspiracy thinking are quite high among Slovaks.10 11 In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Slovak government took a more proactive approach to containing disinformation. The National Council passed a law that allows the National Security Authority (NBÚ) to block access to online news portals that disseminate disinformation, including the prominent self-titled “conservative daily,” Hlavné Správy (Main News).12 The decision to block certain media was met with criticism, and the NBÚ’s refusal to disclose the criteria used to make these decisions was particularly controversial.13 At the time of writing, the previously blocked sources of disinformation were once again accessible, but the government suggested reinstating the block with two modifications: first, to regulate social media accounts that spread disinformation; and second, to ensure transparency in the review process since the NBÚ would be required to substantiate its decisions before the Supreme Administrative Court.14
  • At times during the year, relations between reporters and government officials were heated. Finance Minister Igor Matovič repeatedly criticized reporters, calling them “corrupt” and equating their work with the spreading of propaganda in Nazi Germany.15 Matovič’s attacks resembled the pattern of other prominent politicians who impugn reporters when faced with criticism.16 However, some officials, including Prime Minister Heger, were quick to defend reporters, while Matovič faced criticism and public condemnation for his remarks.17
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
  • Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, relations between the national government and municipal and regional governments have been strained. Former prime minister Matovič’s mandatory testing program was a particular burden on municipal resources.1 Currently, high energy prices and inflation are the major financial concerns for local governments.2 Given the increasing financial burdens, municipalities, especially those in Eastern Slovakia, continue to struggle with debt.3
  • The range of policy solutions available to localities is limited since much of their financing is constrained by decisions and policies of the national government. Thus, the inability of the national government to pass a budget was a particular point of concern.4 Furthermore, many local leaders were especially critical of the anti-inflation package passed in May. The proposed package included a tax bonus for families, which would cost around €750 million over two years for self-governing regions, indicating that much of the reform would be shouldered by local and regional governments.5
  • Given these issues, local leaders called for greater latitude in financial decision-making.6 The government responded by approving a law in late October that allows municipalities to fund their outlays through previously unavailable sources of revenue, such as municipality reserve funds or capital income (from loans or property sales).7
  • These financial issues took center stage in the regional elections held in late October (see “Electoral Process”), and many candidates campaigned on their records of navigating through various crises without national government support.8
  • Voters responded positively to these appeals, resulting in over 70 percent of mayors being reelected. Likewise, six of the eight governors of Slovakia’s self-governing regions were reelected, along with seven of the eight mayors of regional capitals.9
  • Continuing a trend observed in regional and local elections, many voters rejected established parties in favor of independent candidates. The number of votes cast for unaffiliated candidates exceeded votes for established political parties in both mayoral and regional representative races. In the former case, unaffiliated candidates won 47 percent of the vote, while in the latter, they received 38 percent.10
  • Voice–Social Democracy (Hlas-SD), led by former prime minister Peter Pellegrini, participated in its debut elections and achieved several notable victories, including winning the governorship in the Nitra region.11 However, critics highlighted the party’s failure in the country’s two largest cities, Bratislava and Košice.12
  • Regional elections were less successful for Smer-SD, which possibly lost votes to their breakaway colleagues in Hlas-SD. Similarly, the country’s largest governing party, OĽaNO, struggled to repeat its success from the parliamentary elections two years ago. This outcome is unsurprising given the party’s failure to invest in regional structures and the contentious relationship the national government has had with municipal and regional governments over the last two years.13
  • The electoral success of established far-right parties was also limited. Both ĽSNS and Republika (led by former members of ĽSNS) did not meet the expectations of many analysts who had predicted their success in the face of Slovakia’s economic difficulties.14 15 Yet, a relatively new radical-right challenger party, Národná koalícia (National Coalition), saw some success due to its strong local ties.16 Some localities saw Smer-SD, Hlas-SD, and Republika run as a coalition, suggesting that other parties may consider Republika a viable partner.
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 theory, the Slovak judiciary underwent a significant restructuring in April 2022 when lawmakers approved several reforms to the administrative-territorial structure of the court system. The reforms were designed by former justice minister Mária Kolíková and were a part of Slovakia’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan, whose implementation permitted access to additional sources of EU funding.1 Yet, in practice, with the departure of SaS and Kolíková from the government, the new justice minister, Viliam Karas, postponed the reforms until at least mid-2023.2
  • The reforms included the following measures: reducing the number of district courts from 54 to 33; consolidating cases related to commercial and family law to specific regional courts; creating a new system of specialized administrative courts; and reorganizing municipal courts, particularly in Bratislava and Košice.3 The goals of these reforms are greater transparency and efficiency.
  • These judicial reforms caused some discontent among judges and other members of Slovakia’s legal community due to a perceived lack of consultation on the part of the Justice Ministry.4 The reforms also faced resistance from both government and opposition deputies who questioned the necessity of restructuring the court system.5 Justice Minister Karas promised more open communication and transparency as the reform is implemented.6
  • Debates about Article 363 of the code of criminal procedure were ongoing during the year. Article 363 states that the prosecutor general may annul the decisions of other prosecutors or the police if any procedural steps leading to that decision occurred illegally. These debates were initiated after Prosecutor General Maroš Žilinka, or members of his office, used Article 363 in cases involving high-profile figures, including the former director of the Slovak Information Service (SIS), the current governor of the National Bank of Slovakia, a current deputy in the National Council, the owner of the Penta conglomerate, the former prime minister, and the former interior minister.7 8
  • Special Prosecutor Daniel Lipšic criticized Žilinka’s use of Article 363 as arbitrary, noting that what the prosecutor general considered unlawful varied from case to case.9 The National Council attempted to pass a law limiting the use of Article 363 in September 2022, but it failed by one vote.10
  • The conflict over Article 363 is just one example of the ongoing disputes between the two prosecutors. In the summer, Žilinka recommended that Lipšic be disciplined for publicly expressing his opinions on cases that had not yet been legally decided. The Supreme Administrative Court of the Slovak Republic supported Žilinka and imposed financial penalties against Lipšic.11 In turn, Lipšic criticized Žilinka for failing to support the Special Prosecutor’s Office in response to public criticisms and attacks by opposition politicians.12
  • Žilinka has also faced criticism for alleged pro-Russian sympathies, particularly after his trip to Russia to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Russian prosecutor general’s office. The current Russian prosecutor general is on the EU sanctions list for human rights abuses. And prior to the trip, Žilinka criticized Slovakia’s defense cooperation with the United States.13 Later in the summer, he faced accusations of spreading disinformation that originated from Russian sources and was proven false by Slovak authorities.14
  • These conflicts and controversies within the Slovak justice system undermine public trust and confidence in the ability of the state to effectively fight corruption. It also helps to explain why trust in the Slovak justice system is among the lowest in Europe—only 25 percent of Slovaks rate the independence of courts and judges as “fairly good” or “very good.”15 The lack of public trust in the judiciary is further exacerbated by politicization; both government and opposition politicians tend to criticize legal proceedings and decisions that they disagree with.16
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. 4.004 7.007
  • Slovakia continued its fight against corruption in 2022, the government striving to “free up the hands” of the police, prosecutors, and judiciary.1 Yet, despite some high-profile indictments and convictions, the effectiveness of anticorruption efforts is limited by ongoing inter-institutional and political conflicts.
  • The ongoing conflict between the prosecutor general and special prosecutor has undermined the effective prosecution of corruption (see “Judicial Framework and Independence”). While the Special Prosecutor’s Office holds primary responsibility for investigating most forms of corruption, it still works under the auspices of the Prosecutor General’s Office. The lack of cooperation between the two entities has resulted in inefficiency and a lack of public trust. Furthermore, a recent poll notes that only 33 percent of Slovaks trust the court system, 30 percent trust the prosecutor general, 20 percent trust the special prosecutor, and 30 percent trust the police.2
  • Internal conflicts among Slovak police and security services have also hindered anticorruption efforts,3 with different branches investigating each other, undermining public confidence.4 Such conflicts have led to accusations of politically motivated anticorruption efforts—leveled, in particular, by opposition parties and politicians targeted by these investigations.5
  • Former prime minister Robert Fico, former interior minister Robert Kaliňák, former police president Tibor Gašpar, and oligarch Norbert Bodör were accused of organizing a criminal group and misusing confidential tax information.6 These charges were accompanied by video evidence that showed Fico and Kaliňák discussing ways of influencing ongoing legal proceedings related to anticorruption efforts.7 Slovak laws on parliamentary immunity dictate that pretrial detention must be voted on by the National Council. The decision to approve pretrial detention failed by two votes, spurring further debate about the value of parliamentary immunity (which covers only pretrial detention and does not affect indictment decisions).8
  • Using Article 363, the Prosecutor General’s Office annulled the charges against all four of the abovementioned accused, contending they did not have the necessary competences to carry out the crimes.9 The decision was heavily criticized and reignited debate about the usage of Article 363.10
  • Other cases against former officials, including corruption in public procurement, were ongoing during the year, such as the indictment of the former head of the Slovak Financial Administration,11 and embezzlement of EU funds by the Agricultural Payment Agency (PPA).12 Tibor Gašpar, former president of police, also faces charges in a separate case. However, criminal proceedings were suspended and referred to the Constitutional Court due to possible breaches of the constitutional right to a fair trial.13
  • A final notable case ended with the conviction of Dušan Kováčik. The former special prosecutor was initially sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting bribes while in office, but an appeal to the Supreme Court lowered the sentence to 8 years.14
  • Through these cases, the state has developed a witness network—including Ľudovít Makó, former head of the Criminal Office of the Financial Administration; and František Imrecze, former chief of the Financial Administration—to provide crucial evidence in corruption cases against members of Slovakia’s political elite.15 However, some accused individuals have claimed that these testimonies are coerced and politically motivated.16

Author: Roman Hlatky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of North Texas. His research focuses on links between identity and voting, and appears in journals such as the American Political Science Review, East European Politics, Electoral Studies, and Political Research Quarterly.

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