Freedom in the World
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The year 2002 witnessed several important milestones in Slovakia's post-Communist transition. During the year, Slovakia welcomed an invitation to become a full member of the NATO alliance and celebrated an invitation join the European Union by 2004. In addition, Slovak voters returned to the polls for the third parliamentary election since 1993.
Anti-Communist opposition forces brought about the collapse of the Czechoslovakian government in 1989. The next year the country held its first free elections and began negotiations to divide the country into separate Czech and Slovak Republics. In 1993, a new Slovak constitution took effect and the Czechoslovak union peacefully dissolved.
For the next five years Vladimir Meciar and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) dominated politics in newly independent Slovakia. During this period, Meciar served three times as prime minister. He battled with then President Michal Kovac over executive and government powers, opposed direct presidential elections, resisted economic liberalization, and disregarded the rule of law and a free press. Reform stagnated under Mecair and Slovakia failed to meet the criteria to open EU accession talks or join NATO.
In the 1998 parliamentary elections, voters signaled a major shift in Slovakia's political environment by rejecting Meciar's rule and electing a broad right-left coalition. The new parliament selected Mikulas Dzurinda as prime minister and pursued policies to increase judicial independence, combat corruption, undertake economic reforms, and actively seek membership in the European Union and NATO. The subsequent four years witnessed a period of general democratic consolidation, yet ideological differences among the ruling coalition hampered the reformist legislative agenda.
In September 2002, Slovak voters again returned to the polls. While Vladimir Meciar's HZDS garnered 19.5 percent (35 mandates) of the vote, his party did not receive enough support to form a new government. Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) finished second and succeded in forming a center-right government in partnership with the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and the Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO). The coalition took control of a majority 78 seats in the 150 seat National Council and President Rudolf Schuster reappointed Dzurinda as prime minister. Unlike the previous government, the parties which comprise the new ruling coalition share an ideology beyond mere opposition to Mecair's HZDS and have pledged to complete the social and economic reforms left unfinished by the previous government.
In the months following the election, Slovakia accepted two historic invitations further binding the country to Euro-Atlantic institutions. In November, Slovakia accepted an invitation to become a full member of the NATO alliance following ratification of the North Atlantic Treaty. In December, the European Union extended Slovakia an official invitation to join the union by 2004. Both the NATO and EU invitations demonstrate the extent to which Slovakia has successfully undertaken the task of post-Communist reforms in recent years. Nevertheless, this process is still unfinished and will likely continue before full EU accession and NATO membership.
Slovak citizens aged 18 and older can change their government democratically under a system of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. Voters elect the president and members of the 150 seat National Assembly. A 2001 law grants voting privileges to foreigners, allowing permanent residents to vote in elections for municipal and regional governments.
In 2002, 25 parties competed in free and fair parliamentary elections. Only 7 parties exceeded the 5 percent representation threshold. Seventy percent of eligible voters participated in the election. Election officials conducted the vote in a transparent and well-organized manner. By law, public television channels provided equal airtime to candidates during the official campaign period. While parties were free to advertise in newspapers, laws prohibited campaign advertising on private television. Slovak nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were particularly active during the campaign, organizing get-out-the-vote initiatives, publishing voter education materials, and monitoring media coverage. While state and private television generally respected laws regarding objective political reporting, the government broadcast council cited the private TV Markiza for overly flattering coverage of the ANO party, led by the station's majority owner Pavol Rusko.
Slovakia's media are largely free but remain vulnerable to criminal libel laws and political interference. In 2001, President Schuster brought legal action against a Slovak journalist for satirizing him in print. In January 2002, the Constitutional Court intervened and suspended controversial sections of the penal code relating to the case. This action effectively negated the legal basis for the president's suit and marked the first time the Constitutional Court had used its expanded judicial powers to negate laws violating basic human rights. Yet other restrictions on criminal liable remain in effect and journalists continue to face the threat of politically motivated lawsuits.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and a constitutional court. The European Commission has noted the perception of a high level of corruption in the Slovak courts and expressed concern over of the judiciary's perceived lack of impartiality. During the year, parliament created an 18-member Judicial Council in an attempt to strengthen the courts. The Judicial Council will assign and nominate judges, reduce judicial workloads, streamline court proceedings, and address conflicts of interest. The European Commission applauded these initiatives but highlighted the need for full implementation of the judicial reform process.
The Slovak government respects religious freedom. Registered churches and religious organizations are eligible for tax exemptions and government subsidies. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination in the country and consequently receives a larger share of government subsidies. Slovakia has not banned or impeded any groups from practicing their faith. However, the U.S. Department of State notes the persistence of anti-Semitism among some parts of the population. In 2002, a Jewish cemetery in eastern Slovakia was desecrated for the second time in five years. Authorities declined to prosecute the alleged suspects because they were minors.
There are more than 10 recognized ethnic minorities in Slovakia. While minorities and ethnic groups have a constitutional right to help resolve issues that concern them, Roma (Gypsy) individuals continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in education, housing employment, public services, and the criminal justice system. Roma also face the persistent threat of racially motivated violence. Even though Slovak law criminalizes such acts, reports indicate that law enforcement officials do not always investigate crimes against the Roma. Some police officers have themselves been accused of physically abusing Roma individuals, or pressuring Roma victims not to press charges against their assailants. In response to these problems, the government began a new program to improve Roma education and housing in 2002. The government likewise established an informal advisory board to widen the dialogue with the Roma community. The Interior Ministry approved a new Police Code of Conduct and established a commission to fully investigate racially motivated attacks against the Roma. Nevertheless, there continues to be a recognizable gap between Slovakia's exiting Roma policies and their actual implementation on the ground.
Slovak citizens enjoy a range of personal rights and liberties. The government respects the inviolability of the home, the right to privacy, and the right to move and travel freely. The constitution provides protections for marriage, parenthood, and the family. The government respects the right to assemble peacefully, petition state bodies, associate in clubs, political parties, and trade unions. Judges, prosecutors, firefighters, and members of the armed forces may not strike.
Slovakia has a market economy in which the private (business) sector accounts for approximately 80 percent of gross domestic product and 75 percent of employment. Official unemployment remains high at approximately 20 percent, but the government contends that persons who simultaneously work on the black market and collect unemployment benefits may account for as much as 5 percent of this number.