Freedom in the World
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Twelve years after gaining independence, Slovenia achieved one of its primary foreign policy goals in May 2004 when it became a member of the European Union. Parliamentary elections held in October resulted in a surprise victory by Slovenia's conservative Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS). On a more worrisome note, an April referendum overwhelmingly rejected restoring a variety of rights to individuals who had been "erased" from official government registries after independence from the former Yugoslavia. The results of the referendum increased both domestic and international concern about the civil rights of non-Slovenians living in the country.
The territory now constituting Slovenia was part of the Hapsburg Empire from 1335 to 1918. At the end of World War I, Slovenia became a part of the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929), and after World War II, it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. In 1990, Slovenia held its first postwar, multiparty, democratic elections, in which the Democratic United Opposition (DEMOS) secured victory. Voters also elected former Communist leader Milan Kucan president. Kucan was reelected in Slovenia's first post-independence polls in 1992, and again in 1996.
Slovenian society has enjoyed remarkable consensus in the post-independence period in comparison with the other former Yugoslav republics. Citizens agree that foreign policy should focus on Slovenia's entering European and trans-Atlantic organizations, and domestic policy should focus on maintaining a social-democratic model. For most of this period, Slovenia has been ruled by center-left governments whose most important component has been Janez Drnovsek's Liberal Democratic Party (LDS).
Slovenia's latest presidential elections were held over two rounds in 2002. In the first round, held in November, Drnovsek gained 44.3 percent of the vote. He comfortably outdistanced his nearest rival, Slovenian state prosecutor, but political newcomer, Barbara Brezigar of the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDS), who gained 30.7 percent. In the second-round runoff in December, Brezigar secured surprisingly strong support, winning 43 percent of the vote, although that was not enough to defeat Drnovsek's 56 percent. Seventy-one percent of the electorate turned out to vote in the first round of the elections and 65 percent for the second round.
In 2004, the 12-year lock on power of Slovenia's left-of-center parties was broken after Prime Minister Anton Rop's LDS-led coalition suffered a number of defeats. April was an especially stormy month for the Rop government, which suffered a series of setbacks including a resounding rejection by referendum of its attempts to restore retroactive residency rights to non-Slovenes, the loss of one of the LDS's coalition partners (the Slovenian People's Party, SLS), and the dismissal of five cabinet members.
All of these problems eventually contributed to an LDS loss in October's parliamentary elections. Although Janez Jansa's center-right SDS succeeded in unseating the LDS and becoming Slovenia's most popular political party, the SDS still faced difficulties in forming a government. At year's end, by forming a coalition with two smaller parties (New Slovenia and the Slovenian People's Party), Jansa had only managed to obtain 45 out of the 90 seats in the National Assembly, still one short of a governing majority. Turnout for the parliamentary elections was 60 percent.
Perhaps the most pressing civil rights problem in 2004 was the fate of the "erased:" some 18,000 non-Slovene citizens of the former Yugoslavia who remained in Slovenia after independence, but who were administratively removed from official records after they failed to apply for citizenship or permanent resident status during a brief period in 1992. The "erased" were subsequently systematically denied driver's licenses, access to state health care, and pensions. Under pressure from the EU, in 2003, the Slovenian government began drafting legislation to restore these rights. In April 2004, the LDS suffered a serious political setback when its bill granting retroactive residency rights to the "erased" was rejected in a referendum called by the opposition; 95 percent of the electorate opposed the government-backed bill, albeit on a low turnout of only 31 percent of the electorate.
Citizens of Slovenia can change their government democratically. Voters directly elect the president and members of the 90-seat National Assembly (parliament), which chooses the prime minister. The 40-seat National Council, a largely advisory body, represents professional groups and local interests. The political opposition to the government plays a constructive, cooperative role in public policy making. Elections held in 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2002 have been considered free and fair.
Although Slovenia received a relatively favorable score in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index (ranked 31st out of 146 countries surveyed), and while Slovenia generally has the reputation of being the most corruption free of the East-Central European states entering the EU, corruption in Slovenia is a significant problem. The most general forms of corruption in the country involve conflicts of interest among government officials, an intertwining of the public and private sectors, and relying on official connections to obtain lucrative government contracts for private businesses.
The government respects the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and of the press, although insulting public officials is prohibited by law. Most print media outlets are privately owned and support themselves with advertising revenues. Some electronic media outlets, such as Slovenia Radio-Television (RTV), remain state-owned. A major complaint against the various media is that they do not represent a wide range of political or ethnic interests. There are also reports of some degree of self-censorship resulting from indirect political or economic pressures on media outlets. The Slovenian media launched its first-ever general strike on Election Day in October to protest low wages. Many of Slovenia's main media outlets, including three of the four main daily newspapers and National Radio and Television, joined the action. The strike was suspended after three days when the Trade Union of Slovenian Journalists won a commitment for new negotiations to begin on a collective bargaining agreement with the Association for Press and Media in the Chamber of Commerce of Slovenia, which represents most of Slovenia's big media enterprises. There were no reports of government attempts to restrict access to the Internet during the year.
The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. While most Slovenians remain Roman Catholics, at the same time, the Roman Catholic Church appears to be suffering from a significant crisis among its members; between 1991 and 2002, the percentage of Slovenes who identified themselves as active Catholics dropped from 69.8 percent to 57.8 percent. The most outstanding religious freedom issue over the past several years has been the consistent refusal of Slovenian authorities for 30 years to allow the country's small Muslim community to build a mosque in Ljubljana. Some Slovenian officials have justified the foot-dragging on granting a building permit to the mosque out of fear that it would provide the "infrastructure for terrorism" in Slovenia. In July, the Slovenian Constitutional Court blocked a proposed referendum challenging zoning laws allowing construction on the mosque to proceed, ruling that fundamental, universal human rights can overrule the democratically expressed will of the population. Restitution of religious properties confiscated during the Communist period is nearing its end. According to published reports, 86 percent of claims filed by religious organizations for de-nationalization of their property were resolved by the end of September 2003. There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom during the year.
The government respects the right of individuals to assemble peacefully, to form associations, to participate in public affairs, and to submit petitions. Military and police personnel may not join political parties. Workers enjoy the right to establish and join trade unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively.
According to the EU, the Slovenian judiciary enjoys "a high degree of independence." The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, an administrative court, regional and district courts, and an appeals court, along with a Constitutional Court. A separation of powers is built into the political system, and the various branches of government generally respect each other's powers and authorities. The constitution guarantees individuals due process, equality before the law, and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The main problem facing the judicial system is the fact that it is overburdened, with some criminal cases taking two to five years. Prison conditions are in line with international standards, although some overcrowding has been reported.
Slovenia's treatment of ethnic minorities is generally considered to be good, although in December 2003, the Italian-minority member of Slovenia's parliament, Roberto Battelli, resigned from the presidential commission for minorities claiming that the Italian minority was being pressured to assimilate. Incitement to racial hatred is prohibited under the Criminal Code. The constitution entitles the Italian and Hungarian ethnic communities to one deputy each in the National Assembly. However, there have been persistent reports of police harassment of Roma (Gypsies) and of residents from other former Yugoslav republics, the so-called new minorities. International watchdog groups report some governmental and societal discrimination against Serbs, Croats, Bosnians, Kosovo Albanians, and Roma now living in Slovenia.
According to the constitution, Slovenian citizens enjoy all recognized personal rights and freedoms, including the freedom to travel and to choose one's place of residence and the right to own private property.
Women enjoy the same constitutional rights and freedoms as men under the law. In February, the Slovenian parliament adopted a measure requiring that 40 percent of the electoral lists for the European parliamentary elections must be female. A total of 59.8 percent of Slovenia's women are in the workforce, the largest proportion of any of the ten countries joining the EU in 2004. Slovenia also fares well in comparison with other countries in the relative pay scales between men and women; on average, Slovenian women receive 89 percent of the pay of their male counterparts, which compares favorably with similar rates in Austria and Italy (79 and 73 percent, respectively). Nevertheless, women remain underrepresented in political life. Currently, there are 12 women serving in the 90-seat parliament and 3 women in the 40-seat National Council. Countrywide, women make up only 13 percent of town council members and less than 6 percent of all local mayors. Domestic violence remains a concern. In recent years, Slovenia has become both a transit country and a country of destination for women and girls trafficked from other parts of Eastern Europe for purposes of prostitution.