Slovenia | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2007

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In October 2006, a government decision to relocate a Romany (Gypsy) settlement was harshly criticized by Slovenia’s human rights ombudsman. The country’s executive branch continued during the year to refuse to implement Constitutional Court decisions on a number of topics. In municipal elections conducted in October and November, a strong showing by independent candidates revealed considerable voter dissatisfaction with established parties.

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 as president. The country won independence after a brief conflict with Yugoslav troops in 1991, and Kucan was reelected in 1992 and 1996.

Slovenia was spared the war and destruction experienced by much of the rest of Yugoslavia as the federation disintegrated, and Slovenian society has enjoyed remarkable consensus in the postindependence period. Throughout the 1990s, a large majority of citizens agreed that Slovenia should concentrate on entering the European Union (EU) and NATO, and domestic policy focused on maintaining a social democratic model for Slovenian society. After 1990, Slovenia was generally ruled by center-left governments, the most important element of which was Janez Drnovsek’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDS).

In Slovenia’s latest presidential elections, held in two rounds in late 2002, Drnovsek won 56 percent of the vote in the second round, comfortably defeating his opponent, Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDS) candidate Barbara Brezigar. Seventy-one percent of the electorate turned out to vote in the first round, and 65 percent participated in the second round.

In 2004, the 12-year lock on power enjoyed by Slovenia’s left-of-center parties was broken when Prime Minister Anton Rop’s LDS-led coalition suffered a number of political defeats. In the October 2004 parliamentary elections, Janez Jansa’s center-right SDS succeeded in unseating the LDS and becoming Slovenia’s most popular political party. Turnout for the parliamentary elections was 60 percent.

After 15 years of independence, ethnocentrism and high levels of social intolerance toward individuals from other former Yugoslav republics remained a serious problem in Slovenia. 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 window of opportunity in 1992—remains largely unresolved, despite considerable international criticism over Slovenia’s handling of these individuals. The erased have been systematically denied driver’s licenses, access to state health care, and pensions. Under pressure from the EU, the Slovenian government began drafting legislation in 2003 to restore their rights. In April 2004, an LDS-sponsored bill granting retroactive residency rights to the erased was rejected in a referendum called by the opposition; 95 percent of participating voters opposed the government-backed bill, although with a low turnout of only 31 percent of the electorate. Despite a ruling by Slovenia’s Constitutional Court that the rights of the “erased” must be reinstated, the government has for several years refused to implement the decision.

Municipal elections were held over two rounds in October and November 2006, and approximately one million of Slovenia’s 1.6 million eligible voters participated. Independent candidates won a number of mayoral seats, suggesting voter dissatisfaction with the Slovenian political establishment. The most interesting development in the municipal elections was the election of an ethnic Serb, Zoran Jankovic, to the prominent position of mayor of Ljubljana.

Social intolerance toward Slovenia’s small Romany (Gypsy) population also remains at very high levels. In October 2006, about 30 Roma were moved from their residences in the village of Ambrus after authorities began to fear that demonstrations against them could turn violent. Slovenia’s human rights ombudsman, Matjaz Hanzek, claimed that the government’s decision to relocate the Roma meant the end of the rule of law and suggested that the government had given in to the demands of an angry mob.

Slovenia has achieved its primary foreign policy goals, having joined both the EU and NATO in 2004, making it the first of the former Yugoslav republics to do so. Aiding Slovenia’s successes in this regard have been its relatively favorable geographical location and historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and the advantages of ethnic homogeneity. Slovenia has also sought to adopt the EU’s euro as its official currency, and in June 2006, the EU gave its formal approval for Slovenia to become the first of the new 2004 member states to make the change.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Slovenia is an electoral democracy. Voters directly elect the president to a five-year term. The country has a bicameral Parliament: members of the 90-seat National Assembly, which chooses the prime minister, are elected to four year terms, and the 40-seat National Council, a largely advisory body, represents professional groups and local interests. Elections during the postindependence period have been considered free and fair. Slovenia’s main political parties since 1991 have been Drnovsek’s LDS and the center-right SDS, currently led by Prime Minister Jansa.

Although Slovenia is reputedly the most corruption-free of the Central and Eastern European states that recently entered the EU, corruption remains a problem and is publicly perceived as such. It usually takes the form of conflicts of interest among government officials, an intertwining of the public and private sectors, and private businesses’ reliance on official connections to obtain lucrative government contracts. Slovenia was ranked 28 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The government respects the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and of the press, although insulting public officials is prohibited by law. The ownership structure of the Slovenian media, which in many ways has not been reformed since independence, remains an issue of some contention. The largest stakeholder in one of Slovenia’s main dailies, Delo , is the Lasko brewery, which is partly owned by the state. In a September 2005 referendum, voters approved by a very narrow margin a new State Broadcasting Law. Critics charged that the new law increases the government’s control over the main state-owned television and radio network (RTV); under the terms of the new law, 21 out of 29 members of RTV’s program council have to be approved by Parliament. Some analysts characterized the new broadcasting law as an attempt by the Jansa government to acquire more control of the public broadcasting system, which it has argued is biased against the center-right. 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 pressure on media outlets. During the course of 2006, it was reported that officials were pushing advertisers not to take out ads in media outlets deemed unfriendly to the government. There were no reports of government attempts to restrict access to the internet during the year.

The constitution guarantees freedom of conscience and religion. Most Slovenians are Roman Catholics, although the number of practicing Catholics has been dropping sharply in recent years. Societal discrimination against Muslims remains a problem. For the past 30 years, Slovenian authorities have refused to allow the country’s small Muslim community to build a mosque in Ljubljana, which some Slovenian officials have justified by citing the risk that it would provide “infrastructure for terrorism.” In July 2004, the Constitutional Court blocked a proposed referendum challenging zoning laws that would allow construction of the mosque to proceed, ruling that fundamental, universal human rights can override the democratically expressed will of the population. However, the mosque’s construction is being delayed by a denationalization claim filed by the Catholic Church for the property on which the mosque is supposed to be built. There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom during the year.

The government respects the right of individuals to assemble peacefully, form associations, participate in public affairs, and submit petitions. Numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate without government interference, and the government on the whole supports the role they play in the policy-making process. Workers enjoy the right to establish and join trade unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. Slovenia’s social welfare programs, however, have come under criticism for reducing the economy’s competitiveness in world markets. In November 2005, labor unions launched the largest demonstrations in the country’s postindependence history to protest planned reforms to the social welfare system.

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 the Constitutional Court. The constitution guarantees citizens due process, equality before the law, and a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. The main problem facing the judicial system is a growing backlog of cases, with some criminal cases taking two to five years to complete. Slovenia’s human rights ombudsman reported in 2006 that the number of unimplemented Constitutional Court decisions had doubled in 2005 in comparison with 2004. Prison conditions are in line with international standards, although some overcrowding has been reported.

According to Slovenia’s Criminal Code, incitement to racial hatred is illegal. The constitution entitles the “autochthonous” Italian and Hungarian ethnic communities to one deputy each in the National Assembly, and Roma are automatically given seats on 20 municipal councils. Despite these official rights, however, Slovenia has had persistent problems in dealing with various ethnic minorities—Italians, Muslim residents and guest workers, and citizens of the former Yugoslavia. In December 2003, the Italian member of Slovenia’s Parliament resigned from the presidential commission for minorities after claiming that the Italian minority was being pressured to assimilate.

There have been persistent reports of police harassment of Roma and residents from other former Yugoslav republics, who have become known as the “new minorities.” Public opinion polls conducted among non-Slovenes in 2004 showed that almost 10 percent of respondents frequently encounter ethnic intolerance, 5 percent frequently hide their ethnic identity, and 36 percent occasionally do. An April 2004 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-Slovenes living in the country. The problem remains unresolved, as the Slovenian Parliament continues to debate the issue.

In February 2006, the Slovenian Parliament passed a law that human rights groups claim will reduce the ability of asylum seekers to obtain residence in Slovenia. While government officials said the new law was completely in line with EU standards, human rights activists warned that it made police officials the ultimate arbiters of asylum requests. UN refugee officials have expressed similar concerns.

According to the constitution, Slovenian citizens enjoy all recognized personal rights and freedoms, including the freedom to travel and choose one’s place of residence, and the right to own private property.

Women enjoy the same constitutional rights and freedoms under the law as men. On average, Slovenian women receive 90 percent of the pay of their male counterparts, which compares favorably with rates in Western European countries. At the same time, women remain underrepresented in political life. Currently, there are 11 women serving in the 90-seat National Assembly, 3 women in the 40-seat National Council, and 1 woman in the 17-member Cabinet of Ministers. In February 2005, the Slovenian Parliament adopted a measure requiring that 40 percent of the electoral lists for the European parliamentary elections be reserved for women. Some 60 percent of Slovenia’s women are in the workforce, the largest proportion of any of the 10 countries that joined the EU in 2004.

Domestic violence remains a concern. There are no laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. Slovenia is primarily a transit country, and secondarily a country of destination, for women and girls trafficked from Eastern Europe for the purpose of prostitution. In November 2005, the National Assembly passed a law on witness protection to prosecute forced-prostitution and trafficking cases more effectively.