Freedom in the World
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Former diplomat Danilo Turk, backed by the Social Democrats, narrowly defeated right-of-center candidate Alojz Peterle in the November 2007 presidential runoff election. Also during the year, reports suggested that the government was continuing its efforts to control the media.
Slovenia passed from the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire to the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) after World War I, and it became a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following World War II. In 1990, the Democratic United Opposition (DEMOS) defeated the ruling League of Communists in democratic elections, although former Communist leader Milan Kucan was elected president. The country declared independence in June 1991 and secured its status after a 10-day conflict with Yugoslav troops, escaping the war and destruction suffered by much of the rest of Yugoslavia as it disintegrated.
After 1990, Slovenia was generally ruled by center-left governments, the most important element of which was Janez Drnovsek’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDS). Drnovsek served as prime minister almost continuously from 1992 to 2002, when he was elected president. In the October 2004 parliamentary elections, Janez Jansa’s center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) finally unseated the LDS-led government, and Jansa became prime minister.
Independent candidates won a number of mayoral seats in the municipal elections of October and November 2006, suggesting voter dissatisfaction with the political establishment. In an unusual development, an ethnic Serb, Zoran Jankovic, won the prominent position of mayor of Ljubljana.
In the 2007 presidential election, held in two rounds in October and November, law professor and former diplomat Danilo Turk ran as an independent candidate and received the backing of several parties, most importantly the Social Democrats. He won the runoff with 68 percent of the vote, defeating the government’s candidate, Alojz Peterle. In a worrisome sign, the far-right politician Zmago Jelincic captured almost one in five votes in the first round.
Jelincic’s strong showing reflected the persistence of ethnocentrism and intolerance toward those from other former Yugoslav republics. Some 18,000 non-Slovene citizens of the former federation who remained in Slovenia after independence had been removed from official records after they failed to apply for citizenship or permanent resident status during a brief window of opportunity in 1992, and their status remains largely unresolved to date, despite considerable international criticism and a Constitutional Court ruling in their favor. These “erased” residents have been systematically denied driver’s licenses, access to state health care, and pensions. Some 95 percent of referendum voters in 2004 rejected a government-backed bill to grant residency rights to the erased, although only 31 percent of the electorate turned out.
Social intolerance toward the 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 decision to relocate the Roma meant the end of the rule of law and suggested that the government had given in to an angry mob.
Having joined both the European Union (EU) and NATO in 2004, Slovenia has achieved its primary foreign policy goals. Its success was aided by its historical ties to Western Europe, a strong economy, and the advantages of ethnic homogeneity. In June 2006, the EU gave its formal approval for Slovenia to become the first of the new 2004 member states to adopt the euro currency.
Slovenia is an electoral democracy. 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. The president is directly elected for up to two five-year terms. Elections since independence have been considered free and fair. Slovenia’s main political parties are the center-left LDS and the center-right SDS, currently led by Prime Minister Janez Jansa, but they typically govern in coalition with smaller parties.
Corruption, while less extensive than in some other Central and Eastern European countries, remains a problem in Slovenia, usually taking the form of conflicts of interest and contracting links between government officials and private businesses. Slovenia was ranked 27 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 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. A new broadcasting law approved in 2005 stipulated that 21 out of 29 members of the state-owned television and radio network’s program council had to be approved by Parliament. Critics said the measure was an attempt by the Jansa government to obtain more control over the network, which it claimed was 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 self-censorship and increasing government pressure on both media outlets and advertisers. For instance, in 2007, two journalists at one of Slovenia’s most prestigious dailies, Delo, were allegedly dismissed because government officials were unhappy with their critical reporting of a range of government policies. In 2006, the European Federation of Journalists had declared itself “deeply concerned” with the involvement of politicians in Slovenia’s media. The largest stakeholder in one of Slovenia’s main newspapers, Delo, is the Lasko brewery, which is partly owned by the state. 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 dropped sharply in recent years. Societal discrimination against the small Muslim community remains a problem. In 2004, the Constitutional Court blocked a proposed referendum challenging zoning laws that would allow construction of a mosque in Ljubljana, ruling that fundamental human rights can override the democratically expressed will of the population. Several Ljubljana city council members who supported the mosque’s construction received death threats in 2006. By the end of 2007, a new site had been selected for the building after a previous location was contested by the Catholic Church. There were no reports of government restrictions on academic freedom during the year.
The government respects the right of individuals to assemble peacefully and form associations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate freely, and the government on the whole supports the role they play in the policymaking process. Workers enjoy the right to establish and join trade unions, to strike, and to bargain collectively. In November 2007, labor unions launched the largest demonstrations in the country’s postindependence history to protest what they called an unfair economic development strategy that favors employers over workers.
According to the EU, the Slovenian judiciary enjoys a high degree of independence. The constitution guarantees citizens due process, equality before the law, and a presumption of innocence. However, the system faces a growing backlog of cases, with some criminal cases taking two to five years to complete. In 2006, the European Court of Human Rights issued over 100 judgments against the Slovenian government for excessive delays in court proceedings. Prison conditions are in line with international standards, although overcrowding has been reported.
Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offense. 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. However, Slovenia has had persistent problems in dealing with various minorities—Italians, Muslim residents and guest workers, and citizens of the former Yugoslavia.
Police harassment of Roma and residents from other former Yugoslav republics, the so-called new minorities, remains a problem. A 2004 referendum overwhelmingly rejected restoring a variety of rights to individuals who had been “erased” from official registries after independence. The results increased both domestic and international concern about the civil rights of non-Slovenes living in the country.
In February 2006, 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, activists warned that it made police officials the ultimate arbiters of asylum requests. UN refugee officials expressed similar concerns.
According to the constitution, 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—and these rights are generally respected in practice.
Women hold the same legal rights 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, three women in the 40-seat National Council, and one woman in the 17-member cabinet. In 2005, 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 2005, the National Assembly passed a witness-protection law designed to improve prosecution of forced-prostitution and trafficking cases.