Slovakia | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2010

2010 Scores



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Civil Liberties
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Political Rights
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Trend Arrow: 

Slovakia received a downward trend arrow due to an increase in civil defamation cases against journalists, with plaintiffs including the prime minister and the head of the Supreme Court.

Ivan Gasparovic won a second term as president in an April 2009 runoff vote against Iveta Radicova of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party. New signs of discrimination against the Romany community emerged during the year, including police abuse of Romany children and the construction of an ethnic separation wall in an eastern Slovakian town. Separately, rising numbers of libel cases, including suits brought by the prime minister and Supreme Court president, contributed to self-censorship among journalists.

Anticommunist opposition forces brought about the collapse of the Czechoslovak government in 1989, and the country held its first free elections the following year. After another round of elections in June 1992, negotiations began on increased Slovak autonomy within the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic. This process led to a peaceful dissolution of the federation and the establishment of an independent Slovak Republic in January 1993.
From 1993 to 1998, Vladimir Meciar—who served twice as prime minister during this period—and his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) dominated politics, opposed direct presidential elections, flouted the rule of law, and intimidated independent media. In the 1998 parliamentary elections, voters rejected Meciar’s rule and empowered a broad right-left coalition. The new parliament selected Mikulas Dzurinda as prime minister and worked to enhance judicial independence, combat corruption, undertake economic reforms, and actively seek membership in the EU and NATO.
The HZDS led the 2002 parliamentary elections with 19.5 percent of the vote, but Dzurinda’s Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) formed a center-right government with the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and the Alliance of the New Citizen (ANO).
In April 2003, the legislature ratified Slovakia’s accession to NATO. In a binding national referendum held the following month, Slovaks voted overwhelmingly in favor of EU membership. Slovakia duly joined the two organizations in April and May 2004, respectively.

Meciar lost the 2004 presidential runoff election to a former HZDS ally, Ivan Gasparovic. After the government lost support due to unpopular economic reforms, the KDH left the coalition in February 2006, prompting early elections in June. The leftist, populist Smer (Direction–Social Democracy) party won 50 of 150 seats, followed by the SDKU, now allied with the Democratic Party (DS), with 31; the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) with 20; the SMK with 20; the HZDS, now allied with the People’s Party (LS), with 15; and the KDH with 14. Smer’s leader, Robert Fico, formed an unusual coalition with the SNS and LS-HZDS, raising concerns abroad that the allied left and right wings of Slovak politics could adopt destabilizing policies.
Following a corruption scandal in November 2007, Fico dismissed the deputy director of the Slovak Land Fund and the agriculture minister selected by the LS-HZDS. The ensuing conflict between Fico and Meciar almost broke up the coalition. In January 2008, the three opposition parties brought an unsuccessful no-confidence motion against Fico, accusing him of complicity in the Slovak Land Fund corruption case.

A two-round presidential election held in March and April 2009 was considered free and fair. Gasparovic, supported by Smer and the SNS, outpolled five challengers in the first round, winning nearly 47 percent of the vote. His leading opponent, sociologist Iveta Radicova of the SDKU-DS, took 38 percent. Gasparovic then defeated Radicova in the second round, securing 55 percent of the vote. Slovakia, which had formally adopted the euro currency in January, posted the EU’s lowest voter turnout for European Parliament elections in June, with less than 20 percent participation. The three opposition parties each won two seats, while Smer garnered five and its coalition partners each took one.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Slovakia is an electoral democracy. Parliamentary elections in 2006 and the presidential election in 2009 were considered free and fair. Voters elect the president for up to two five-year terms and members of the 150-seat, unicameral National Council (parliament) for four-year terms. The prime minister is appointed by the president but must have majority support in the parliament to govern.
Slovakia’s political party system is fragmented. The current governing parties are Smer, the LS-HZDS, and the SNS. The SDKU-DS, the KDH, and the SMK, which represents ethnic Hungarians, form the opposition. All other parties failed to reach the 5 percent electoral threshold required for representation in the parliament.
Corruption remains a problem, especially in law enforcement, the healthcare and business sectors, and the judiciary. A special court tasked with adjudicating high-profile corruption cases was abolished in May 2009 after the Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional. Separately, presidential candidate Iveta Radicova resigned from her parliament seat in April after violating the chamber’s rules by casting a vote on behalf of an SDKU-DS colleague. In October, the European Commission ruled that the controversial “bulletin board” tender—a 2007 deal worth approximately $170 million between the Construction Ministry and two companies with alleged connections to SNS leader Jan Slota—had violated EU regulations. Slovakia was ranked 56 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Slovakia’s media are largely free but remain vulnerable to political interference. Journalists have faced increasing verbal attacks by politicians. The 2008 Press Act obliges print media to publish an offended reader’s replies. Prime Minister Robert Fico filed multiple libel cases against the press in 2009, receiving up to $135,000 in damages. In one case, Fico in September demanded roughly $47,000 from the parent company of the daily SME after it published a caricature that mocked the secrecy surrounding his supposed health problems. The threat of lawsuits has reportedly led to growing self-censorship among journalists. The government does not limit access to the internet.
The government respects religious freedom. Registered religious organizations are eligible for tax exemptions and government subsidies. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest denomination and consequently receives the largest share of subsidies. A 2007 legal change requires a religious group to have at least 20,000 members to register, effectively excluding the small Muslim community and others. Academic freedom is respected in Slovakia. The parliament passed an amendment to the Education Act in February 2009 allowing for “deeply rooted” Hungarian place names to be stated in Hungarian first, followed by the Slovak translation, in Hungarian minority textbooks.
The authorities uphold the rights to assemble peacefully, petition state bodies, and associate in clubs, political parties, and trade unions. However, civil society is not as active as in other countries in Central Europe. Nongovernmental organizations criticized the police in June 2009 for failing to respond to violence that erupted between Slovak protestors and supporters of Chinese president Hu Jintao’s visit in June; police arrested nine demonstrators.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and a Constitutional Court. An independent Judicial Council oversees the assignment and transfer of judges. Corruption, intimidation of judges, and a significant backlog of cases have raised questions about the judicial system’s capacity to meet EU standards. The Supreme Court chairman, Stefan Harabin, has been criticized for intimidating the media and demanding out-of-court libel settlements amounting to some €600,000 ($820,000). Harabin has also been accused of intimidating judges and having connections to organized crime. In October 2009, 105 judges signed a document entitled “Five Sentences,” drawing attention to unjust disciplinary measures within the judiciary, including Harabin’s suspension of critical judges.
While ethnic minorities have a constitutional right to contribute to the resolution of issues that concern them, Roma continue to experience widespread discrimination and inequality in education, housing, employment, public services, and the criminal justice system. National policies to remedy these problems have been unsuccessful at the local level, where Roma are segregated in settlements and their children are frequently placed in special education programs or never enrolled in school. Roma face the persistent threat of racially motivated violence. In April 2009, SME released footage of Slovak policemen abusing and humiliating six Romany boys. Also that month, eight Slovak Romany women were awarded approximately $5,000 eachby the European Court of Human Rights as compensation for forced sterilization by Slovak hospitals. A wall separating the Romany and non-Romany populations of a small town in eastern Slovakia was erected in October, drawing accusations of collective punishment.
An amendment to the State Language Act that took effect in September 2009 requires the use of the Slovak language in public offices and official documents, as well as in public officials’ dealings with citizens. Failure to comply will result in fines of up to $7,000 for state bodies, except in areas where an ethnic minority makes up more than 20 percent of the local population. While disputes over the law strained relations between Slovakia and Hungary in 2009, the high commissioner of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) stated that the law meets European and international requirements.
Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, they continue to be underrepresented in senior-level business positions and in the government. Only 29 women hold seats in the 150-seat National Council. Radicova was Slovakia’s first female presidential candidate. Domestic violence is punishable by imprisonment but remains widespread. Human trafficking from and through Slovakia, mainly for the purpose of sexual exploitation, also remains a problem.