Slovenia | Freedom House

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Prime Minister Borut Pahor’s government came under attack in the fall of 2009 from a number of trade unions demanding better pay or an increase in the minimum wage rate, both of which are opposed by business groups. The long-awaited construction of a mosque in Ljubljana was delayed again in 2009 as the Islamic Community in Slovenia continued to face challenges. Meanwhile, a number of lingering issues kept Slovenia and Croatia from resolving a long-running border dispute, despite a tentative agreement made between Pahor and his Croatian counterpart in September.

The territory of modern Slovenia, long ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, became part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929) after World War I, and a constituent republic of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia following World War II. After decades of relative prosperity in Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia, various elements in Slovene civil society began to part ways with the Communist system in the 1980s. 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 short 10-day conflict, 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 component 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 2004 parliamentary elections, Janez Jansa’s center-right Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) finally unseated the LDS-led government, and Jansa became prime minister.
In Slovenia’s 2007 presidential elections, Danilo Turk, a law professor and former diplomat, ran as an independent with the backing of the Social Democrats (SD) and several other parties. He won the November runoff with 68 percent of the vote, defeating the government’s candidate, Alojz Peterle.
In the September 2008 parliamentary elections, the SD captured 29 seats and some 30 percent of the vote, followed by the SDS with 28 seats. SD leader Borut Pahor, who became prime minister, formed a coalition government with three small parties: the center-left Zares (9 seats), the Democratic Party of Pensioners of Slovenia (7 seats), and the once-powerful LDS (5 seats). The remaining seats in the 90-member lower house went to the far-right Slovene National Party (5 seats), an alliance of the Slovene People’s Party and the Slovene Youth Party (5 seats), and the Hungarian and Italian ethnic minorities (1 seat each).
Slovenia has widely been considered one of the Eastern European success stories of the postcommunist period. In 2004, the country joined both the European Union (EU) and NATO, and from January–June 2008, Slovenia was the first former communist bloc state to hold the EU’s rotating presidency. In 2006, Slovenia became the first former communist state to adopt the euro as its official currency.

Slovenia’s most important foreign policy problem is resolving its 18-year-old border dispute with neighboring Croatia. The dispute concerns the delineation of the two countries’ maritime border in the Bay of Piran, and parts of their common territorial border. In September 2009, Pahor and his Croatian counterpart, Jadranka Kosor, agreed to submit the dispute to international arbitration, pending ratification of their agreement by both states’ parliaments. However, the two parliaments had not endorsed the agreement by year’s end.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

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 SD, led by current Prime Minister Borut Pahor, and the center-right SDS of former prime minister Janez Jansa. Such large parties generally govern in coalition with smaller parties.
One seat each in the National Assembly is reserved for Slovenia’s Hungarian and Italian minorities, and Roma are automatically given seats on 20 municipal councils. Citizens with origins in other former Yugoslav republics have reported discrimination in Slovenia.
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. Just over 6 percent of the country’s 80,000 public servants are legally required to disclose personal financial information. In September 2009, Finnish television broadcaster YLE reported that the Finnish company Patria had paid €21 million ($26 million) to help finance the electoral campaign of then prime minister Janez Jansa’s SDS. The allegations were connected to a larger scandal in which Patria allegedly bribed Slovene officials to obtain a weapons contract in 2006. Slovenia was ranked 27 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Freedoms of speech and of the press are guaranteed by the constitution. However, insulting public officials is prohibited by law. There have been reports of self-censorship and increasing government pressure on both media outlets and advertisers. Newspapers that are critical of the government, such as Dnevnik and Mladina, have faced difficulty securing advertisers. In October 2009, a Ljubljana appeals court lifted a widely criticized judicial order which had barred the Ljubljana daily Dnevnik from publishing articles about an Italian business since August. Internet access is unrestricted.
The constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Most Slovenians (approximately 58 percent) are Roman Catholics, although the number of practicing Catholics has dropped in recent years.The 2007 Religious Freedoms Law remained under review in 2009 by the Constitutional Court; the National Council objects to some aspects of Article 20 of the law regulating the legal status of religious communities.However, the law remained in effect at year’s end.
Societal discrimination against the small Muslim community remains a problem. A forty-year effort to build a mosque in Ljubljana continues to face a variety of legal challenges. Although a contract was signed in December 2008 for the acquisition of land on which the mosque would be built, a Ljubljana city council member announced plans in January 2009to launch a referendum to prevent the construction of a minaret. Following court appeals, Ljubljana’s administrative court ultimately rejected the petition for a referendum on the issue. While architectural plans for the mosque were drawn up throughout 2009, construction had yet to begin at year’s end. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Freedoms of assembly and association are respected. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate freely, and the government generally supports the role they play in the policymaking process. Workers enjoy the right to establish and join trade unions, strike, and bargain collectively, though there are some exceptions for public sector employees, primarily police and the military. The Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (ZSSS) has some 300,000 members and controls the four trade union seats in the National Council. Organized labor’s main concerns are pension reform, increasing the minimum wage, and halting privatizations in health care. In September 2009, workers at Slovenia’s two largest industrial enterprises went on strike to demand increases in the minimum wage. Separately, police officers launched a one-day protest action in October, forcing the government to abandon plans to freeze pensions.
The Slovenian judiciary enjoys a high degree of independence, and the constitution guarantees citizens due process, equality before the law, and a presumption of innocence. However, the judiciary is plagued by a large backlog of cases. Some 416,000 cases were pending as of September 2009. Political infighting over the appointment of judges remains a problem. Prison conditions meet international standards, although overcrowding has been reported.
Incitement to racial hatred is a criminal offense. 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. Some 20,000 non-Slovene citizens of the former federation who remained in Slovenia after independence had been removed from official records in 1992 after they failed to apply for citizenship or permanent resident status during a brief window of opportunity. In 2009, the Slovenian government began enforcing a 2003 Constitutional Court ruling intended to provide retroactive permanent residency status to the estimated 4,000 to 6,000 people that remain in the category of “the erased.” The group of effectively stateless individuals has been systematically denied driver’s licenses, pensions, and access to state health care.
Women hold the same legal rights as men but remain underrepresented in political life. Currently, there are 12 women serving in the 90-seat National Assembly and only one in the 40-seat National Council. After his election as prime minister in 2008, Pahor named five women to his 18-member cabinet—the highest number in any postindependence Slovenian government. By law, 40 percent of the electoral lists for Slovenia’s European parliamentary elections must be reserved for women. Over 50 percent of the candidates in the June 2009 elections for the European Parliament were women. On average, Slovenian women receive 93 percent of the pay of their male counterparts, which compares favorably with rates in Western European countries.
Domestic violence remains a concern. Amendments to the penal code in November 2008 prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Slovenia is a transit and destination country for women and girls trafficked from Eastern Europe for the purpose of prostitution.