Freedom in the World

Slovakia

Slovakia

Freedom in the World 2014

2014 Scores

Status

Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1.0

Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1

Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

1
Overview: 

 

The first year and a half of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s second, nonconsecutive term in office was characterized by significant polarization and discord between his ruling center-left Direction–Social Democracy (Smer-SD) party—which controls a comfortable majority in the parliament—and the center-right opposition parties. Having refused to appoint the prosecutor general who was lawfully elected by the previous parliament in 2011, President Ivan Gašparovič called for new elections to the post in 2013, resulting in the swift confirmation of a new, government-backed candidate by July. Opposition lawmakers, who accused Gašparovič of intentionally breaching the constitution to promote Smer-SD’s interests, had launched the first-ever impeachment attempt against a Slovakian president in January, but the motion was voted down by the parliament in March.

Also in March, the parliament adopted controversial public-procurement legislation that was initially introduced by the interior minister in 2012. The law allows major contracts to be awarded without an open, competitive tender process.

Police in June carried out a violent raid on a Romany settlement, prompting international concern, but a flawed government investigation into the events found that police had not acted inappropriately.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

 

Political Rights: 37 / 40 [Key]

A. Electoral Process: 12 / 12

Voters elect the president for up to two five-year terms. Members of the 150-seat, unicameral National Council are elected for four-year terms through nationwide proportional representation. Parties must obtain at least 5 percent of the vote to win seats. The prime minister is appointed by the president but must have majority support in the parliament to govern. The presidency is mostly ceremonial, though the president has the power to name judges to the Constitutional Court and veto legislation. In 2009, Gašparovič, a Smer-SD ally, became the first Slovakian president to win reelection.

Early elections in March 2012 resulted in a landslide victory for Fico’s Smer-SD, which won 83 seats. The two main parties in the outgoing center-right government, the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party (SDKÚ–DS), fared poorly after being implicated in two major corruption scandals. They captured 16 and 11 seats, respectively. Most-Hid (Bridge), which advocates better cooperation between the country’s ethnic Hungarian minority and ethnic Slovak majority, took 13 seats, and the Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party won 11 seats. A new party composed of former SaS members, the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OLaNO), secured 16 seats by appealing to citizens who were disillusioned with the government.

The elections were deemed free and fair by international monitors, though the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) expressed concern about a lack of oversight and transparency in campaign financing.

The government in August 2013 agreed on laws that would unify voting procedures across the country and set campaign spending limits and finance regulations, as well as prescribe fines for violating election rules. The changes under discussion would also limit when parties are allowed to campaign, and included a moratorium on campaigning during the two days that precede each election. The unified rules also contained measures designed to cut election costs by introducing electronic communication between the election committee and subcommittees, and by placing a cap of eight members on district election committees. Opposition members argued that the new rules would be selectively applied to the advantage of ruling parties. They demanded amendments to the proposed legislation, eventually resulting in the postponement of its adoption until 2014.

 

B. Political Pluralism and Participation: 15 / 16

Slovakia is home to a competitive, multiparty political system. Since the country joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, power has shifted between coalitions of center-left and center-right parties. The left-leaning Smer-SD, then in opposition, won the 2012 parliamentary elections by a margin large enough to form Slovakia’s first single-party government.

Relations between Smer-SD and the opposition center-right parties remained confrontational throughout 2013, with the opposition accusing Smer-SD of using its majority to rush through legislation or block other factions’ proposals.

Slovakia’s first-ever Romany representative, Peter Pollak, was elected to the legislature in March 2012 and later became the government’s top policy coordinator for the Roma, known as the plenipotentiary for Romany communities.

 

C. Functioning of Government: 10 / 12

Corruption remains a problem, most notably in public procurement and the health sector. According to Transparency International (TI), many state-owned companies still do not publish even basic information, such as annual reports. Controversial revisions to Slovakia’s public-procurement rules, originally proposed by Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák in September 2012, were extensively modified and then adopted by the parliament in late March 2013, with most entering into force in July. The changes introduced an electronic marketplace designed to increase competition and transparency in procurements, but included a variety of exemptions that would allow ministries and offices to award substantial contracts without a tender process. A new, nine-member council was established to serve as an appeal body for the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO), in order to speed up appeal proceedings and unify ÚVO decision-making. The council is headed by the chair and vice-chair of ÚVO. Municipalities and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) will nominate candidates to serve as the remaining seven members, who are formally appointed by the cabinet.

Investigators probing alleged misconduct by politicians implicated in the “Gorilla file”—a document, leaked in late 2011, concerning the Slovak intelligence service’s wiretapping of a flat where politicians allegedly met with prominent businessmen to discuss corrupt dealings—had yet to secure enough evidence to press charges against any specific individual at the end of 2013. One thread of the investigation, related to the privatization of the M. R. Štefánik airport in Bratislava, was declared closed in October 2013.

In late May, Smer-SD deputies on the parliamentary committee responsible for military affairs, despite objections from opposition politicians, voted not to investigate an allegedly suspicious transfer of assets from two military intelligence agencies (now merged as Military Intelligence, or VS) under the Fico government of 2006–10. The accusations were based on a classified report allegedly shared with the daily newspaper SME by an anonymous source. The still-classified case was immediately handed over to the public prosecutor’s office and police. SME reported on another leaked file on June 12, this time pointing to misuse of power by former Military Defense Intelligence (VOS) head and incumbent VS deputy director Róbert Tibenský between 2004 and 2008. The government dismissed the accusations. Two weeks later, state prosecutors charged former Military Intelligence Service (VSS) officer Katarína Svrčeková and former VSS head Roman Mikulec—who had launched the original investigation into the suspected embezzlement of agency assets—with leaking classified information.

In 2012, Slovakia’s parliament voted unanimously to lift the immunity of its deputies from criminal prosecution; only judges remain immune from prosecution. Slovakia was ranked 61 out of 177 countries and territories surveyed in TI’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index.

 In 2013 the government prepared an amendment that would have limited of the scope of freedom of information legislation. Although pushback from civil society prompted the Ministry of Justice to drop the disputed provisions, a new draft amendment to the freedom of information act was under way at year’s end.

 

Civil Liberties: 54 / 60 (-1)

D. Freedom of Expression and Belief: 16 / 16

Freedom of speech and of the press is protected by the constitution, but media outlets sometimes face political interference. Journalists continue to encounter verbal attacks and libel suits by public officials, though these have occurred less frequently in recent years. The OSCE in 2013 expressed concern about two defamation suits filed against media outlets by members of the judiciary: In the ongoing “Bonanno” case, filed in February 2013, past and current members of the judiciary sought a total of €940,000 ($1.23 million) from a publication that reported on a 2010 social gathering at which the plaintiffs appeared to make light of a recent mass murder. In the second case in March, a court ordered SME to publish an apology to Special Court judge Michal Truban on its front page for three consecutive days, after Truban sued the outlet for reporting that he had received an illegal gift in the form of free hunting privileges on a trip in 2012.

The government respects religious freedom in this largely Roman Catholic country. Registered religious organizations are eligible for tax exemptions and government subsidies. However, religious groups must have at least 20,000 members to register, effectively preventing the small Muslim community and other groups from claiming government benefits. Academic freedom is respected.

 

E. Associational and Organizational Rights: 12 / 12

Authorities uphold freedom of assembly and association. NGOs generally operate without government interference. Labor unions are active, and organized workers freely exercise their right to strike. A new labor code with guarantees related to overtime and severance pay, as well as rules on hiring temporary workers, took effect in 2013.

 

F. Rule of Law: 12 / 16 (-1)

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Despite some reforms pushed through by the previous, center-right government of Prime Minister Iveta Radičová in 2011, the court system continues to suffer from corruption, intimidation of judges, and a significant backlog of cases. As a result, public trust in the judicial system is low. In July 2013, two students launched a website, Otvorené Súdy (Open Courts), with the aim of increasing the transparency of the judicial system by making information on judges and rulings more easily accessible.

The circumstances surrounding the appointment of a new prosecutor general in 2013 raised fresh concerns about political influence on the judicial system. In mid-2011, the parliament had selected Jozef Čentéš, a candidate backed by the center-right parties, to fill the position, but the left-leaning President Gašparovič had refused to confirm the appointment. He cited concerns about Čentéš’s moral character and the procedures surrounding his election, despite an October 2011 Constitutional Court ruling that the election process had been legitimate. In March 2013, the Smer-SD parliamentary majority elected in 2012 voted down the opposition’s proposal to impeach Gašparovič for allegedly breaching the constitution by stalling on the appointment without concrete justification. The issue of Čentéš’s election remained mired in the Constitutional Court for several more months as both Gašparovič and Čentéš filed petitions challenging the impartiality of the judges. An amendment to the Law on the Constitutional Court was adopted in an accelerated legislative procedure in April, permitting the assignment of cases to judges who had previously been disqualified for lack of impartiality.

Čentéš was not permitted to run in the new elections held on June 17. The vote was boycotted by the opposition, while Smer-SD deputies all voted for their party’s proposed candidate, Jaromír Čižnár, the regional prosecutor of Bratislava and Fico’s former university classmate. Gašparovič appointed Čižnár in July, before the Constitutional Court could issue a final ruling on Čentéš’s case. The court then canceled a hearing on Čentéš’s case that was planned for October after Gašparovič again accused the judges assigned to deal with Čentéš’s complaint of bias.

In late October 2013, the Constitutional Court assessed several disciplinary motions filed against Supreme Court president Štefan Harabin by Lucia Žitňanská, the justice minister under the Radičová government. On October 29, the court upheld its earlier decision to penalize Harabin by reducing his salary for obstructing a 2010 audit of the Supreme Court by the Finance Ministry. However, the next day it rejected three separate motions against him that had been outstanding. Among other charges, Žitňanská had accused Harabin of manipulating the assignment of judges to cases in his court, a process that is supposed to be random.

Prison conditions meet most international standards, but overcrowding remains a concern. NGOs and members of the Romany community report that Romany suspects are often mistreated by police during arrest and while in custody.

The rights of national minorities and ethnic groups are constitutionally guaranteed. Minority groups in Slovakia—including the country’s sizable Hungarian and Romany populations—have the right to develop their own culture, the right to information and education in their mother tongue, and the right to use their language in official communication.

 Nevertheless, minority groups—most notably the Roma—experience widespread discrimination, including forced evictions and segregation of Romany children in schools. In late February 2013, Fico made a controversial public address in which he suggested that Slovakia had been established for Slovaks, not for minorities. The prime minister later said his words had been taken out of context. On June 19, dozens of police officers raided a Romany settlement known as Budulovska, allegedly in search of seven convicted or suspected criminals. Violence erupted during the search, and several residents were injured. Although none of the raid’s targets were found, police detained 15 others. Members of the community who were involved in the incident were not interviewed during a subsequent investigation by the Interior Ministry. Instead, the final report, which cleared the police of any wrongdoing, included testimony from non-Romany residents of a nearby town who complained of the Romany community’s “inappropriate” behavior and “arrogance.” A number of Slovak cities have built walls to isolate Romany neighborhoods since 2008.

Members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community continue to report discrimination. However, Bratislava’s fourth annual gay pride parade took place in September 2013 without serious incident.

 

G. Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights: 14 / 16

Although women enjoy the same legal rights as men, they continue to be underrepresented in senior-level government and business positions. Domestic violence is punishable by imprisonment but remains widespread. Slovakia is a source, transit, and destination for the trafficking of men, women, and children for forced labor and prostitution.

 

Scoring Key: X / Y (Z)

X = Score Received

Y = Best Possible Score

Z = Change from Previous Year

Full Methodology