Nations in Transit
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Democracy Score(1 = best, 7 = worst)
National Democratic Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Electoral Process(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Society(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Independent Media(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Local Democratic Governance(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Judicial Framework and Independence(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Corruption(1 = best, 7 = worst)
Sixteen years after the collapse of the Communist regime, Slovakia is a country with a consolidated democracy and functioning market economy. The country has joined the European Union (EU) and NATO and is a member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Trade Organization. Slovakia's development can be divided into three main stages. The first stage took place while Slovakia was still a part of the Czechoslovak Federation (1990-1993), as governments implemented systemic changes aimed at building the foundation of a democratic regime. The second stage lasted from 1993, when Slovakia became an independent state, to 1998. During this period, authoritarian and nationalist forces usurped political and economic power and directly caused numerous democratic deficits that subsequently thwarted the country's EU integration ambitions. The third stage began in 1998 when democratic forces returned to power; since then, they have eliminated most deformations of the previous authoritarian rule and launched vital reforms in a number of areas.
Throughout 2005, Slovakia's institutional system showed a sufficient degree of stability. The country's economic development was also stable, as gross domestic product growth neared 6 percent, unemployment declined, the annual inflation rate remained relatively low, and the favorable trend of foreign direct investment continued. Slovakia successfully seized most of the opportunities ensuing from its full-fledged EU membership, such as the use of EU funds and participation in policy debates. Although the center-right administration of Mikulas Dzurinda did not control a majority in the Parliament, it managed to put through most reform laws. Serious conflicts within the ruling coalition could not shake the government's determination to keep the reform course. In 2005, opposition parties failed to railroad through the Parliament a constitutional bill seeking to shorten the current electoral term and call early parliamentary elections.
National Democratic Governance. The system of power division in Slovakia remained sufficiently functional and stable throughout 2005. Mutual relations among particular constitutional players were generally cooperative, as no displays of power confrontation were recorded. In summer 2005, the ruling coalition's makeup saw a formal change after the Alliance of a New Citizen, one of four ruling parties, left the government; however, most members of its parliamentary caucus remained loyal to the incumbent administration. Their loyalty was made formal after the parliamentarians signed an agreement with the remaining three ruling parties--Slovak Democratic and Christian Union, Hungarian Coalition Party, and Christian Democratic Movement. The incumbent administration thus became a full-fledged successor to the original ruling coalition formed after the parliamentary elections of 2002. Subsequently, the cabinet's personnel composition saw three changes that did not jeopardize its operability and have not led to any shifts in priorities pursued in particular areas, such as culture, economy, and social affairs. The Parliament's lawmaking activity in 2005 may be evaluated as satisfactory, in terms of both quantity and quality. The Constitutional Court continued to act as the watchdog of constitutionality; its rulings were respected by all concerned institutions. An amendment to the Slovak Constitution approved in 2005 further strengthened control powers of the Supreme Bureau of Supervision. Slovakia's rating for national democratic governance remains at 2.00 owing to basic trends in institutional development, operation of the system of checks and balances, civil control of military and security services, and practical execution of power.
Electoral Process. In November 2005, Slovakia held regional elections for representatives to regional councils and governors. The elections were proclaimed free and democratic, as nothing disturbed fair electoral competition. In February 2005, the Parliament passed a new Law on Political Parties to increase the transparency of party financing as well as accountability. However, in practice political parties display a certain level of resistance to inform accurately about all aspects of spending. Based on the new law, all existing political parties were reregistered; no problems occurred during the reregistration process. Slovakia's rating for electoral process remains at 1.25 given the functionality of electoral mechanisms and improvements in the quality of legislation on political parties.
Civil Society. Slovakia's civil society is vibrant, and its structures are considered by experts to be among the most advanced and dynamic in Central and Eastern Europe. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in 2005 did not go through major structural changes--the legislative background, financial viability, organizational capacity, and other dimensions of NGO sector development changed only slightly since 2004. However, some organizations had to limit their activities as a response to the withdrawal of foreign donors in 2005. The legal and regulatory environment for civil society is free of excessive state pressures. The NGO sector in Slovakia has a well-developed infrastructure, training, and research base. The incumbent state administration continues to have an open attitude toward NGOs. Civil society organizations have successfully created alliances against racism, and in 2005 they became leading forces in the struggle against neo-Nazi groups in Slovakia. The democratization activities of Slovak NGOs in countries with autocratic regimes became more visible in 2005. Trade unions are free in their activities, and the education system is free of political dominance. Slovakia's rating for civil society remains unchanged at 1.25.
Independent Media. The performance of Slovak media and journalists was free of open state interference in 2005. Politicians' direct influence on the media was further reduced after Pavol Rusko, former minister of the economy, chairman of the Alliance of a New Citizen, and founder of the largest private TV station, lost his share in the station's ownership. However, the long-term shortage of funding for public television and radio and the likelihood that both stations will see new management boards appointed in the 2006 election year suggest that political influence could soon strengthen. Also, the recently approved penal code, which outlaws the recording of private conversations with concealed devices, may harm the practice of investigative journalism. Slovakia's rating for independent media remains unchanged at 2.25.
Local Democratic Governance. The trend to deepen the decentralization process and strengthen local democracy in Slovakia continued in 2005. Local and regional self-governments began to perform executive powers transferred from the central government, using the funds they received as a result of the completed financial decentralization process. Self-governance organs focused on increasing their professionalism and quality of performance. Amendments to the Law on Free Access to Information and the Slovak Constitution, which strengthened the control powers of the Supreme Bureau of Supervision, enhanced the transparency and accountability of regional and local self-governance organs. In regional elections held in November 2005, new deputies of regional councils and new regional governors were elected. Owing to the prevailing positive trend of strengthening local democracy and decentralization, Slovakia's rating for local democratic governance improves from 2.25 to 2.00.
Judicial Framework and Independence. The process of stabilizing the country's legal system accelerated in 2005. The long-awaited recodification of criminal law was finally enacted. The new penal code introduced additional categories of criminal offenses based on the priority of protecting the lives, property, and interests of citizens. The new code of penal procedure made penal action simpler and more efficient. The judicial system remained stable and relatively effective. One problem, however, was the partially limited functionality of the Constitutional Court, which lacked the full complement of judges in 2005 because of the Parliament's inability to agree on a generally acceptable candidate. Slovakia's judicial framework and independence rating remains at 2.00 as a result of the continuation of judicial system reform and approval of the new penal code and new code of penal procedure.
Corruption. Corruption remained one of Slovakia's most pressing social problems in 2005. Public officials were under increasing public pressure to accept personal and political responsibility for conduct incompatible with principles of transparency. Scandals involving clientelism caused two personnel changes in the cabinet. In 2005, the Parliament passed several pieces of legislation aimed at combating corruption, most notably the constitutional amendment that strengthened control powers of the Supreme Bureau of Supervision, the amendment to the Law on Free Access to Information, and the amendment to the Law on Public Procurement. The new Law on Political Parties seeks to make party financing more transparent. Also, law enforcement organs intensified their campaign against corruption, which resulted in bribery indictments against several high-ranking officials at both central government and self-government levels. Slovakia's corruption rating remains at 3.00, but new anticorruption legislation and the greater efficiency of the police in fighting corrupt behavior show promise of improvement in 2006.
Outlook for 2006. The result of parliamentary elections in June 2006 will have a decisive impact on the country's future development, particularly the pace of recently launched social and economic reforms. During the period leading up to the elections, the ruling parties will likely try to convince voters about the critical importance of previously implemented reforms and the need for their continuation. The popularity of some parties in the incumbent ruling coalition makes it likely that they will participate in the new government as well, a positive sign that the current reform course will be maintained. It is likely that Slovakia's EU membership will continue to have a stabilizing effect on its social development. The country's international position and role in world politics will undoubtedly grow stronger when Slovakia becomes a temporary member of the United Nations Security Council in January 2006.
The Slovak Republic is a stable democracy with a generally effective system of governmental checks and balances. Citizens enjoy direct participation in the political process through elections and political party activities. The Slovak Constitution guarantees the right to free retrieval, collection, and dissemination of information. In 2000, the Parliament passed the Law on Free Access to Information, which stipulated conditions for gathering information by citizens on activities of the state administration and self-governance organs. The law indicates a positive trend, though implementation has been hampered at times by bureaucratic resistance and a lack of public awareness of the constitutional right. In 2005, for instance, the Parliament approved an amendment that expands the law to include the disclosure of salaries of civil servants and other public officials. The amendment also introduced an obligation to publish information on any transfer of property of the state, self-governance bodies, or public institutions to private individuals, including information on such individuals.
More than 90 percent of Slovakia's gross domestic product is produced by the private sector. Since 1998, the government's drive toward liberalization, in policy and practice, has been the chief development trend within Slovakia's economy.
Since the collapse of the Communist regime in 1989, Slovakia has not seen any violent attempts to usurp political power, and all political players respect the fundamental rules of parliamentary democracy. However, between 1993 and 1998 a coalition of authoritarian and nationalistic parties attempted an illiberal, undemocratic concentration of political power. Yet since the return of democratic forces in 1998, the execution of power on all levels has not departed from the basic constitutional framework. Although the incumbent administration of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda lost a parliamentary majority at the beginning of 2004, it has since been able to pass legislative initiatives and execute power effectively. Both attempts by opposition parties to shorten the current electoral term--calling a referendum on early elections (April 2004) and attempting to have parliament approve a constitutional law on early elections (November 2005)--failed.
For the first time since 1998, the basic principles of the governmental procedural consensus were temporarily breached in September 2005 when the opposition--with help from independent members of Parliament (MPs)--boycotted the assembly. That move meant the lack of a quorum, preventing a substitute for a recently deceased Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) deputy from assuming his mandate. The opposition parties ended their boycott in just over a week.
Government authority and the rule of law are solid and indisputable throughout Slovakia, and domestic political development is free from displays of dominance by the military, foreign powers, or other power groups. Government stability has never been threatened by internal military conflicts or insurgencies, and currently there is no danger of such conflicts. Political party activities within the armed forces and other state institutions are forbidden, as the Slovak army and police are politically neutral.
The National Council of the Slovak Republic (Parliament) is a sovereign representative body, the sole legislative and constituent assembly, and autonomous from the executive. It has sufficient resources and capacities for the creation and enactment of bills, as well as adequate control powers. Parliamentarians frequently interpellate cabinet members and exercise oversight of state and public institutions.
Parliamentary deliberations are open to the public and media (except for closed sessions on confidential matters, such as intelligence and secret service issues). Public representatives may be present during deliberations of parliamentary committees if invited by their members. The entire legislative process (that is, verbatim wording of legislative bills, results of assembly votes, and so forth) is continuously recorded and made available to the public via the Parliament Web site. Printed shorthand records from the Parliament's plenary sessions are also available to the public. In addition, the Law on Free Access to Information has substantially improved public access to information on activities of state and public institutions.
The Constitution and relevant laws clearly demarcate the powers of the cabinet and other organs of executive power, which is subordinated to the legislative. At the beginning of its tenure, the cabinet must submit its program manifesto for parliamentary approval. The Parliament may at any time hold a vote of no confidence regarding the entire cabinet or its individual members; it may also compel the cabinet to act upon parliamentary resolutions. The loss of political support from the Parliament may lead to the cabinet's resignation. The president is directly elected and, although relatively weak, has a number of important competences, such as a legislative veto and the right to challenge laws in the Constitutional Court.
All state agencies are subject to control by the Supreme Bureau of Supervision (NKU). The NKU regularly publishes violations of laws and bylaws by state institutions and orders the offending agencies to remedy their deficiencies. The Parliament elects the NKU chairman and NKU vice chairmen for seven-year terms. Though funded by the state budget, the NKU is free from political influence. In September 2005, the Parliament passed a constitutional amendment extending the control powers of the NKU to include all financial transfers to organs of local self-governance, legal entitites established by local governments, companies with state investment, and firms pursuing activities in the public interest.
The reform of the armed forces implemented during the past decade has introduced civilian controls that are in line with NATO, which Slovakia joined in 2004. Judicial oversight of the military and security services is sufficiently effective, and the Slovak army uses a system of martial prosecution with martial courts. The Parliament approves the military and security services budget, and spending is supervised by the parliamentary defense and security committee. Deputies, media, and the general public may access information on the activities of the military and security services, but certain types of information are considered classified and are not available to the media and public. The cabinet informs the public about its activities through special public affairs units at the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS).
In 2005, representatives of some political parties voiced suspicions that information collected by the SIS was used to discredit them and that the agency was conducting unauthorized surveillance of some politicians. In November, the Parliament's Special Committee for SIS Oversight investigated these suspicions. The committee's deliberations were attended by the SIS director, who emphatically dismissed all allegations. MPs who had publicly presented statements on illegal activities of the SIS eventually failed to produce any evidence. However, during the ensuing public debate, some politicians argued that the monitoring powers of the special committee should be strengthened.
The authority of the Slovak government is based on freely exercised universal suffrage. Since the Communist regime's collapse in 1989, Slovakia has held five parliamentary elections (1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2002), four municipal elections (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002), two regional elections (2001 and 2005), two presidential elections (1999 and 2004), and one election to the European Parliament (2004). International as well as independent domestic election monitors declared all of these elections free and fair.
The legislative framework provides for free and democratic competition, equal campaigning, fair voting, and the transparent scrutiny of votes. Parliamentary elections are based on a proportional system that stipulates the following thresholds to qualify: 5 percent for single running parties, 7 percent for coalitions comprising two or three parties, and 10 percent for coalitions consisting of four or more parties. Elections to the European Parliament use a proportional system. The minimum quorum to qualify for the assembly is 5 percent of the popular vote, which applies to both individual parties and party coalitions. Elections to local and regional self-governments use a modified majority electoral model. The Slovak president and regional governors are elected using a majority model with two rounds.
In February 2005, the Parliament passed a new Law on Political Parties that requires party registration by means of a petition signed by 10,000 citizens; once registered, each party may take part in parliamentary elections. The 1991 Law on Political Parties required a new party to submit only 1,000 signatures to register. However, in order to run in parliamentary elections, a party that did not have a caucus in the Parliament had to submit a petition signed by at least 10,000 of its members or regular citizens. A new Law on Elections to the National Council of the Slovak Republic passed in 2004 abolished this requirement. On the other hand, it introduced a new requirement: a deposit of Sk 500,000 (about US$16,000), which is refunded to all parties that receive at least 3 percent of the popular vote. Deposits made by parties that receive less than 3 percent of the popular vote are forfeited to the state budget. After the passage of the new law, 42 parties reregistered with the Ministry of the Interior. Although 120 political parties had been registered by the end of September 2005, 78 of them failed to submit an application for reregistration before the October deadline and were subsequently deleted from the registry.
The Supreme Court is entitled to dissolve political parties whose statutes, program, or activities violate the Constitution, constitutional laws, or international treaties. A motion to dissolve a political party must be filed by the attorney general. Since 1990, the Supreme Court has not dissolved a single political party in Slovakia. In October 2005, Slovakia's attorney general submitted a proposal to dissolve the Slovak Community-National Party, a neo-Fascist and neo-Nazi party that had been registered in June 2005. In its program (which had not been officially submitted at registration), the party advocates removing Slovakia's democratic system of government and suppressing human and minority rights and openly promulgates racial discrimination. Immediately after its registration, the party organized public rallies in several Slovak towns, apparently inciting racial hatred and religious intolerance.
Six parties are currently represented in the Parliament through their caucuses: Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU), Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Smer, SMK, Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), and Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS). Many other independent MPs represent a handful of nonparliamentary parties, most of which emerged after 2002 by splitting off from existing parliamentary parties.
The current government is a result of parliamentary elections that were held in September 2002 and led to a coalition of four parties-SDKU, SMK, KDH, and Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO)-which formed a cabinet with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda at the head. The ruling coalition lost a majority in the Parliament in 2003 following the defection of several MPs from the ANO and SDKU caucuses. In September 2005, ANO left the ruling coalition in the aftermath of a scandal involving party chairman Pavol Rusko, who was subsequently removed from his post as minister of the economy. The ANO caucus currently includes MPs who left the ANO party following a rift within the party but remained in the ANO caucus to keep the caucus alive; it has remained unchanged. (According to law the creation of a new caucus or renaming of an existing caucus requires the whole assembly's approval, which was not possible at the time because of the government coalition's minority position.) Most ANO parliamentarians who defected from the party declared their loyalty to the administration. So the government continues to be supported in the Parliament by deputies of SDKU, SMK, KDH, ten members of the ANO caucus, and some independent deputies.
All parliamentary parties have functioning structures at the national, regional, and local levels and are represented in regional and local self-governments. The representation of opposition parties in these bodies corresponds proportionally to their number of seats in the Parliament.
Although citizens are quite active in Slovakia's political life, there has been an overall decline in voter participation. Generally, the highest turnout is recorded in parliamentary elections, although this too has fluctuated over the past decade (84.4 percent in 1992, 75.6 percent in 1994, 84.2 percent in 1998, and 70.1 percent in 2002). Turnout was also relatively high in the first direct presidential elections in May 1999 (73.9 percent in the first round and 75.5 percent in the second). In 2004, the presidential elections recorded voter participation of 47.9 percent (first round) and 43.5 percent (second round).
Municipal and regional elections typically show lower voter turnouts than do national elections. Voter participation in municipal elections was 63.8 percent in 1990, 52.2 percent in 1994, 54.0 percent in 1998, and 49.5 percent in 2002. In regional elections, voter turnout was 26.0 percent and 22.6 percent (first and second round, respectively) in 2001 and 18.0 percent and 11.0 percent (first and second round, respectively) in 2005, the lowest turnout in Slovakia's modern history. Turnout of only 17 percent was recorded in the first elections to the European Parliament in 2004.
Nationwide, there is a relatively low level of public participation and membership in political parties, about 5 percent according to estimates. The party with the largest membership is the HZDS (nearly 45,000 members), followed by the KDH (20,000), the KSS (16,500), and Smer (15,000); other parliamentary parties have between 5,000 and 13,000 members.
Ethnic minorities encounter no institutional obstacles to participating in political processes. About 15 percent of Slovak citizens belong to various ethnic minorities. Ethnic Hungarians form the largest ethnic minority, making up nearly 10 percent of the total population . Traditionally, ethnic Hungarians have a high rate of political mobilization; as a result, this minority is represented effectively at all levels of government, mainly through the SMK. This party has been in government for seven years and has had a strong influence over the country's general social development.
In contrast, the Roma minority is not sufficiently represented owing to the ethnic group's low social status and inadequate education, a virtual absence of political leaders, and the inability of "majority"mainstream political parties to cooperate with Romany organizations. Although several Romany political parties are registered, none has gained a foothold in executive or legislative organs at the national or regional level. Representatives of Romany origin operate in local self-governance organs, especially in villages and towns with a high concentration of Romany citizens. So far, all attempts to establish an integrated political party that would represent the interests of the Romany minority have failed because of conflicting personal ambitions of individual Romany leaders.
Mutual cooperation between government and NGOs has existed in Slovakia for years, and Slovak civil society is traditionally very dynamic and vibrant. However, in 2005 NGOs faced new challenges caused by the withdrawal of foreign funders and the need to find new ways of surviving. Some organizations limited their activities or ceased to exist. The professionalization of the civil society sector therefore became the most significant feature over the past year. EU membership, EU Structural and Cohesion funds as a source of income, and intensified cooperation with the business sector changed the "third sector"in many aspects. Many organizations, adjusting successfully to new conditions, have tended to give up activities that are focused on advocacy, raising questions about the role of NGOs in Slovak society.
Figures on Slovak NGOs are recorded in several places, including the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Ministry of Culture. At the end of December 2005, the Ministry of the Interior listed 27,100 organizations considered to be NGOs in a broad sense. Of these, 25,257 (93.2 percent) were civil associations (societies, clubs, associations, movements, trade unions, international NGOs, and various sports clubs) or their organizational units, 325 (1.2 percent) were foundations, 497 (1.8 percent) were noninvestment funds, and 1,021 (3.8 percent) were nonprofit organizations. The image of NGOs in public opinion is prevailingly positive, although some foundations have been accused of misusing donations. Those allegations accelerated after the natural disaster in the High Tatras National Park in November 2004 and prompted a serious discussion about the reliability of the third sector.
The visibility of women's organizations and initiatives-including social, political, independent, and international groups-has been increasing year by year to a total currently estimated at more than 100. Ethnic minorities, especially ethnic Hungarians, have effective cultural and civic organizations in Slovakia. However, Roma minority groups have been far less effective, with some claiming that Roma organizations are almost 20 times underrepresented in comparison with organizations connected to the majority population. Religious groups play the most significant role in charitable activities (church contributions are a deeply rooted tradition in Slovakia). All major religious groups in Slovakia-including Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, and Calvinist congregations-are very much involved in charity activities and complement state programs, especially in social assistance services.
No openly extremist or racist organizations are registered with the Ministry of the Interior, but some do operate illegally and have increased their activities. In 2005, the police continued to systematically monitor neo-Nazi, right-wing nationalist, and extremist groups and conducted preventive actions against them. Civil society organizations operated intensively against racist groups in Slovakia, such as the neo-Nazi-oriented Slovak Community-National Party, monitoring their activities in cooperation with state institutions.
The legal and regulatory environment for civil society is free of excessive state pressures and bureaucracy and operates under norms adopted after the fall of the Communist regime. The basic legislative framework for NGOs is provided by the Constitution-which guarantees freedom of expression (Article 29), freedom of assembly (Article 28), and freedom of association (Articles 29 and 37)-as well as several related laws. Registration of NGOs is simple: Both legal entities and private citizens may establish nonprofit organizations, which are then required to serve their stated missions. The Ministry of the Interior acts not only as the NGO registry, but as the supervising institution. Taxation laws benefit NGOs, and in some fields the tax code is simpler than for the commercial sector. NGOs are also exempt from paying gift taxes and institution income taxes.
The NGO sector in Slovakia has a well-developed infrastructure, training, and research base. Unlike in previous years, no umbrella organization of elected NGO representatives currently exists to coordinate particular segments of the NGO sector-a signal of the normalization of Slovak civil society, which, especially in the mid-1990s, struggled for its autonomy. In addition to existing NGOs that provide training, Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia-together with the Open Society Foundation and the Education Center for Nonprofit Organizations-has prepared a distance learning course in many areas relevant for NGOs. An Internet portal (ChangeNet) provides information services for NGOs, and a monthly magazine, Efekt, published by the First Slovak Nonprofit Service Center, covers changes in laws and regulations and other relevant topics.
In 2005, the withdrawal of international donors became rather critical, especially for advocacy and watchdog NGOs that have trouble generating funds elsewhere. These organizations cannot accept money from the state because of their special role, and the business sector views their support as risky; also, their scope of activity usually precludes self-financing activities. On the other hand, NGOs working in the social area saw progress in the development of financing, with many examples of corporate support. Even though the spectrum of activity is often limited to "popular"issues (children, cancer victms, and so forth), some NGOs also received corporate donations to work in "less popular"areas, such as resocialization centers for prisoners and hospices.
NGOs continue to face problems with the administration of EU funds, since Brussels often pays grants after the completion of projects and few NGOs can afford to undertake a project without regular funding installments. Since 2005, private taxpayers in Slovakia may dedicate 2 percent (previously 1 percent) of their income tax for public beneficiary purposes, according to a 2001 amendment to the Law on Income Taxes; legal entities have been able to dedicate 2 percent of their tax liability to civil society organizations since a 2004 amendment. An increasing number of Slovak NGOs are subsidized from finances raised by their own activities and membership fees, especially groups working with youth, though most NGOs have only a small membership base.
The cooperation of NGOs and government in foreign policy development continued in 2005. Slovak NGOs became more visible by working with democratic actors in countries with autocratic regimes (Belarus, Cuba) or in transitional countries (Afghanistan, Iraq); they were particularly active during the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Moreover, cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and NGOs in these areas is increasingly effective, as highlighted by the ministry's Official Development Assistance program, which strengthened the country's position in democracy-building activities accross Eastern Europe.
In 2005, Slovak NGOs received substantial and predominantly positive coverage from both public and private media. The close cooperation between media and think tanks in tracking internal politics and influencing political actors and the broader public continued. Nevertheless, cooperation with journalists is still difficult for grassroots organizations, as confusion and misperceptions about the role of NGOs persist.
Slovak trade unions are free, but there are questions over whether they play an adequate role in society. The Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ) represents fewer than 520,000 employees. The image of trade unions is predominantly negative among all segments of the population, which may be explained by KOZ's involvement in politics and the working style of trade union leaders.
The education system is fully free of political influence and propaganda, and the Ministry of Education, together with educational experts, has been attempting to diminish the dominance of Slovak majority views on history, literature, and other curricular areas. One problem that persists is the continued discussion concerning a treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican on education. A large segment of Slovak NGOs (as well as public opinion in general) views the treaty as endangering the secularized character of the Slovak educational system.
In Slovakia, freedom of speech is protected by the Constitution and the obsolete and increasingly unsatisfactory Law on the Press from 1966. In 2005, the Ministry of Culture submitted a proposed new Law on the Press, but the draft provoked such controversial reactions that by the end of November, the ministry had not yet presented it for parliamentary deliberation. On the one hand, the bill does lay down generally accepted principles of press and media freedom-including protection of sources. It also guarantees journalists' right to information while simultaneously enshrining citizens' right to protect their privacy and reputation. On the other hand, the draft law introduces an obligation for freelance journalists to register with state organs, which the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN), the largest professional organization of Slovak journalists, has emphatically criticized.
Slovakia's legal system does not contain any provision that would allow the government to punish journalists for "irresponsible" journalism with respect to state organs. In 2002, two articles of the penal code that could be used against journalists were suspended-namely, provisions on defamation of the republic, the Parliament, the cabinet, the Constitutional Court, and the president.
In November 2005, the Parliament passed an amendment to the penal code that will take effect in 2006, whereby the recording of any confidential conversation with a concealed device will be prosecutable. The move is likely to complicate the work of investigative journalists. When discussing the new amendment, the assembly rejected a cabinet-initiated proposal to omit this provision, with some parliamentary deputies arguing that the provision would not apply to journalists. They stated that Article 28 of the penal code, which refers to the Law on the Press, guaranteed the freedom to use concealed recording devices. Declaring that neither the current Law on the Press nor the draft Law on the Press gave journalists the right to secretly record and then publish confidential conversations, the SSN said that journalists currently use these techniques only because they are not explicitly banned by the law.
Journalists and newsrooms are partially free from interference by the government or private owners. In the case of private media outlets, the greatest problem is the insufficient transparency of Slovak media ownership and, consequently, a lack of information about owners' business interests. Media Ownership and Its Impact on Media Independence and Pluralism, an analysis of the Slovak media market, reported that ownership is "practically in several pairs of hands"; however, owing to legislative loopholes, cross-ownership of media can be suspected but not proven. Another important factor remains the lack of internal regulations, such as editorial statutes, to prevent the direct interference of media owners in editorial work.
Legislation in force since 2004 has reduced the dependence of public service broadcasters on the Parliament, which no longer elects or removes directors of public media. However, there are financial pressures owing to inadequate funding from public sources; the culprit is license fees that are set too low and legislative loopholes that allow one-third of Slovak households to avoid payment of user fees. The public media's financial vulnerability increases the risk of dependence on the decisions of political elite, who cover public media deficits from the state budget.
The scope and structure of information offered by the Slovak media are satisfactory, although the trend toward greater tabloidization continues, even at the largest dailies with the greatest impact on public opinion. Slovakia also has a broad network of regional periodicals dominated by the publisher of one of the country's two largest dailies. The greatest risk to the independence of local broadcast media (particularly TV stations) is their interconnectedness with local self-governments. Given operation costs and the virtual impossibility of making a profit, the formation of such partnerships is understandable. As a result, however, these TV stations frequently serve as "information channels"of local governments rather than as critical media reporting on local problems.
The previously dominant position of TV Markiza was somewhat shaken in 2005 following the rise of a competitive nationwide private broadcaster (TV Joj) and the stable position of the public Slovak Television. Nevertheless, TV Markiza's news broadcasts continue to be a key source of information for many citizens. The radio market saw a fundamental change: For the first time, ratings of the public Slovak Radio were lower than those of a privately owned radio station (Radio Expres)-a result of Radio Expres's successful business strategy and the long-term stagnation of Slovak Radio. Still, public opinion polls suggest that both public service broadcasters continue to be among the most trusted institutions in the country.
TV Markiza's ownership structure saw a fundamental change in 2005 after its founder, former minister of the economy Pavol Rusko, was elbowed out. Rusko's influence over TV Markiza was the most frequent reason for criticism from the Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission, which over the past few years imposed a number of fines on the station; the last sanction dates to November 2005, when the council ordered a 10-minute shutdown of TV Markiza's main evening news broadcast. According to the council, TV Markiza's news program violated the Law on Broadcasting and Retransmission when it broadcast reportages biased in favor of the ANO party and its chairman Rusko.
Journalists and publishers, as well as private media owners, have their own professional organizations, whose influence is marginal. The largest professional association of journalists-the SSN, which comprises approximately three-quarters of all journalists in the country-has ambitions to become a strong professional organization and equal partner in collective bargaining with publishers, government organs, and other entities. Most Slovak publishers are members of the Association of Periodical Press Publishers (ZVPT), while private television and radio broadcasters are organized in the Association of Independent Radio and Television Stations. Supervision over journalists' observance of ethical and professional rules remains poor. After a year of virtual idleness, the Press Council, established jointly by the SSN and the ZVPT as the supreme professional ethics organ, attempted to revitalize its activity in 2005 and issued several decisions. However, its esteem and acceptance in professional circles remain very low.
Access to the Internet is unrestricted in Slovakia. The number of people who work with the Internet on a daily basis increases every year. The number of regular Internet users rose from 8 percent of the population in December 2002 to almost 21 percent in July 2005, with an increase in occasional Internet users of 14 to 23 percent over the same period. Prices have been declining, and connection quality has improved over a larger portion of the country, helping to close the "digital gap"between residents of the capital and those of the rest of Slovakia. Still, a report by the Institute for Public Affairs corroborated the existence of a relatively deep gap that divides inhabitants of Slovakia by age, education, type of economic activity, household status, type of household, size of municipality, and region of residence.
Table 1. Internet Penetration in Slovakia
|Population ocer 18||June '97||April '98||May '99||Sept '98||Nov '99||May '00||Jan '01||June '01||Dec '01||Jul '05|
|Use the Internet regularly||1.4||2.1||2.4||2.7||3.1||4.8||4.1||5.0||12.8||20.5 (21.5)|
|Use the Internet occasionally||4.1||5.7||7.1||6.0||6.3||9.4||10.4||9.8||16.5||22.6 (24.9)|
|Have access to the Internet but di not use it||3.9||3.7||5.2||4.4||4.4||5.3||5.2||3.3||5.4||4.8 (4.6)|
|have heard/read about or used the Internet but do not have access to it||60.6||63.6||62.6||67.9||70.3||68.4||68.6||70.8||59.8||48.4 (45.5)|
|Do not know what the Internet is||29.8||24.9||22.8||19.0||15.4||12.0||11.6||11.1||5.4||3.7 (3.4)|
Note: Figures in parentheses are calculated for the entire population over 14.
Source: 1997-2003: FOCUS, 2005; Institute for Public Affairs
The Slovak Constitution and other applicable laws provide an adequate framework for self-governance at the regional and local levels. The Slovak Republic has a dual system of public administration--state administration (organs of executive power) and self-governments (elected bodies). There are three levels of elected bodies: central (the Parliament), regional (regional assemblies), and local (municipal councils). Public administration is based on the principle of "subsidiarity," or keeping public administration functions with smaller units when no major advantage exists for transferring them to larger ones. The establishment of state and self-governance institutions is subject to laws passed by the Parliament; however, local self-governments may initiate pro bono nonstate organizations that focus on aiding local development, such as agencies, associations, funds, and so forth.
As part of public administration reform, a massive block of powers was transferred from central government organs to local and regional self-governance bodies. These bodies now address issues in education, health service, social affairs, transportation, and the environment. In order to enable local and regional self-governments to perform their delegated powers, the central government provided them with necessary funding through fiscal decentralization--in other words, the right to collect so-called local taxes. In the case of municipalities, this is the real estate tax; for regional self-governments, this is the motor vehicle tax. Municipalities and regions are autonomous in this area, although the Ministry of Finance submitted to the Parliament a specific bill that should regulate the method of setting tax rates to prevent self-governments from abusing citizens.
As part of fiscal decentralization, the cabinet at the end of 2004 issued a government order that divided income tax revenues between municipalities and higher territorial units (regions). Launching the new system of financing for local and regional self-governments was not free of problems. At the beginning of 2005, representatives of regional capitals protested that the adopted redistribution model had reduced the tax income they would otherwise have spent on city public transportation. The cabinet subsequently decided to allocate part of its financial reserve to cover the deficit in some towns, which helped alleviate this concern. Government institutions and self-governance organs cooperate in tackling local and regional problems, and in 2005 no overt conflicts occurred. In order to communicate with government institutions and present their priorities, self-governments use various associations, such as the Association of Slovak Towns and Villages, the Union of Slovak Towns, the Association of Regional Capitals K-8, and so on.
The Constitution and other relevant laws allow citizens to exercise their right to suffrage at regional and local levels. Representatives of self-governments (deputies of municipal councils and regional assemblies, mayors of villages and towns, and regional governors) are elected in direct, free, and democratic competitions. The electoral system is open to political party candidates as well as independent candidates. Elections to local and regional self-governments are held regularly (every four years) and are open to independent observers. Participating candidates and elected deputies represent a broad spectrum of opinions and political orientations.
Local and regional levels of self-governance give citizens a chance to take a much more active part in the administration of public affairs and adopt remedies when dissatisfied with local governance. Citizens' direct participation in decision-making processes is regulated by the Law on the Municipal System of Government and the Law on Self-Governance of Higher Territorial Units. Civic associations and other types of NGOs have proven to be the most effective in facilitating communication between self-governance bodies and local citizens.
Some municipalities have achieved very positive results when tackling concrete problems in cooperation with NGOs. Other self-governments remain reluctant to cooperate with NGOs and prefer bureaucratic ways of dealing with problems. In some cases, this approach has provoked citizen protests, sometimes in the form of petitions demanding removal of mayors or chairmen of local councils and calling new elections. Very important in this respect is the Law on Free Access to Information, which stipulates that self-governance bodies are obliged to provide citizens with information on their performance and activities. Generally speaking, however, self-governments have adequate funds and personnel to fulfill their duties and provide proper services to citizens.
The level of public participation in regional and local politics is similar to that in national politics; in the case of women and ethnic minorities (especially Roma), the rate of participation is higher locally than at the national level. In 2005, independent media at the central and regional levels paid closer attention to problems of local democracy, self-governance, and regional development. They frequently published articles on the performance of self-governance bodies, the activities of political players at the regional level, and a variety of local disputes and scandals. Undoubtedly, the main reason for shifting the media spotlight to these issues was the upcoming regional elections (scheduled to take place in November 2005). Additionally, ever since Slovakia became a full-fledged EU member, self-governance organs have acquired better opportunities to draw financial assistance from EU funds for local and regional development projects; naturally, this issue has attracted media attention.
Regional and local self-governments do not have the power to pass laws, which is the prerogative of the national legislative assembly. However, they do have the power to pass bylaws and regulations that apply exclusively to them. Should the need arise, self-governance bodies may turn to the courts to enforce their decisions; should the state administration unconstitutionally interfere with local matters, self-governments may appeal to the Constitutional Court. The law allows self-governments to form associations with other domestic and foreign self-governance institutions in order to assert their interests and tackle local problems. Self-governance organs, especially regions and larger municipalities, frequently cooperate with partners from abroad, particularly from neighboring countries.
One of the main objectives of the ongoing public administration reform, including fiscal decentralization, is to loosen the government's centralized grip on the country's taxation system and public expenditures. More important are the agreements among political parties represented on local decision-making bodies, which significantly impact the budgetary management of local self-governments.
Self-governments are subject to internal as well as external supervision. Internal control is entrusted to chief controllers who are appointed to local and regional self-governments for a six-year term. The NKU, which provides external control, saw its monitoring powers with respect to self-governments strengthened in 2005 after the passage of a constitutional amendment. As a result, the NKU is now entitled to control all funds expended by self-government organs in the performance of their duties. Also, the NKU will supervise the financial management of legal entities established by self-government organs.
Meetings of local and regional self-governance bodies are held regularly and are open to the public; the results of their deliberations are posted on specially designed public notice boards, via the media, and increasingly on the Internet. When gathering information on the activities and performance of self-governance bodies, journalists frequently refer to the Law on Free Access to Information. In 2005, no cases surfaced of direct pressure on journalists who report on regional and local problems. Similarly, there were no direct attempts by illegitimate groups to influence self-governance bodies. At the same time, though, the media aired stories about clientelism and nepotistic practices in public procurement and decision making over property transfers to nonstate subjects. Most of these cases had one thing in common: They involved attempts to capitalize on political and party ties to self-governance bodies.
The Slovak Constitution and laws, including the Bill of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, provide a sufficient framework for the protection of human rights. The implementation and exercise of political rights is regulated by the Law on Political Parties, the various election laws (to the Parliament, the European Parliament, and regional and local self-governments), and the Law on Presidential Elections. A number of other laws help co-create the domestic system of human rights. In 2002, the Parliament elected the first public defender of human rights (ombudsman) in the country's history. Citizens can turn to the Constitutional Court, which accepts complaints regarding violations of human rights and also issues verdicts. No cases of torture or other maltreatment of prisoners or detainees were reported in Slovakia in 2005.
The Slovak Republic, a member of the Council of Europe, is part of the European system of human rights protection and has also ratified all important international human rights documents. Citizens of Slovakia may turn to the European Court of Human Rights if they believe their rights have been violated and Slovak judicial institutions have been unable to take action or provide a remedy. In 2005, the European Court of Human Rights issued several rulings in favor of Slovak citizens in their legal disputes with the government. Most frequently, these cases involved drawn-out proceedings that violated citizens' constitutional right to a lawsuit without unnecessary delays.
The right to appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding the possible unconstitutionality of laws, government regulations, and other legal rules applied by the public administration rests with parliamentary deputies (at least 30 are required to launch an appeal), the president, the cabinet, courts of justice, and the attorney general; in certain cases, self-governments also enjoy this right. Citizens are free to turn to the Constitutional Court if they believe their constitutional rights have been violated by a state organ. In 2005, there were no attempts to mount administrative or political pressure on the Constitutional Court in order to influence its deliberations or verdicts. All concerned institutions unreservedly respected rulings issued by the Constitutional Court. The only problem complicating the Court's performance in 2005 was its incompleteness, as it was 2 judges short of the full complement of 13 justices prescribed by the Constitution. The principal reason for this state of affairs was the Parliament's inability to agree on acceptable candidates; consequently, the president was unable to appoint the 2 remaining seats. The incomplete makeup of the Constitutional Court complicated its decision making, especially the adoption of decisions by a plenum, which requires a majority of all judges (7 out of 13).
The Constitution guarantees all citizens equality before the law regardless of sex, race, skin color, language, religion, political preference, nationality or ethnicity, property status, or other categories. Some population groups encounter problems when exercising the principle of equality, such as inadequate representation of women in public posts, or are confronted with displays of racial discrimination and even racially motivated violence, as in the case of the Roma. Although the police have stepped up the campaign against various radical, nationalistic, Fascist, and neo-Nazi groups over the past two or three years-for instance, breaking up several public events attended by skinheads-law enforcement agencies have been unable to paralyze these groups, which specifically target the Roma, Jews, homosexuals, liberals, democrats, and members of so-called alternative youth groups, among others. Minister of the Interior Vladimir Palko removed two district police chiefs in Bratislava and Trnava on the grounds of ineffective prevention and investigation of such incidents and their participants.
By joining the EU in 2004, the Slovak Republic undertook all related human rights obligations, including enforcement of equal treatment principles. To comply with European Council Guideline No. 2000/43, the Parliament in May 2004 passed the Law on Equal Treatment and Protection Against Discrimination, also known as the Antidiscrimination Law. Among numerous protections, the law allowed for affirmative action with respect to certain groups (especially the Roma). In October 2005, the Constitutional Court issued a ruling in which it argued that the introduction of temporary equalization measures aimed at helping members of disadvantaged population groups, including ethnic minorities, did not comply with the principle of equality before the law that is embodied in the Slovak Constitution. Several members of the cabinet reacted by declaring that the Court's ruling would not discourage state organs from tackling problems that affect the Romany ethnic minority, whose members are confronted with low social status, poor education, poverty, and unemployment. Several years ago, the cabinet established the Office of the Government Plenipotentiary for Romany Communities, currently headed by a Romany woman. In cooperation with state institutions and NGOs, the office is implementing projects aimed at improving the situation of the Roma in education, health service, housing, job opportunities, and culture.
In May 2005, the Parliament passed a new penal code and code of penal procedure. The most serious and socially dangerous crimes are considered those against life and health, followed by crimes against freedom, human dignity, family, and youth; the third category includes property and economic crimes, while crimes against the government dropped from the top to the bottom. Punishments for verbal offenses remained-for instance, defamation of the nation, race, and political and religious opinions, including denying the Holocaust. The new code authorizes alternative punishment for less serious criminal offenses and lowers the age limit for criminal prosecution to 14 years.
Slovakia has a three-level judicial system-the Supreme Court, 8 regional courts, and 45 district courts-administered jointly by the president, the Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Council, and the Supreme Court. The president appoints judges acting on proposals from the Judicial Council, which is the principal organ of self-governance within the judiciary. The Ministry of Justice appoints chairmen and vice chairmen of particular courts.
International monitors have confirmed that the Slovak judiciary is independent to a satisfactory degree. However, the public's sense of legal safety continued to be impaired by the courts' inefficiency, which is exacerbated by an overwhelming and slow-moving backlog of cases. It is hoped that the new penal code will accelerate judicial proceedings-for example, by extending the scope of litigation in which a court of appeals may issue final verdicts instead of referring matters back to lower courts for repeated hearings. Public trust in the courts is also undermined by a relatively widespread belief that the judiciary is severely plagued by corruption, and several judges have been caught accepting bribes over the years.
Corruption is a frequent issue of public debate in Slovakia. Public opinion polls label corruption as one of the most pressing social problems, trailing only living standards and social security, unemployment, and health care. According to a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Institute at the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, most citizens believe that corruption exists in health care (71 percent), while others perceive it within the judiciary (34 percent), education system (31 percent), business (19 percent), the police (18 percent), district and regional authorities (16 percent), and the privatization process (14 percent). According to a March 2005 survey conducted by the FOCUS agency, people believe that corruption is a greater problem in the central government than at the local self-governance level.
The government's greatest challenges have been to improve the existing legislative environment (implementing administrative measures that effectively curb the space for corruption) and to mete out effective punishment for all parties involved. Adopted in November 2002, the current administration's program manifesto stressed the importance of fighting corruption; and in the following year, the government established a specialized Department of Combating Corruption. In 2003, this authority was transferred to the minister of justice. Next, the government established the Special Court of Justice and Special Prosecutor's Department, both of which focus on combating corruption.
In 2004, the Parliament approved a constitutional Law on Conflicts of Interest. This bans the president, members of the cabinet, justices of the Constitutional Court, and other top officials from pursuing any business activities, receiving pay for brokering deals between the government and private entities or corporations, or receiving income generated by either a side job or a contracted business relation that exceeds the minimum wage. Civil and public service laws precisely circumscribe the process for selecting, appointing, supervising, and remunerating civil servants. Other bills have sought to introduce the principle of zero tolerance for corruption among notaries and marshals, compulsory disclosure for customs officers, protection of whistle-blowers in the workplace and witnesses in court cases, and the post of controller in bodies of local and regional self-governance.
In 2005, the Parliament passed several other pieces of legislation aimed at combating various forms of corruption. One of the most important was an amendment to the Law on Public Procurement that introduced an obligation for all government organs to inform the Office of Public Procurement two weeks prior to concluding a procurement contract. This new requirement should make the process of public procurement more transparent. Besides making publicly available information on the salaries of civil servants and other public officials, an amendment to the Law on Free Access to Information introduced an obligation to publish information on any transfer of property of the state, a self-governance body, or a public institution to private individuals.
The new Law on Political Parties introduced stricter rules on party financial management. All political parties must now submit their complete annual financial reports to independent auditors; previously, parties were required to submit only financial statements for an audit. Another piece of legislation that is expected to have an impact on corruption is the constitutional amendment that extended the control powers of the NKU with respect to self-governance bodies, firms with some share of state ownership, and public institutions and firms pursuing activities in the public interest. The new penal code allows "agent provocateurs"to take the initiative in inciting corrupt acts among those public officials who are reasonably suspected of a proclivity to corruption.
Unfortunately, practical implementation of anticorruption measures often clashes with the passivity or even open resistance of officials at both central and local levels. Also, practical experience shows that the impact of some legislative and administrative measures has been rather limited. Although Transparency International Slovakia observed in October 2005 that the government, during its first three years in office, had fulfilled most of the tasks specified in its Anticorruption Program, some measures were not as effective as hoped. For instance, the performance of the parliamentary Committee for Conflicts of Interest has been unsatisfactory, as the committee has not once sanctioned parliamentarians who fail to observe all provisions of the Law on Conflicts of Interest regarding submission of compulsory disclosures. According to Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index, Slovakia's index score of 4.3 represents an improvement over the 2004 index score of 4.0, on a scale ranging between 10 (highly clean) and 0 (highly corrupt).
All institutions financed from public funds are subject to the supervisory authority of the NKU. Although top officials of the NKU are elected by the Parliament, this agency is fully independent from any political pressure when exercising its powers and performing its duties. Its findings are made public via all types of media, including the Internet, and often become the focus of vivid public debate.
Slovakia has a number of independent NGOs that are very active in fighting corruption and promoting transparency and accountability in public life, including Transparency International Slovakia, Alliance for Transparency and Corruption Combat, Alliance to Stop Conflicts of Interest, and Fair Play Alliance. There have been no attempts by the state or private individuals to hinder the activities of these groups or intimidate their activists in 2005.
The police encourage citizens possessing information on corrupt civil servants or a personal experience of corruption to participate in exposing concrete cases. The total number of corruption crimes cleared by the police in 2004 was 163. During 2005, the Anticorruption Bureau at the Presidium of the Slovak Police Force investigated 238 corruption crimes, 188 cases were finalized and submitted to prosecutors' offices for further procedure . According to the Office of Prosecutor General, 67 persons were accused in corruption crimes in 2005 and 31 were sentenced. Those numbers included some top officials: a member of Parliament, the chairman of the Raca District Council in Bratislava, the deputy mayor of Kosice, the mayor of Cadca, the mayor of Velky Meder, the director of an employment agency in Presov, the head of the regional land office in Trnava, the director of the land office in Galanta, and the chairman of the local council in Horna Poton. The police detained most of these public officials in the process of accepting bribes. In May 2005, a parliamentarian, Gabriel Karlin, was convicted of bribery. The party affiliations of prosecuted persons had no impact on the course of investigations or the legal actions taken against them, as the list of investigated and indicted persons includes members or nominees of ruling parties (SDKU, KDH, SMK, ANO) as well as the opposition (HZDS).
Scandals involving clientelism or corruption had a strong impact on the Slovak political scene in 2005. In September, Pavol Rusko was removed from his post as minister of the economy on the grounds of having conducted obscure financial operations incompatible with holding a public post. In October, Social Affairs Minister Ludovit Kanik resigned after coming under strong public pressure prompted by the participation of his wife's firm in a public tender to acquire financial assistance from EU funds (although it did not win the tender). Representatives of opposition parties regularly accused the minority ruling coalition of "buying"the votes of independent MPs in order to secure ad hoc majorities before crucial votes. After joining the opposition in September 2005, ANO chairman Pavol Rusko published a secretly videotaped conversation of a former parliamentarian for ANO who allegedly had been offered money for remaining loyal to the ruling coalition. While the content of the conversation failed to prove the involvement of corruption, neither did it dissipate the suspicion. The Slovak police have already launched an investigation into the matter.