Slovakia | Freedom House

Nations in Transit

Slovakia

Nations in Transit 2016
Regime Classification: 
Consolidated Democracy
Democracy Score: 
2.61
Each spoke of the spider graph represents one category of NIT rated from 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The NIT 2016 ratings reflect the period from 1 January through 31 December 2015.
Nations in Transit Category and Democracy Scores
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
National Democratic Governance 2.25 2.50 2.75 3.00 2.75 2.75 2.75 3.00 3.00 3.00
Electoral Process 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.75 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.50
Civil Society 1.50 1.50 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75
Independent Media 2.25 2.50 2.75 3.00 3.00 2.75 2.75 2.75 3.00 3.00
Local Democratic Governance 2.00 2.25 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50
Judicial Framework and Independence 2.25 2.50 2.75 3.00 2.75 2.75 3.00 3.00 3.00 2.75
Corruption 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.75 3.50 3.50 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75
Democracy Score 2.14 2.29 2.46 2.68 2.54 2.50 2.57 2.61 2.64 2.61

NOTE: The ratings reflect the consensus of Freedom House, its academic advisers, and the author(s) of this report. If consensus cannot be reached, Freedom House is responsible for the final ratings. The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 7 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author(s).

Executive Summary: 

While Slovakia is unquestionably a consolidated democracy, corruption, cronyism and illiberal politics remain significant, if not dominant, features of the status quo. Developments in 2015 did not significantly alter this impression.

Slovakia has been among the most obvious economic success stories in post-communist Europe, and with economic growth topping 3 percent in 2015, it is one of the fastest growing economies in the European Union (EU). However, political and judicial reforms have slowed down in recent years, and as the country’s political right splintered, the ruling Direction–Social Democracy (Smer-SD) has cemented the primacy of an already well-developed network of clientelist partners in business, healthcare, and the courts. Smer-SD has also reasserted the state’s important role in the economy, including in social policy and public administration. By the end of 2015, the party gained in public opinion polls—partly due to Prime Minister Robert Fico’s anti-immigrant rhetoric amid the European migration crisis—and was set to stay in power after the March 2016 elections.

In contrast to 2014 with its multiple elections, the year 2015 in Slovakia was largely one of stagnation as political parties strategized for the general election. In September, Fico launched a direct challenge against the EU’s refugee resettlement quotas, an action that proved popular with the Slovak electorate and highlighted a latent xenophobia in the country. The country’s existing Roma minority remains politically and socially marginalized.

The electoral campaign put major structural reforms on hold, with the education, healthcare and judicial sectors remaining the most in need of an overhaul. Healthcare in particular remains the source of repeated public procurement scandals. With medical workers earning low salaries, the scandals prompted a hefty debate about common informal payments made to doctors in a sector where funds rarely seem to be where they are needed.

Much of the government’s political activity in the first half of the year centered on coping with crises, including the continued fallout from a series of scandals in late 2014 that saw the health minister and the speaker of parliament lose their jobs amid allegations of corruption. In April, the government bailed out the insolvent construction firm Váhostav-SK, owned by one of the major donors to Smer-SD. The move stirred controversy since the government rewrote the country’s bankruptcy law in a matter of days. In October, Smer-SD would move just as quickly to alter construction law to lure car company Jaguar Land Rover and a new factory to the country. The hasty nature of these changes will likely have longer-term implications for property rights and add to the inconsistency of the legal regime regulating development. The core construction law, for example, is part of a legal framework that dates from communist Czechoslovakia. 

Among the positive developments, changes already underway in the judiciary at the end of 2014 crystallized further in 2015. The most significant of these saw Stefan Harabin, as of 2014 still the head of both the Supreme Court and the regulatory Judicial Council, further sidelined from power. Harabin’s power in the judiciary was emblematic of the cronyism and politicization of the court system, and his removal has both symbolic and practical impact. After years of delay, in September Slovakia successfully appointed a new judge to the European Court of Human Rights.

While many feared that media acquisitions by controversial investment group Penta—which in 2014 bought a stake in the publishing house Petit Press, the publisher of the country’s most important daily, Sme—will harm media independence, these claims have yet to be justified. Sme more or less maintained an independent editorial line throughout the year. However, Penta launched multiple lawsuits against other publishers in the country, targeting them for publishing opinion pieces that criticized their influence on state policy.

Early in the year, a petition-driven national referendum sought to reaffirm a ban on same-sex couples’ right to marry and adopt children, as well as require parental consent for participation in sexual education in schools. Though those who voted overwhelmingly favored the motions, turnout was well below the required 50 percent of eligible voters required to reach a quorum. In response, and in a significant development for the country’s civil society sector, the LGBTI community reorganized its outreach efforts. By the end of the year, public opinion polls found that a majority of Slovaks favored some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples, though parliamentary action on this looks unlikely in the near term.

Amid a lack of coherent political opposition, President Andrej Kiska has served as a check on the government. Though Kiska possesses little formal power, he used his position to speak out against the government’s policy regarding refugees throughout the year and reiterated Slovakia’s commitment to the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He also sought to use his power to confirm judges appointed by parliament to influence change in the judiciary.  

Score Changes:

  • Judicial Framework and Independence rating improved from 3.00 to 2.75 as positive trends apparent at the end of 2014, specifically related to the removal of Stefan Harabin from key judicial posts, consolidated in 2015.

As a result, Slovakia’s Democracy Score improved from 2.64 to 2.61.

Outlook for 2016: Parliamentary elections will take place in March 2016, and the country will clearly benefit from an end to the campaign maneuvering that crippled meaningful action on key political issues for much of 2015. The outcome of the elections will be closely watched as Slovakia will hold the rotating EU Council presidency in the second half of 2016. The Slovak economy is expected to be among the fastest growing in the EU, and a return to power looks likely for the governing Smer party. Should the party further solidify its political influence and form a one-party government in parliament, Slovakia’s democratic development will likely deteriorate.

National Democratic Governance: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
2.25 2.50 2.75 3.00 2.75 2.75 2.75 3.00 3.00 3.00
  • March 2016 general elections loomed large over the politics of the year, with the second half marked by tactical measures that targeted the election. Prime Minister Robert Fico began framing a case for his Smer-SD party already in April 2015, nearly 11 months before Slovaks take to the polls.[1] The European refugee crisis played a major role in the campaign, and opposition parties were outspoken in claims that the so-called second social package of reforms—a €200 million set of measures that include reduced VAT rates and increased social benefits to regions with high unemployment—amounted to a give-away designed to buy votes.[2] The government unveiled a third package of new social benefits in December.
  • Perhaps the most significant political event of the year was the government’s April decision to bail out the insolvent construction firm Váhostav-SK.[3] Váhostav accumulated significant debts as it signed on to build state highways below cost and subcontracted out significant portions of the work. Close ties between Váhostav-SK’s key shareholder Juraj Śiroký and the ruling Smer-SD prompted concerns about the motivation behind the bailout. The government permanently rewrote the bankruptcy law in a matter of weeks, and the Smer-dominated parliament passed the changes in late April, just days before a deadline for a restructuring plan. Such ad-hoc solutions to larger structural issues have been perceived as a consistent negative feature of the Smer-SD government.
  • Now a full year into his term in office President Andrej Kiska has provided a valuable check on the largely unopposed power of the Smer-SD party, which holds an outright majority in parliament. Kiska’s October speech in parliament presented, for example, a more liberal viewpoint on the European refugee crisis largely lacking from the political discourse, including from the political opposition.[4] The president argued that accepting refugees would mean no threat for Slovakia; his request to speak in parliament was an indication of his intention to contribute more to the public debate.
  • Slovakia was one of four countries (along with the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania) to vote against a European Union (EU) policy aimed at redistributing 120,000 refugees throughout the EU. After the plan’s approval in September, Slovakia categorically refused to implement the policy, though as of year’s end only a handful of refugees have been resettled anywhere. Moreover, in October, Fico’s government moved to sue the EU at the European Court of Justice, contesting the manner in which the quota policy was decided.[5] Commentators and analysts widely viewed Fico’s vocal opposition to resettling migrants as an attempt to turn xenophobia to his electoral advantage.[6] Indeed there were early indications that Slovakia was making logistical preparations to accept refugees, but the issue remained open to potential abuse for political gain. Behind the scenes, Slovakia has been a willing contributor to the EU solidarity fund meant to deal with the migrant crisis and in July agreed to temporarily house migrants seeking asylum in neighboring Austria on a former military base.[7] It seems likely that the rhetoric will be less combative post-election, but opposition to accepting migrants was widespread among the public at year’s end.
Electoral Process: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
1.50 1.50 1.50 1.75 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.50 1.50
  • After a busy year in 2014 with presidential, European Parliament, and local elections, 2015 was quiet, with no electoral events. A February referendum on the rights of gay couples, initiated by the civil society group Alliance for the Family, generated significant public debate. However, the discussion did not translate into turnout on voting day. Although voters overwhelmingly supported the three ballot items—banning same-sex marriage (which is already banned in the constitution), preventing same-sex couples from adopting, and allowing an opt-out from sexual education in schools—only 1 million people cast ballots, about 21 percent of eligible voters.[8] This was well below the required 50 percent threshold. The low turnout, however, did not necessarily signal Slovaks’ unwillingness to participate in the electoral process, as the strategy used by the initiative’s opponents was to keep the turnout well below the threshold and this way invalidate the results.[9]
  • Slovakia’s party system is undergoing considerable change, creating the possibility for unusual electoral coalitions in the near future. In 2015, the center-right portion of the political spectrum remained splintered and rife with infighting. The disintegration of the once powerful Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) that began in 2014 was all but complete by the end of 2015.[10] Defectors had either moved to other parties or moved to form new parties that had drawn paltry public support.
  • At year’s end, Smer-SD looked poised to win the March 2016 elections. The party’s support was around 40 percent in the polls, which would likely translate into an outright majority in the parliament. Smer was followed by the center-right Sieť party, the Hungarian minority party Most-Híd that has since drawn non-Hungarian defectors from other parties, the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), and the conservative Christian Democrats (KDH).[11] In June, the nominally conservative, extraparliamentary NOVA party announced its willingness to cooperate with the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO) movement, an ad hoc collection of populists that formed before the 2012 election. Whether or not that particular arrangement has staying power, the announcement was an indication of the reconsolidation processes to come.[12] Another election victory for Smer would almost certainly accelerate this process.
Civil Society: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
1.50 1.50 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75
  • In June 2015, leaders of the LGBTI community cancelled their annual pride march in Bratislava, the capital, citing a general “bad mood” and concluding that the march would inflame conservative opposition rather than improve relations with them.[13] Though initially perceived as a setback for the rights of LGBTI people, the community increased its outreach efforts at the same time, sharing stories of LGBTI individuals and couples with the wider public. In the same month, 39 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) formed a coalition that pledged to campaign on behalf of same-sex partners.[14] By October, a poll found that a majority of Slovaks support some form of legal recognition for same-sex couples.[15] However, no mainstream political party advocated a similar change in its election platform.
  • Debate over the European refugee crisis saw both sides of the discussion tap civil society resources to voice their views. Extremist groups mobilized anti-immigrant sentiment and strengthened collaboration between right-wing groups from other countries.[16] In August, police stopped a march led by Marian Kotleba, a regional governor and head of the far right People’s Party–Our Slovakia (ĽSNS) political party.[17] Elsewhere, in October, a loose coalition of citizens came together to form the Výzva k ľudskosti (Plea for Humanity) initiative in support of humane treatment for refugees,[18] while other nonprofit groups began collecting donations and organizing volunteers.[19]
  • For years, companies had been permitted to divert up to 2 percent of their taxes to NGOs, which had proved a substantial source of revenue—about €52 million in 2014 or up to 10 percent of the sector’s entire annual intake. However, changes to the tax code that came into effect in 2015 limited this deduction to a maximum of 1 percent. The shift sparked an outcry from NGOs, and the nonprofit sector entered lengthy negotiations with the Finance Ministry to amend the policy. A new exception, adopted in May allows private firms to assign 2 percent of their corporate taxes if they are also willing to contribute 0.5 percent of their profits.[20] NGOs consider this a significant improvement.[21]
  • Slovak trade unions remain influential and closely allied with the current government. In October, the parliament voted to raise the country’s minimum wage by €25 per month to €405 a month for a full-time worker.[22] Medical workers’ unions also successfully lobbied the government for increased salaries for employees in both public and private healthcare institutions.[23] In June, trade unions successfully negotiated a raise for workers at the PSA Peugeot Citroën plant in Trnava.[24] However, the close connections between union leadership and the governing party also raise questions about the independence of trade unions.
Independent Media: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
2.25 2.50 2.75 3.00 3.00 2.75 2.75 2.75 3.00 3.00
  • In January, a group of disgruntled journalists formerly working for Sme, the country’s most prominent daily, launched a new daily newspaper, Dennik N.[25] The journalists resigned their posts near the end of 2014, after major financial group Penta invested in Sme’s parent company Petit Press. Penta has been allegedly implicated in number of political scandals in recent years, including the still unresolved Gorilla scandal that connected top Penta officials, and their finances, to politicians from across the political spectrum.[26] Though there were numerous concerns about whether Sme would be able to maintain its editorial independence amid Penta’s minority stake, there was little sign of interference during 2015. 
  • Penta, however, did show a predilection for conflict with other media in the country. The financial group filed a series of lawsuits against prominent Slovak publishers, including N Press, the parent company of Dennik N, which it targeted four separate times during 2015.[27] They also sued the daily Hospodárske noviny. All the civil suits targeted opinion pieces that were critical of Penta, and the company was seeking financial damages and public apologies for libel.[28]
  • Defamation suits have been a common practice in Slovakia in recent years, with judgments against publishers frequently reaching hundreds of thousands of euros. In 2015, former Supreme Court chief Štefan Harabin continued to use the court system to sue detractors from the media and use his influence in the judiciary to affect outcomes. In the highest profile such case, he sought €300,000 in damages from the public broadcaster RTVS. He later dropped a €100,000 claim tied to Renáta Papšová—a doctor who claimed on STV that Harabin’s methods of controlling the judiciary contributed to the deaths of two of her patients—after she had apologized. As of year’s end the €200,000 suit against RTVS remained active, with a new judge likely to take up the case in 2016.[29] Criminal prosecution in the so-called Bonanno case, a series of lawsuits by group of judges targeting publisher Ringier Axel Springer and asking for a total of €1.8 million in damages, stopped in November 2015. Earlier in June, an appellate court ordered the Nový Čas daily to publish a front-page apology.[30]
  • In general, media in Slovakia are owned by wealthy oligarchs and companies with significant political and commercial interests—a departure from the past when foreign (mostly German or Austrian) media chains controlled key outlets. In August, the National Crime Agency raided the offices of publisher regionPRESS in connection with an ongoing investigation into alleged impropriety during the 2014 presidential election and purported tax evasion.[31] The initial scandal saw Sieť leader and presidential candidate Radoslav Procházka express interest in off the books advertisements in regionPRESS publications, which would have allowed his campaign to bypass spending rules. The family of another opposition leader, Igor Matovic, owns regionPRESS, prompting speculation that the raid was also timed to coincide with campaigning for the March 2016 general election.[32]
  • In March, more than two dozen book publishers claimed that the financial group J&T, which owns significant stakes in the media, was moving to monopolize the country’s publishing industry.[33] They contended that the combination of ownership stakes in the country’s largest book seller, Panta Rhei, and book distributor, Ikar, threatened the independence of publishers as J&T moved to alter Panta Rhei’s business model.[34] Though the culture ministry expressed concern over the developments, there was no regulatory action taken.    
Local Democratic Governance: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
2.00 2.25 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.50
  • Beginning in March, Slovakia’s central government threatened to strip the Banská Bystrica regional government of its ability to administer EU funds.[35] This move came in response to the erratic governing style of the region’s governor, Marian Kotleba, a right-wing extremist from ĽSNS, who won the region’s 2013 election amid a paltry turnout. His lack of management competence and ideological opposition to tapping money from Brussels has likely cost the region millions of euros in development funds. Still, many people were concerned about the threat to strip the region of the power to administer funds from Brussels, as Smer has shown a predilection for centralizing power in Bratislava at the expense of a more federalist track laid out by earlier governments. In December, the National Labor Inspectorate announced that the region had employed people illegally and hence became ineligible for EU funds.[36]
  • In an August referendum, nearly 97 percent of Gabčíkovo’s residents objected to using a shuttered military base to house refugees.[37] The national government had pledged to house 500 asylum seekers on behalf of neighboring Austria. Though the government sought to express sympathy with the vote, it nonetheless moved forward with its plans, citing the lack of constitutional provisions that make local referenda binding at the national level. The Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia accepted the decision but insisted that the symbolic nature of the vote was nonetheless productive for making local opinion heard.[38]
  • A fast track overhaul of construction law passed in October is designed to attract international investors to the country by lessening the administrative burden on large companies in the planning and building process.[39] It came as the government successfully convinced carmaker Jaguar Land Rover to construct a new plant near the city of Nitra.[40] The changes limit local input in the permitting process of investments deemed to have strategic relevance. Watchdog groups have criticized the content of the law, especially the streamlined environmental permitting process and the increased power to acquire property from private landowners, as well as the hasty manner in which it was passed.[41]
  • Administrative problems in the case of a dozen villages that had failed to elect mayors in the November 2014 municipal elections lingered into 2015. Some of the mayors stayed on temporarily while other offices simply remained vacant.[42] In most cases, the settlements are small and populated predominantly by senior citizens. However, the Slovak constitution makes no provision for dealing with situations where no one is running for office, and proposed reforms to merge village governments have drawn little support. A more likely solution, proposed by the Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia (ZMOS), is to keep small villages nominally separate in an electoral sense, even as they share certain administrative features.
  • A study released in March found major shortfalls in the campaigning practices deployed during the November 2014 local elections.[43] Just one-third of the 70 candidates in the country’s eight regional capitals made their campaign financing and spending publicly available. Slovak election law does not regulate campaign spending at the local level, and there is no apparent move to bolster rules that would require such disclosures. Elsewhere many other small towns still lack a website, limiting citizens’ abilities to interact with public officials.[44]
Judicial Framework and Independence: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
2.25 2.50 2.75 3.00 2.75 2.75 3.00 3.00 3.00 2.75
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) approved Slovakia’s appointee to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in September. Former Supreme Court judge Alena Poláčková’s appointment came after the rejection of three previous candidates (two by the Council of Europe and one by the Slovak parliament). Poláčková replaced Ján Šikuta, who stayed on despite his term expiring more than two years earlier.[45] The inability to find a qualified replacement had been widely perceived as a black mark on the Slovak judiciary.[46]
  • Former Supreme Court head Štefan Harabin’s influence on the judiciary significantly decreased in 2014 and 2015. Harabin’s direct influence on high profile rulings, the appointment of judges, and self-regulatory bodies meant both symbolic and actual control over a judicial system beholden to politics and private interests.[47] After fellow judges forced him out as head of the Supreme Court and the Judicial Council, the judiciary’s regulatory body; he was stripped of his post as head of the Supreme Court’s penal college in September 2015. This latest development came after a panel led by Harabin cleared several police officers convicted of graft,[48] freeing them from custody in July.[49] His declining influence is a positive development for the judiciary and an indication that a critical mass within the judiciary is asserting independence. While he remained a Supreme Court judge, Harabin is set to face more disciplinary action over repeated failure to convene his court panel and rulings that released a convicted sex criminal.[50]
  • Public confidence in the judiciary remains low and according to a poll released in October, a full 74 percent of people do not trust the country’s court system.[51] In addition, 64 percent of respondents said they did not see any positive changes in the judiciary over the past year. However, the Via Iuris judicial watchdog NGO blamed the poor results on the continued negative publicity generated by Harabin. Meanwhile surveys of business leaders also regularly express concern with the quality of the court system, including the principle of “equality before the law”.[52] Commercial litigation takes longer than 500 days on average, one of the longest waiting periods in the EU, and has actually grown longer in recent years. Overall clearance rates are also among the lowest in the EU.[53] At the same time, the World Bank ranks Slovakia higher than its regional counterparts in ease of doing business, a survey that counts assorted legal processes as key criteria.[54] 
  • A one day strike by judicial workers in February prompted the government to agree to increased funding for the court system, boosting finances by €45 million over the next two years.[55] However, successful prosecution and high-level convictions remain a rarity in Slovakia. In September, the Specialized Criminal Court upheld the conviction and jail sentences of an ex-diplomat and a top aide to a former prime minister and sent him to prison.[56]
  • In implementing a controversial constitutional amendment from last year, new judges were forced to undergo a security clearance procedure in September.[57] The European Commission has criticized the measure and some contend the procedure offers the chance for the executive branch to interfere with the selection of judges. Others, at the same time, note that it will further delay the appointment of judges, as the screening process takes between five months and a year. For now, the screening process has only been applied to newly appointed judges. The law was meant to apply to sitting judges as well, but they challenged that provision before the Constitutional Court in September 2014, with a judgment still pending at year's end.
  • Though the Supreme Court ruled in September that Slovakia’s police inspectorate is lawful, the manner in which the police force regulates itself remains controversial in practice.[58] The inspectorate, which is tasked with investigating wrongdoing within the police force, repeatedly cleared officers in the past. Most recently, the treatment of refugees in the Medveďov camp has raised questions about police violence.[59] Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová has consistently criticized the arrangement and outside observers have expressed doubt about the inspectorate’s independence.[60] Dubovcová and the government continued to clash over human rights issues, similar to previous years.
  • President Andrej Kiska blocked several judicial appointments by the ruling Smer party, including five of six candidates for the Constitutional Court in July.[61] He has also become an outspoken advocate of reform in the judiciary, bringing increased public scrutiny to a sector regularly cited as a public concern in opinion polling.[62] 
Corruption: 
2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016
3.25 3.25 3.25 3.75 3.50 3.50 3.75 3.75 3.75 3.75
  • Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index ranks Slovakia among the most corrupt countries in Central Europe, with its score declining for the past four years.[63] Surveys of businesspeople note corruption and the failure to successfully prosecute wrongdoing among the biggest concerns for doing business in the country.[64] Additionally, informal payments in the healthcare sector persist; and the head of the domestic intelligence services admitted during his annual testimony that shell companies—often used to avoid paying taxes or divert profits—remain a problem.[65] A full 90 percent of Slovaks consider corruption a major problem, according to the European Commission.[66]
  • In April, the parliament amended a law that sought to limit shell companies’ ability to participate in competitions for public contracts.[67] The law, which had only been passed in January, was meant to create a public register that would disclose the ownership structure of any company bidding on a state project. Critics noted that the changes watered it down, applying the law only to public procurements instead of all contracts where public money is spent. [68] Although the president had already vetoed the original version of the law on the grounds that it lacked teeth, the Smer dominated parliament overrode the veto with simple majority vote.[69]
  • In a prevailing pattern from 2014, significant scandals in the state healthcare sector persisted throughout 2015. Though such scandals continue to generate significant media coverage, they largely represent the status quo in a sector that has long been neglected and remains an area of collusion between politicians and private business interests. Dubious contracts at the state-run health insurer prompted an investigation in September, revealing that the former director signed off on several contracts with companies owned by his aunt.[70] Within days, it became clear that his replacement had also signed questionable contracts in his earlier position as head of a hospital.[71] The same month saw the director of another hospital charged with corruption related to overpriced medical equipment at a Piešťany hospital.
  • A new law granting protection for whistleblowers went into effect in January. Among other things, it seeks to prevent people who report corrupt or unjust practices from being punished by their employers.[72] In perhaps the first notable application of the law, the judiciary did not prosecute a family who had lodged bribery allegations against cardiac surgeon Viliam Fischer in one of the year’s highest profile cases of healthcare sector corruption. The family had paid Fischer €3,000 in three installments to bump their relative up on the list of scheduled surgeries. Despite the surgery, the woman later died. In April, Fischer took a plea bargain and received a two-year suspended sentence, probation of four years, a €15,000 fine, a three-year ban practicing medicine, and was forced to return €800 to the family.[73] The fact that the family could come forward with the allegations might set a precedent for others.
  • Slovakia’s most sweeping case of alleged corruption, the so-called Gorilla file, remains unresolved. First unearthed publicly in December 2011, the document includes transcripts of alleged discussions between influential businesspeople and high-level politicians, and indicates the profound influence of the Penta investment group on state policy. There were no prosecutions in 2015, but in February, a police official confirmed publicly for the first time that the file is authentic.[74] Still, little progress was apparent in the case as entrenched elites from across the political spectrum have little interest in exposing the associated wrongdoing. After opposition parties called for him to testify before parliament, Special Prosecutor Dušan Kováčik twice declined to appear at scheduled sessions.[75] When he later did appear in June, the Smer-dominated parliament rebuffed opposition efforts to probe continued delays in the case and pushed through a weak resolution that merely reiterated the importance of resolving the case.[76]  
Notes: 

Author: Benjamin Cunningham

Benjamin Cunningham is a Prague based writer and journalist. He is a frequent contributor to The Economist, Politico, The Guardian, and a columnist for the Slovak daily Sme.

 

[1] Minerachova, Radka, “Fico speech lauds success, launches 2016 campaign,” The Slovak Spectator, 20 April 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056927/fico-speech-lauds-successes-launches-2016-campaign.html

[2] “Government social packages cause uproar,” The Slovak Spectator, 6 August 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20059295/government-social-packages-cause-uproar.html

[3] Benjamin Cunningham, “Slovakia pledges to bail out Vahostav SK subcontractors,” Business New Europe, 21 April 2015, http://www.bne.eu/content/story/slovakia-pledges-bail-out-vahostav-sk-subcontractors

[4] Michaela Terenzani, “Kiska: Slovakia’s lack of solidarity is a failed policy,” The Slovak Spectator, 8 October 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20061421/kiska-slovakias-lack-of-solidarity-is-a-failed-policy.html

[5] “Fico neustúpi. Žalobu pre kvoty podáme do 18. decembra” [Fico persists. We will present our action on quotas December 18], Sme, 15 October 2015, http://www.sme.sk/c/8038088/fico-neustupi-zalobu-pre-kvoty-podame-do-18-decembra.html

[6] Tomáš Lukačovský, “Voľby 2016: Zatienia utečenci a vedrá špiny záujem o školstvo a zdravotníctvo?” [Election 2016: Refugees and buckets of dirt eclipse education and health?], Denník N, 25 September 2015, https://dennikn.sk/blog/volby-2016-zatienia-utecenci-a-vedra-spiny-zaujem-o-skolstvo-a-zdravotnictvo/

[7] Michaela Terenzani, “Government to house refugees in Gabčikovo,” The Slovak Spectator, 24 July 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20059020/government-to-house-refugees-in-gabcikovo.html 

[8] “Slovak turnout too slim to strengthen ban on gay marriage,” Reuters, 7 February 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-slovakia-referendum-idUSKBN0LB0TZ20150208

[9] Radka Minerachova, “Updated: LGBTI advocate addresses referendum,” The Slovak Spectator, 26 January 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20053220/updated-lgbti-advocate-addresses-referendum.html

[10] “MEP Štefanec leaves SDKÚ,” The Slovak Spectator, 19 February 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056213/mep-stefanec-leaves-sdku.html

[11] “Prieskum Polis: Voľby by vyhral Smer, SaS by sa do parlamentu nedostala,” Sme, 26 October 2015, http://www.sme.sk/c/8049722/prieskum-polis-volby-by-vyhral-smer-sas-by-sa-do-parlamentu-nedostala.html

[12] “Prieskum: Smer by vol’by vyhral, koalícia Ol’aNO a NOVA je tretia” [Survey: Smer would win an election and the new coalition of OĽaNO and NOVA is third], Aktuality.sk, 27 July 2015, http://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/300680/prieskum-smer-by-volby-vyhral-koalicia-olano-s-novou-je-tretia/

[13] “Pride parade postponed to 2016, due to ‘bad mood,’” The Slovak Spectator, 4 June 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057806/pride-parade-postponed-to-2016-due-to-bad-mood.html

[14] “NGOs join forces to advocate registered partnerships in Slovakia,” Radio Slovakia International, 3 June 2015, http://en.rsi.rtvs.sk/articles/news/81714/ngos-join-forces-to-advocate-registered-partnerships-in-slovakia

[15] “Survey: Majority of Slovaks support life partnerships,” The Slovak Spectator, 8 October 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20061452/survey-majority-of-slovaks-support-life-partnerships.html

[16] “Kotleba s maďarskými extrémistami potiahne na Gabčíkovo” [Kotleba with Hungarian extremists draws on Gabčíkovo], Pravda, 30 August 2015, http://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/366170-kotleba-s-madarskymi-extremistami-potiahne-na-gabcikovo/

[17] Roman Cuprik, “Police stopped extremists’s ride to Gabčíkovo,” The Slovak Spectator, 3 September 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20060001/police-stopped-extremists-ride-to-gabcikovo.html

[18] “Výzva k ľudskosti” [Plea for Humanity], http://www.vyzvakludskosti.sk

[19] Roman Cuprik, “Slovaks uniting to help migrants,” The Slovak Spectator, 9 September 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20060232/slovaks-uniting-to-help-migrants.html

[20] Eric Rédli, “NGOs reach assignation agreement with FinMin,” The Slovak Spectator, 25 June 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20058410/ngos-reach-assignation-agreement-with-finmin.html

[21] Fedor Blaščák, “For Slovakia, Lessons in Effective Activism,” Open Society Foundations, 10 August 2015, https://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/slovakia-lessons-effective-activism

[22] “Odborári sú s rastom minimálnej mzdy spokojní, zamestnávatelia nan nevidia dovod” [Trade unions are happy with the minimum wage, employers see no reason for it], Aktualne.sk, 7 October 2015, http://aktualne.atlas.sk/odborari-su-s-rastom-minimalnej-mzdy-spokojni-z...

[23] “UPDATED: Medical workers salaries will increase next year,” The Slovak Spectator, 15 December 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20066923/president-vetoes-law-on-pay-for-medical-workers.html

[24] “V trnavskej automobilke štrajk nebude, odbory a vedenie sa dohodli” [In Trnava autoworkers will not strike, unions and management agreed], Teraz, 26 June 2015, http://www.teraz.sk/slovensko/v-trnavskej-automobilke-strajk-nebude/142864-clanok.html

[25] “Slovensko má nový deník. Vyšlo první číslo novin s názvem Denník N” [Slovakia has a new daily. The first issue of a newspaper called Denník N], Hospodářske noviny, 30 January 2015, http://byznys.ihned.cz/c1-63458830-slovensko-ma-novy-denik-vyslo-prvni-cislo-novin-s-nazvem-dennik-n

[26] “Special Prosecutor Kováčik mum on Gorilla investigation,” The Slovak Spectator, 13 May 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057303/special-prosecutor-kovacik-mum-on-gorilla-investigation.html

[27] “Penta filed fourth lawsuit against Denník N,” The Slovak Spectator, 5 October 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20061179/penta-filed-fourth-lawsuit-against-dennik-n.html

[28] Monika Tódová, “Penta podala na Denník N druhú žalobu, chce 5-tisíc eur a prevenciu” [Penta files second lawsuit against Denník N, wants five thousand euros and prevention], Denník N, 30 September 2015, https://dennikn.sk/255722/penta-podala-dennik-n-druhu-zalobu-chce-5-tisic-eur-posobit-preventivne/

[29] “Psychiatrist apologizes to Harabin,” The Slovak Spectator, 11 September 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20060299/psychiatrist-apologises-to-harabin.html; “RTVS vykreslila Harabina, skoro ako vraha’, tvrdí Oklamčak” [RTVS portrayed Harabin almost list a murderer, says Oklamčak], Pravda, 11 November 2015, http://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/373565-rtvs-vykreslila-harabina-sk...

[30] “Courts see the Bonnano case differently,” The Slovak Spectator, 9 June 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057917/courts-see-the-bonanno-case-differently.html; “Prosecution in Bonanno case halted,” The Slovak Spectator, 14 January 2016, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20072437/prosecution-in-bonanno-case-halted.html

[31] “Také kotrmelce ako od Matoviča občan nezažil, tvrdí Horský” [In addition to somersaults, citizens experience hard reality from Matovič], Pravda, 14 August 2015, http://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/364546-fico-poprel-ze-by-mal-ucet-na-belize-ako-naznacuje-matovic/

[32] Michaela Terenzani, “Campaign heats up with Fico allegations,” The Slovak Spectator, 20 August 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20059661/campaign-heats-up-with-fico-allegations.html

[33] “Vydavatelia kíh prehovorili o pratikách Panta Rhei a J&T” [Book publishers speak out about the practices of Panta Rhei and J&T], Denník N, 2 March, 2015, https://dennikn.sk/61941/vydavatelia-ziadaju-panta-rhei-aby-nevnasala-na-trh-nekale-praktiky/?ref=in

[34] Oliver Rehák, “Prečo sa vydavatelia boja Panta Rhei a čo s tým má J&T” [Why publishers are struggling with Panta Rhei and what J&T has], Denník N, 3 March 2015, https://dennikn.sk/62614/ako-zmeni-panta-rhei-knizny-trh/

[35] Michaela Terenzani, “Kotleba may be stripped of power to administer EU funds,” The Slovak Spectator, 9 March 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056438/kotleba-may-be-stripped-of-power-to-administer-eu-funds.html

[36] “Kotleba employed illegally, region loses EU-funds,” The Slovak Spectator, 3 December 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20065430/kotleba-employed-illegally-region-loses-eu-funds.html

[37] “Referendum nič nemení. Kaliňák trvá na ubytovaní utečenov v Gabčíkove” [The referendum does not change anything. Kaliňák insists refugees will stay in Gabčikovo], Pravda, 3 August 2015, http://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/363454-referendum-nic-nemeni-kalinak-trva-na-ubytovani-utecencov-v-gabcikove/

[38] “Referndum v Gabčíkove nič nezmení, s utečneckým táborom sa tam počita už roky” [Referendum in Gabčíkovo will not change anything, a refugee camp is foreseen for years], Aktualne.sk, 3 August 2015, http://aktualne.atlas.sk/referendum-v-gabcikove-nic-nezmeni-s-uteceneckym-taborom-sa-tam-pocita-uz-roky/slovensko/politika/

[39] Jana Liptakova, “MPs approve changes to construction law,” The Slovak Spectator, 2 October 2015,  http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20061060/mps-approve-changes-to-construction-law.html

[40] “Minúta po Minúte” [Minute by Minute], Denník N, 10 October 2015, https://dennikn.sk/minuta/264845/?ref=viac

[41] “Apelujeme na poslancov, aby neschváalili novelu stavebného zákona” [We call on MPs to not approve the amendment to the Building Act], Via Iuris, 30 September 2015, http://www.viaiuris.sk/aktualne/566-apelujeme-na-poslancov-aby-ne.html

[42] Roman Cuprik, “Village of 17 citizens exposes gap in Constitution,” The Slovak Spectator, 6 May 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057206/village-of-17-citizens-exposes-gap-in-constitution.html

[43] “Financovanie kampane vo voľbách primátorov krajských miest” [Campaign financing for elections of mayor of regional capitals], Institute for Public Affairs, 16 March 2015, http://www.ivo.sk/7676/sk/aktuality/financovanie-kampane-vo-volbach-primatorov-krajskych-miest

[44] “Some villages still without websites,” The Slovak Spectator, 28 April 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056950/some-villages-still-without-websites.html

[45] “Alena Poláčková bude slovenskou sudkyňou Európskeho súdu pre ľudské práva” [Alena Poláčková will be the Slovak judge on the European Court of Human Rights], Sme, 29 September 2015, http://www.sme.sk/c/8019692/alena-polackova-bude-slovenskou-sudkynou-europskeho-sudu-pre-ludske-prava.html                 

[46] Michaela Terenzani, “Strasbourg Rejects Proposed Judges,” The Slovak Spectator, 13 October 2014, http://spectator.sme.sk/articles/view/55520/2/strasbourg_rejects_proposed_judges.html

[48] Michaela Terenzani, “Harabin releases third convicted police officer,” The Slovak Spectator, 29 July 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20059114/harabin-releases-third-convicted-police-officer.html

[49] “Policajná inšpekcia čaká na ortiel sudcov” [Police inspection awaiting the verdict of judges], Pravda, 28 September 2015, http://spravy.pravda.sk/domace/clanok/368956-policajna-inspekcia-caka-na-ortiel-sudcov/

[50] “Úder pre Harabina. Na najvyššom súde mu hrozí koniec” [Blow to Harabin. The Supreme Court threatens an end], Hospodarske noviny, 4 October 2015, http://hn.hnonline.sk/slovensko-119/uder-pre-harabina-na-najvyssom-sude-mu-hrozi-koniec-930076; “Harabin may lose judicial post,” The Slovak Spectator, 25 November 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20064656/harabin-may-lose-his-judicial-post.html

[51] “Dôvera voči súdom opäť klesla” [Trust in courts declined again], Via Iuris, 7 October 2015, http://www.viaiuris.sk/aktualne/568-dovera-voci-sudom-opat-kl.html

[52] “Podnikatelia sa stažujú na súdnictvo a zvýhodnovanie Váhostavu” [Entrepreneurs complain about the judiciary and favoring Váhostav], Business Alliance of Slovakia, 25 August, 2015, http://alianciapas.sk/category/pravidelne_aktivity/index_podnikatelskeho_prostredia/

[55] “Judiciary to get extra €45 million over next two years,” The Slovak Spectator, 8 April 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056835/judiciary-to-get-extra-45-million-over-two-years.html

[56] “Radičovej exporadca z kauzy Osrblie nastúpil do vazenia” [Radičová advisor admitted to prison over the Osrblie case], Sme, 22 September 2015, http://www.sme.sk/c/8010378/radicovej-exporadca-z-kauzy-osrblie-nastupil-do-vazenia.html

[57] Radka Minerachova, “New security clearance for judges implemented,” The Slovak Spectator, 2 October 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20061056/new-security-clearances-for-judges-implemented.html

[58] “Supreme Court: Police inspectorate is lawful,” The Slovak Spectator, 30 September 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20060938/supreme-court-police-inspectorate-is-lawful.html

[59] Monika Todová, “Proti ute4encom v Medveďove zasahovali policajti, ktorí nevedeli po anglicky” [Police who did not know English interfered with refugees in Medveďov], Denník N, 28 September 2015, https://dennikn.sk/253036/put-your-hands-stol-znela-vyzva-policajta-utecencom-medvedove/

[60] “Ombudsmanka: MV ani inšpekcia nie sú nezávislé na posúdenie Moldavy” [Ombudswoman: MV inspection is not an independent assessment of Moldava], Roma Media Center, 23 August 2013, http://www.mecem.sk/1498/ombudsmanka-mv-ani-inspekcia-nie-su-nezavisle-na-posudenie-moldavy

[61] “Constitutional Court may be blocked,” The Slovak Spectator, 29 October 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20062665/constitutional-court-may-be-blocked.html

[62] “Kiska: Time to end the Harabin style judiciary,” The Slovak Spectator, 23 July 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20059026/kiska-time-to-end-harabin-style-judiciary.html

[63] “Corruption Perceptions Index 2015,” Transparency International, accessed 8 February 2016, http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015#results-table

 [64] “Podnikatelia sa stažujú na súdnictvo a zvýhodnovanie Váhostavu” [Entrepreneurs complain about the judiciary and favoring Váhostav], Business Alliance of Slovakia, 25 August 2015, http://alianciapas.sk/category/pravidelne_aktivity/index_podnikatelskeho_prostredia/

[65] Benjamin Cunningham, “Patients bearing gifts,” The Economist, 24 March 2015, http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21647087-central-and-eastern-europe-low-paid-doctors-accept-bribes-and-patients-offer-them-patients-bearing; “Riadeitel’SIS hovoril poslancom o korupcii, schránkových firmách a Ukrajine: Kto zlyháva pri vyšetrovaní korupčných káuz?” [SIS director spoke to MPs about corruption, shell companies and Ukraine: Who fails to investigate corruption cases?], Novy Čas, 3 July 2015, http://www.cas.sk/clanok/322442/riaditel-sis-hovoril-poslancom-o-korupcii-schrankovych-firmach-a-ukrajine-kto-zlyhava-pri-vysetrovani-korupcnych-kauz.html

[67] “Law against shell companies is empty,” The Slovak Spectator, 16 April 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056920/dennik-n-law-against-shell-companies-is-empty.html

[68] Marián Leško, “Je vo verejnom záujme, aby sme odzvonili schránkam” [Illuminating the public interest that we sound the death knell for mailbox companies], Denník N, 12 March 2015, https://dennikn.sk/70421/lesko-je-vo-verejnom-zaujme-aby-sme-odzvonili-schrankam/

[69] Peter Adamovsky, “New procurement law lacks teeth,” The Slovak Spectator, 30 March 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20056651/new-procurement-law-lacks-teeth.html

[70] Roman Cuprik, “Actors in latest healthcare scandal are connected,” The Slovak Spectator, 24 September 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20060722/actors-in-latest-health-care-scandal-are-connected.html

[71] “New state insurer’s head has already been involved in scandals,” The Slovak Spectator, 5 October 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20061208/new-state-insurers-head-had-already-been-involved-in-scandals.html

[72] Radka Minerachova, “Whistleblowers gain protections,” The Slovak Spectator, 8 December 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20052882/whistleblowers-gain-protections.html

[73] “Bereaved whistleblowers in Fischer case cleared of wrongdoing,” The Slovak Spectator, 13 May 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057333/bereaved-whistleblowers-in-fischer-case-cleared-of-wrongdoing.html

[74] “Ožíva kauza Gorila? Polícia priniesla závažné vyjadrenie” [Revival of the Gorilla scandal? Police make serious claims], TVNoviny.sk, 2 February 2015, http://www.tvnoviny.sk/domace/1784485_oziva-kauza-gorila-policia-priniesla-zavazne-vyjadrenie

[75] “Special prosecutor Kováčik skips Gorilla session —again,” The Slovak Spectator, 21 May 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20057486/special-prosecutor-kovacik-skips-gorilla-session-again.html

[76] “Gorilla at parliament,” The Slovak Spectator, 16 June 2015, http://spectator.sme.sk/c/20058051/gorilla-at-parliament.html