Nations in transit 2004

Executive Summary: 

In 2003, the Slovak Republic completed its first decade of independence. Between 1990 and 1992, the country was part of a common Czechoslovak state and began establishing the foundations of a democratic political system and market-oriented economy. The 1992 parliamentary elections in Slovakia empowered political forces that were critical of liberal democratic reforms and subsequently initiated the split of the Czechoslovak federation into two countries.

Between 1993 and 1998, the country was ruled mainly by authoritarian, nationalistic, and populist forces that inhibited liberalization and prevented Slovakia from joining the first wave of countries moving toward membership in the European Union (EU) and NATO. The victory of opposition democratic forces in the 1998 parliamentary elections dramatically changed the direction of Slovakia's development. In the course of several years, the new administration managed to eliminate all democratic deficits and deformations from the previous period. In 2002, having successfully restored the process of Euro-Atlantic integration, Slovakia concluded negotiations with the EU regarding its full-fledged membership and received an official invitation to join NATO.

In 2003, the country continued its transformation, shifting from fundamental macroeconomic reforms to systemic changes in a number of areas. The new center-right government formed after the 2002 parliamentary elections launched essential reforms in the health care service and the taxation, pension, and education systems. At the start of 2003, the political will to adopt inevitable socioeconomic measures, as well as the institutional stability necessary for their implementation, seemed to be sufficient. However, relations among members of the ruling coalition grew increasingly complicated in the course of 2003, encouraging frequent conflicts that preoccupied the time and energies of the governing parties' leaders.

Owing to these conflicts, the degree of trust among coalition partners diminished significantly. In the second half of 2003, public opinion polls indicated a visible drop in support for the governing parties (especially the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union) and the cabinet's public credibility. The new administration's deteriorating popularity stemmed from the public's unfulfilled expectations for positive change and negative attitudes toward unpopular socioeconomic measures and conflicts within the ruling coalition.

Electoral Process. Slovakia has enacted democratic rules governing elections to the Parliament, regional and municipal self-governance, and the country's president. Slovakia's electoral system provides adequate representation of citizen group interests, recruitment of political elites into legislative and executive offices, and unrestricted development of political parties. In 2003, the Ministry of the Interior drafted an amendment to the Law on Parliamentary Elections that envisages strengthening preferential votes on parties' tickets and allowing Slovak citizens residing abroad to vote via correspondence ballots. The most recent parliamentary elections held in September 2002 were marked by relatively high voter turnout (70.1 percent) and were proclaimed free and fair. Four center-right parties formed a new coalition government. In May 2003, the country held a referendum on its accession to the EU. The plebiscite attracted 52.2 percent of all eligible voters, 92.5 percent of whom voted in favor of Slovakia's EU membership. Slovakia's rating for electoral process remains 1.50.

Civil Society. Slovak civil society is considered one of the most dynamic and self-sustaining in Central Europe. The Slovak government has become more receptive to nongovernmental organization (NGO) representatives, while the media help by promoting civic values and culture. The legal environment for NGOs remains free of state pressures. In 2003, NGOs were preoccupied with the question of sustainability in the likely event that foreign funding will continue to diminish with Slovakia's accession to the EU. As a result, the sector lobbied successfully for a law allowing individuals and businesses to contribute 2 percent of taxes to NGOs. Owing to this successful lobbying effort and the likely benefits of the new tax law, the rating for civil society improves from 1.50 to 1.25.

Independent Media. The most publicized issue in the print and electronic media in 2003 was the revelation of illicit wiretapping of journalists from the daily Sme by the Slovak Information Service. In the legislative area, three new laws on the public media were elaborated that at year's end were in the process of being approved. Their aim, among others, is to strengthen the duties of regulatory bodies and the public media. Owing to the secret service wiretapping scandal as well as questionable court rulings in related lawsuits, Slovakia's rating for independent media declines from 2.00 to 2.25.

Governance. Mutual relations among individual government institutions were cooperative, and a sufficient level of political stability was preserved throughout 2003. The process of public administration reform advanced, as state administration offices continued to transfer executive powers to regional and municipal self-governments. In November 2003, the Parliament began to discuss a bill drafted by the cabinet on the reorganization of local state administrations. Its implementation should improve efficiency, reduce the number of employees, and bring public administration closer to individual citizens. This was the first year in office for mayors and deputies who were elected in December 2002. Although there were problems with inadequate funding for the powers transferred from the central government, regional and local offices performed their new duties professionally and efficiently. Slovakia's rating for governance remains 2.25.

Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework. The National Council of the Slovak Republic (Parliament), which is the country's supreme legislative body, performed its duties ably and transparently in 2003. All public administration offices respected rulings issued by the Constitutional Court. The process of judicial reform continued, although it was not as aggressive as most experts and citizens had expected. The implementation and protection of human rights complied with the Council of Europe's criteria as well as a number of international human rights documents the country has ratified. Violations of citizen rights (for instance, the secret service wiretapping of Sme) were criminally prosecuted. Because of differing ideological attitudes among the governing parties (that is, liberalism vs. conservatism), the government failed to adopt the Antidiscrimination Act in 2003. Adoption of this legislation is a hard condition for Slovakia's full-fledged EU membership. The rating in this category stays the same at 2.00.

Corruption. In 2003, corruption was one of the most frequent issues of public discourse. The government began to pursue its own complex anticorruption program, established a specialized Anticorruption Department at the Government Office with reputable leadership, and adopted specific legislation designed to combat corruption (for instance, the law establishing a special court of justice and a special attorney to fight corruption and organized crime). Also, the police managed to expose several large-scale cases of corruption within the state administration. However, the Parliament still remains unable to muster the necessary political will to pass the constitutional bill on conflicts of interest, and the public continues to perceive corruption as one of the most pressing social problems. Suspicions have deepened about existing ties between political parties and economic interest groups. Slovakia's rating for corruption remains 3.25.

Outlook for 2004. In 2004, the Slovak Republic is expected to join the EU and NATO. The country is scheduled to hold presidential elections in April 2004 and elections to the European Parliament in June. The government's future fate could be tested in a referendum on early parliamentary elections; in November 2003, opposition parties launched a petition for such a plebiscite. The current administration, comprising four center-right parties, is likely to continue to implement crucial socioeconomic reforms. However, its unity and, consequently, its efficiency will strongly depend in the coming months on the character of relations among individual parties of the ruling coalition and their leaders.

Electoral Process: 

The authority of the Slovak Republic's parliamentary system and governmental institutions is based on free and universal suffrage for all voting-age citizens. Since the Communist regime's collapse in 1989, Slovakia has held five parliamentary elections (1990, 1992, 1994, 1998, and 2002), four local elections (1990, 1994, 1998, and 2002), one regional election (2001), and one direct presidential election (1999). Independent observers declared all of these elections as free and fair.

Elections to the different levels of Slovak government are provided under specific electoral laws, namely the Law on Elections of the President of the Slovak Republic, the Law on Elections to the National Council of the Slovak Republic (Parliament), the Law on Elections to Organs of Territorial Self-Governance (regional Parliaments), and the Law on Elections to Organs of Municipal and Local Self-Governance (city and community councils). These laws provide equal opportunities for election campaigning, clear electoral rules, fair and democratic voting, and transparent ballot tabulation.

Parliamentary elections are based on a proportional system that stipulates the following representational thresholds: 5 percent for single parties, 7 percent for coalitions of two and three parties, and 10 percent for coalitions of four or more parties. Elections to local and regional self-governments use a modified majority electoral model. Elections of the Slovak president and regional governors use a majority model with two rounds of voting. There are 111 political parties registered in Slovakia; political parties must submit a petition signed by at least 1,000 citizens in order to register.

Before the 1998 parliamentary elections, the ruling coalition of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the Association of the Workers of Slovakia (ZRS), and the Slovak National Party (SNS) headed by Vladimir Meciar pushed through an amendment to the Law on Elections to the National Council of the Slovak Republic that limited the participation of coalitions with two or more political parties. Also in 1998, the Meciar administration introduced the so-called ethnic quota, which required candidates' lists of particular political parties running in local elections to respect the ethnic ratio of municipal populations. After democratic political forces came to power in 1998, both amendments were abolished. Slovakia's electoral system should be improved by a 2003 amendment prepared by the Ministry of the Interior that increases the weight of preferential votes on party tickets and allows Slovak citizens residing abroad to vote via correspondence ballots. To register for parliamentary elections, each party (minus those with already established caucuses in the Parliament) must submit a petition signed by at least 10,000 citizens or a list containing names of at least 10,000 members. For presidential elections, candidates must submit either an endorsement declaration by at least 15 deputies of the Parliament or a petition signed by at least 15,000 citizens. All candidates for regional Parliaments must submit a petition signed by at least 400 residents of a given constituency.

Candidates running for regional governor must submit a petition with at least 1,000 signatures. In local elections, the number of signatures depends on the population of the town or community.

The September 2002 parliamentary elections were declared free and fair by all domestic and international observers. The HZDS won with 19.5 percent of the popular vote (resulting in 36 seats in the new assembly), followed by the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) with 15.1 percent (28 seats), the Smer party with 13.5 percent (25 seats), the Party of Hungarian Coalition (SMK) with 11.2 percent (20 seats), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) with 8.3 percent (15 seats), the Alliance of a New Citizen (ANO) with 8 percent (15 seats), and the Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) with 6.3 percent of the popular vote (11 seats).

As a result, a center-right coalition of ruling parties--the SDKU, the SMK, the KDH, and the ANO--formed a new government. Despite conflicts within the coalition, the cabinet proved to be relatively efficient in 2003. It successfully fulfilled a majority of proposed legislative reforms without any significant challenges from opposition parties. The HZDS, once the strongest opposition party, has been weakened by internal conflicts, fractioning, and a loss of membership, as have other parties.

In 2003, eight parties were represented in the Parliament: the SDKU, the HZDS, Smer, the KDH, the ANO, the KSS, and the People's Union (=U). The youngest relevant party is the L'U, which emerged in March 2003 after 11 deputies from the HZDS left to form a new party. Except for the L'U, all other parliamentary parties have relatively efficient organizations on national, regional, and local levels and are represented in regional and local self-governments. By the end of 2003, a group of seven parliamentarians headed by the former minister of defense, Ivan Simko, had left the SDKU and founded a new party, the Free Forum, which was officially registered in January 2004.

The representation of opposition parties in parliamentary posts corresponds to the share of the popular vote received in the most recent parliamentary elections. Although ruling and opposition parties have different ideas about government power and policy, they all unconditionally respect the basic rules of parliamentary democracy. Since the 1998 elections, there have been no attempts to restrict the activities of opposition parties by legislative or administrative measures.

Citizen participation in the country's political life is sufficiently active, reflecting the overall transformation taking place in Slovak society. Traditionally, the highest voter participation is recorded in parliamentary elections, although it 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. Voter participation was also relatively high in the country's first presidential elections in May 1999: 73.9 percent in the first round and 75.5 percent in the second, when voters elected Rudolf Schuster as the second democratic president in Slovakia's modern history (the first was Michal Kovac, elected by the Parliament in 1993).

By contrast, municipal elections show lower voter turnouts: 51 percent in 1998 and 49.5 percent in 2002. But the lowest overall turnout (26 percent) was recorded in the first regional elections in 2001; this was due largely to the electorate's unfamiliarity with regional self-governance. In May 2003, the country held a referendum on accession to the European Union (EU); the plebiscite attracted 52.2 percent of registered voters and passed with a near unanimous 92.5 percent.

Party membership from the general population is relatively low, which might reflect the public's general distrust of political parties. According to various estimates, approximately 5 percent of Slovakia's adult population belongs to political parties. The party with the largest membership base is the HZDS (nearly 45,000), followed by the KSS (23,000) and the KDH (20,000); other relevant parties have between 5,000 and 12,000 members.

There are no institutional obstacles to the participation of ethnic minorities and groups in the Slovak political process. About 15 percent of Slovak citizens belong to various ethnic minorities. Ethnic Hungarians form the largest group, making up nearly 10 percent of the total population. The participation of ethnic Hungarians in politics is traditionally high, and as a result, this minority is effectively represented in the legislative and executive branches of government. The Hungarian minority is represented by the SMK, which was established in 1998 by merging three smaller political parties. SMK chairman Bela Bugar holds the post of Parliament vice chairman, and the party controls four ministerial posts in the cabinet. In the most recent municipal elections held in December 2002, the SMK won 8 percent of all mayoral posts and 9.5 percent of the overall number of local council deputies. The SMK's presence is solid in regional self-governance and controls an absolute majority in the Nitra regional Parliament.

Roma, the second largest ethnic minority in Slovakia, experience a much different situation. This minority is insufficiently represented in political processes owing to the minority's low social status, its inadequate education and qualifications, the virtual absence of political leaders, and the inability of mainstream political parties to cooperate with Romany organizations. Although a number of Romany political parties are registered in Slovakia, none have been able to appeal to a sufficient number of voters to gain a foothold in executive or legislative office on the national, regional, or even local level. So far, attempts to overcome the Romany political elite's excessive fragmentation by integrating smaller Romany parties have failed owing to the personal ambitions of individual leaders and ensuing conflicts. To participate in political processes, members of other ethnic minorities and ethnic groups (Czechs, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Germans, Poles, Croats, Bulgarians, and Jews) are typically affiliated with the country's main political parties.

The parliamentary system's democratic mechanisms and regular elections allow for effective and smooth rotations of power in Slovakia. Ruling coalitions enjoying majority support are usually established on a common platform regarding issues of socioeconomic development, democracy, and foreign policy. All administrations in Slovakia's modern history have differed in terms of party makeup, reflecting a diversity of options for tackling societal problems. Favorable conditions for a smooth rotation of power also exist at the regional and local levels.

The Slovak political spectrum is free from the dominance of foreign powers, totalitarian parties, or the armed forces. It is forbidden to pursue any political activity from within Slovakia's armed forces (that is, the army, police, or secret service); political parties that seek to undermine the democratic form of government are banned. However, because of relationships between political parties and business groups, some parties may have an unfair advantage over others, a situation further exacerbated by loopholes in the legislative regulation of political party financing.

The influence of economic groups on party politics diminishes the effectiveness of the system's democratic mechanisms. Likewise, the ruling parties tend to favor certain corporations in fielding bids for state contracts, a process facilitated by weaknesses in state administrative regulations. The government is preparing a specific Law on Political Parties to prevent such favoritism.

Civil Society: 

The Slovak public views nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in a generally positive light. Likewise, relations between NGOs and the state are good overall. Cooperation among the sectors is not uncommon, as many Slovak politicians have professional backgrounds in the civil society sector and now look to NGOs as sources of objective information.

In 2003, the nongovernmental sector was preoccupied with the question of long-term sustainability, which is certain to be affected by anticipated reductions in foreign assistance once Slovakia enters the EU. After much advocacy from NGOs, the Ministry of Finance gave its support for a new provision passed by the Parliament that allows individuals and businesses to contribute 2 percent of taxes to NGOs. The 2 percent contribution is currently one of the highest in Central Europe and an important example of government support for civil society.

Slovak civil society remains one of the most vibrant in Central Europe and is monitored by the Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Culture, and the Service Center for the Third Sector. In September 2003, the Ministry of the Interior listed 21,661 NGOs: 20,575 (95 percent) were civil associations (societies, clubs, associations, movements, trade unions, international NGOs, and various sports clubs), 249 (1.2 percent) were foundations, 440 (2 percent) were noninvestment funds, and 397 (1.8 percent) were nonprofit organizations.

According to the Statistical Office, NGOs employ more than 1 percent of the population and contribute approximately 1.5 percent of the gross domestic product. Opinion poll data indicate that volunteerism and personal charity are increasing, as is the public perception that NGOs are engaged in positive philanthropic activities. As reported on 2003 tax returns, Slovakians contributed to 3,389 registered NGOs in 2002.

In 2003, the number of women's organizations and initiatives increased and, like the Fifth Woman (a well-publicized campaign against domestic violence), were the focus of public attention. Ethnic minority representation in the NGO sector can be described as sufficient, with the exception of Roma, who are significantly underrepresented. Religious groups play the most significant and visible role in charitable activities, owing to the deeply rooted tradition of church-based giving in Slovakia. All major religious groups in Slovakia (Roman and Greek Catholics, Lutherans, Orthodox, and Calvinist) are actively involved in charitable activities and complement the activities of the state, especially in social assistance services.

As in any other country, civil society organizations in Slovakia are not always "civil." Openly extremist and racist organizations, however, are not registered by the Ministry of the Interior and operate illegally. In 2003, there was progress in the surveillance and control of these groups by the police. To combat racist groups, NGOs have created alliances such as People Against Racism, the Slovak Helsinki Committee, and the Citizen and Democracy Foundation.

The legal and regulatory environment for civil society is free of excessive state pressure and bureaucracy and operates under legal norms adopted after the Communist regime collapsed in 1989. The Ministry of the Interior both registers and supervises NGOs, and legal entities and private individuals alike may establish nonprofit organizations. NGOs do not pay gift taxes or institution income taxes, and NGO taxation is easier than in the business sector.

The NGO sector in Slovakia has a well-developed infrastructure, training, and research base. The Gremium of the Third Sector (G3S)--a voluntary advocacy group of elected NGO leaders--develops partnerships with state representatives, local governments, the business sector, and international organizations. Along with other service organizations, G3S provides the NGO sector with information on management issues in the Slovak language.

NGOs publish widely in Slovakia, supported by institutes that are devoted to analytical and research work. Slovak think tanks are increasingly shaping the policy process, as exemplified by the Institute for Public Affairs, the Slovak Foreign Policy Association, the Institute for Economic and Social Reforms, and MESA10. NGOs are also successfully influencing the legislative process, especially in advocating for democratic procedures in political parties, lobbying groups, and state administration.

Media coverage of the NGO sector is mostly positive and focused on organizations involved in social services such as health care and social welfare. The media use the expertise of independent research institutions, think tanks in particular, and can be considered a strengthening factor in Slovak civil society and culture.

Slovak trade unions are free but steadily diminishing in size. In 1990, the Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ) represented 2.4 million employees; at the end of 2003, its membership had shrunk to fewer than 550,000 employees. Although the most dramatic membership reduction occurred in the first years of economic transition, the decline continues. The perception of trade unions is predominantly negative among all segments of the population, owing mainly to the increasing involvement of KOZ's leadership in politics. During the summer of 2003, KOZ launched a campaign for a referendum on early parliamentary elections. At the end of 2003, KOZ succeeded in collecting 500,000 signatures, though only 350,000 were required. The majority of the population perceived this direct involvement in the political realm as inappropriate for a trade union or any other NGO.

The educational system is free of political influence and propaganda, thanks to a naturally strong aversion to such interference within the general public, NGOs and even political parties. In fact, heated discussions about the character of the Slovak educational system took place in 2003 when a proposal for an interstate treaty between Slovakia and the Vatican raised the serious issue of the separation of church and state. A 1997 government treaty, approved by the Parliament in 2000, is already changing the secularized character of the Slovak educational system to a certain extent. Discussions about its implementation took place throughout 2003.

Independent Media: 

Freedom of speech is embodied in the Slovak Constitution and also protected by the so-called press law, which is becoming increasingly obsolete. In Article 26, the Constitution explicitly bans censorship and guarantees freedom of speech and the right to information. At the same time, it stipulates that the press is not subject to any permission procedures, whereas private entrepreneurs in radio and television broadcasting must secure a proper license. At the end of 2003, the Parliament passed new laws on the state-owned Slovak Radio (SRo) and Slovak Television (STV) that seek to make their management and oversight bodies more independent. The Parliament is expected to pass a new press law in 2004.


In 2003, no Slovak journalists were prosecuted, threatened, or attacked because of their work. However, at the beginning of the year, a scandal broke out in which the Slovak Information Service (SIS) was accused and later convicted of wiretapping journalists. The investigation showed that the scope of the secret service's illegal wiretaps was much greater, including not only journalists, but also politicians and entrepreneurs. Evidence has also surfaced that illegally obtained records of these phone calls were offered to the media.

In 2002, the Constitutional Court suspended two articles of the penal code that could be used to abuse the rights of journalists. These concerned defamation of the republic and its constitutional bodies, namely the Parliament, the Constitutional Court, and the president. Nevertheless, in 2003 former SIS director Ivan Lexa--who had been indicted on several criminal offenses--won lawsuits against two newspapers that had called him a "rascal" and "the most famous villain."

If the verdicts are upheld, each periodical could be forced to pay Lexa damages of 1 million SKK (US$30,000), a potentially crushing fine for the papers. Editors of eight important Slovak and Czech print and electronic media outlets publicly protested the verdicts, calling them an attempt to "liquidate the independent social and political tribune of contemporary Slovakia and intimidate journalists from free expression of opinions."

In the course of 2003, no attempt to inappropriately influence or pressure public media was recorded. However, there were instances of the "voluntary" identification of some public media figures with certain segments of the ideological spectrum. For instance, the Slovak Radio Council observed that some foreign policy commentaries broadcast in the first quarter of 2003 did not meet professional and information quality standards. Interestingly, most of these concerned the issues of European integration and the military conflict in Iraq. By the same token, the council also criticized the absence of commentaries discussing other issues.

Most Slovak media are in private hands. The only exceptions are the public STV, controlled by Parliament-appointed councils, and the state-run press agency TASR. The television market continues to be dominated by TV Markiza; in August 2003, it was watched by 67 percent of Slovaks. TV Markiza was followed by the first channel of the public STV (28 percent); the second largest private station, TV Joj (20 percent); and news television TA3 (4 percent). Generally speaking, TV ratings experienced a moderate decline.

The radio station most listened to continues to be the public Slovak Radio (SRo), whose first channel has ratings of 28 percent. The SRo is followed by a handful of private radio stations (Radio Expres, Radio Okey, Fun Radio, Radio Twist, and the Slovak Radio's Radio Rock FM) whose ratings do not exceed 10 percent.

The print media market continues to develop. In terms of circulation, the largest daily papers are two tabloids, Novy Cas and the sport daily Sport, followed by the two largest serious newspapers, Sme and Pravda, and several smaller dailies. The most recent negative trend is that competition has compelled even the most serious papers to turn increasingly to sensationalistic journalism. This trend is even more visible among Slovak weeklies.

The Slovak media market is small and relatively weak. Print media suffer because most advertising funds are channeled into the television market. TV Markiza will probably maintain its dominant position for several more years. However, given the current marketing offensive by TV Joj and the ongoing reform at the public STV, the market shares of these three players are likely to become more proportionate. Members of the Council for Broadcasting and Retransmission, which licenses and regulates private radio and television, are elected by the Parliament. So far, the council has not tried to exert undue influence over Slovak electronic media.

Journalists and media are able to form their own professional associations, but their activities are not extensive. The largest professional association of journalists is the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists (SSN), which includes about 80 percent of all journalists. The rest are organized in the Slovak Association of Journalists. So far, the SSN has not been overly successful in representing its members in negotiations, such as collective agreements with publishers. Print and electronic media enterprises are united in the Association of Periodical Press Publishers (ZVPT) and the Association of Independent Radio and Television Stations. The Slovak Press Council, which was established by the SSN and the ZVPT in 2001 as a watchdog for journalistic ethics and standards, has yet to become a respected arbiter in violations by journalists and publishers.

Slovak society enjoys free access to the Internet. In summer 2003, Internet access reached about one-third of the population. However, there is a widening "digital divide" between residents of the capital--who can choose from many types of Internet services with competitive pricing and quality--and residents of rural areas, whose only alternatives are the poor-quality dial-up or expensive ISDN lines. Consequently, people living in the country currently have less of an opportunity to develop Internet literacy.

Freedom House's annual Survey of Press Freedom rated Slovakia "Partly Free" from 1993 to 1998 and "Free" from 1999 to 2003.

Judicial Framework and Independence: 

The Slovak Constitution, which was adopted in 1992 and amended in 2001, precisely circumscribes the powers of the Parliament, the cabinet, the president, the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, general courts of law, and regional and municipal self-governments. Laws approved by the Parliament are signed by the president, prime minister, and chairman of the Parliament. If the president does not sign a vetoed law after repeated approval by the Parliament, the law is nevertheless valid after publication in the Collection of Laws. In the event that the president returns a law to the Parliament, the assembly needs a majority of all deputies (76 out of 150) to pass the law definitively.

Certain presidential decisions, such as amnesty, must be cosigned by members of the cabinet. The president has the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court to adjudicate the constitutionality of a referendum issue. A 2001 amendment extended the powers of the Constitutional Court, especially over courts of general jurisdiction, and improved the enforceability of the Court's verdicts by making all Constitutional Court rulings legally binding.

The Parliament usually approves several hundred laws and amendments during a single electoral term. From 1998 to 2002, it approved 532 laws and amendments; from December 2002 to December 2003, it approved 155 laws and amendments. By the end of 2002, the Slovak Republic managed to close its negotiations with the EU over full membership, and the closure of each chapter (acquis communautaire, a total of 31 chapters) required the Parliament to pass a number of laws compatible with EU legislation in the period 1999-2002.

Human rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Slovak Republic are freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and business and property rights. The Bill of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, adopted in 1991, forms an inseparable part of the Slovak Constitution.

In April 2002, Parliament elected the first public defender of human rights (ombudsman) in Slovak history. Although the new institution's credibility and performance are still somewhat weak, the embodiment of the ombudsman in the Slovak Constitution improves the conditions for human rights as a whole. Further positive developments should come from recent changes in the Slovak National Human Rights Center's Board of Trustees. Since its founding, the center has essentially failed to fulfill its mission because most members of the board were appointed by the previous Meciar administration. Citizens can also turn to the Constitutional Court, which accepts complaints and issues verdicts regarding violations of human rights.

The Slovak Constitutional Court forms an independent and unrestricted element of the judicial system and performs the role of constitutionality watchdog. The right to appeal to the Court rests with parliamentary deputies (at least 30 deputies), the president, the cabinet, courts of justice, and the attorney general. In certain cases, regional and local government offices also enjoy this right. In 2003, there were no attempts to pressure the Constitutional Court in order to influence its deliberations or verdicts.

The Slovak Constitution guarantees equality before the law for all Slovak citizens. Still, the Slovak Parliament has been unable to adopt a specific Antidiscrimination Act. The Slovak Republic is required to pass such a law before it becomes a full-fledged member of the EU.

In previous years, the government drafted several versions of the Antidiscrimination Act; but the KDH, which fears that adopting such a law may lead to legalizing registered partnerships of homosexuals, has vetoed all versions. Instead of adopting a specific law on equal treatment, the KDH has proposed to amend several laws, which according to legal experts represents a less efficient way of reducing discrimination.

In recent years, the Slovak penal code has been amended several times, bringing it closer to the standards applied by other democratic countries. In April 2003, the Parliament introduced a "three strikes" amendment for recidivists, especially perpetrators of violent crimes, such as terrorism, murder, rape, and armed robbery. The Parliament also introduced a sentence for the cloning of human beings and abolished the criminal offense of verbal assault on a state official. In October 2003, the Parliament passed an amendment to the penal statute introducing the so-called principal witness. It also passed a law to create a special court of justice and a special attorney entrusted with combating corruption and organized crime.

In 2003, the government continued efforts to recodify Slovakia's penal code. As a pivotal part, the Ministry of Justice prepared new drafts of the penal code and the penal statute and submitted them for comments in June 2003. The Slovak Constitution guarantees citizens the right to have their cases heard in court and other legal protections. The state is obliged to provide a public defender for persons facing criminal prosecution and who cannot afford their own legal representation. Investigations of criminal offenses in Slovakia are conducted under a prosecutor's supervision. An accused person can be detained and arrested only if a judge has issued a written warrant for arrest. A judge must hear pleas within 48 hours of detention and subsequently either order persons into custody or set them free.

International conventions and other legal acts banning torture and maltreatment form an integral part of Slovakia's legal system. Yet from time to time, there are cases of police mistreatment of detained persons. In 2003, the most publicized was probably recidivist Julius Sevcik, who received a Constitutional Court ruling stating the prosecution had violated his human rights by failing to promptly investigate Sevcik's mistreatment by law enforcement officers.

Sevcik had been sentenced to 14 years in prison after being convicted of armed robbery. When apprehending him, law enforcement officers applied gross physical violence that resulted in life-endangering wounds and hospital treatment. Subsequently, the prosecution, including the Office of the General Prosecutor, turned down all Sevcik's requests for a proper investigation of police brutality. However, the Ministry of the Interior took an uncompromising attitude, convicting the police of misconduct and discharging them from active duty.

The Slovak Republic has a three-level judicial system: the Supreme Court, 8 regional courts, and 55 district courts. Different institutions are involved in administering the judicial system, including the president, the Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial Council, and the Supreme Court. Overall, 1,236 active judges are registered in Slovakia, 90 of whom work at 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. Chairmen and vice chairmen of particular courts are appointed by the Ministry of Justice.

Although there were no suspicions in 2003 that the nomination and appointment of judges was biased, legal experts believe that existing legislation gives the president and the Judicial Council broad powers that may be abused unless clearer criteria are adopted. To be eligible for appointment, candidates for judge must meet the following formal requirements: Slovak citizenship, civic integrity, proper legal education, minimum age of 30, fulfillment of three years of justice candidacy, and satisfactory completion of a judicial exam. Professional training of would-be judges (candidate justices) is administered by the Ministry of Justice. Following their appointment, all judges must complete a four-year educational program.

International monitors from the EU and World Bank have confirmed that the Slovak judiciary operates with a generally satisfactory degree of independence. Nevertheless, corruption within the judicial system is a problem. Citizens perceive the judiciary to be the most corrupt sector of society, along with the health care service. The Ministry of Justice and judicial self-governance offices are adopting measures to curb the potential for corruption. More and more courts are joining the Judicial Management Project, which seeks to introduce random computer assignment of cases to judges. The minister of justice disciplines judges suspected of involvement in corruption schemes or other illicit conduct. The Judicial Council recalls judges who violate the judicial codex.

In 2003, public administration offices showed a general respect for court rulings. However, court inefficiency continued to undermine feelings of legal safety among the general public. The overall efficiency of the Slovak judiciary is reduced by a backlog of cases from previous years.


Combating corruption is the frequent focus of the media, political parties, and NGOs alike. For several years, the cabinet, in cooperation with governmental agencies, has been trying to implement legislative and administrative measures to curb the potential for corruption. However, on a practical level there have been no dramatic improvements so far.

At the end of 2002, the cabinet established the Anticorruption Department at the Government Office; its head is Jan Hrubala, a lawyer and activist known for his relentless criticism of corruption in the Meciar administration between 1994 and 1998. The cabinet also empowered Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic to outline and draft anticorruption bills and bound all members of the cabinet to cooperate with the Ministry of Justice.

In May 2003, the cabinet discussed and approved the Report on Concrete Measures to Fulfill the Program Manifesto of the Slovak Government in the Field of Combating Corruption. Endorsed by the Parliament in June, this document contains several provisions from the Anti-Corruption Minimum--elaborated by Transparency International Slovakia--and has become the government's official anticorruption program. The Parliament also passed a law in 2003 establishing a special court of justice and a special attorney entrusted with combating corruption and organized crime. Slovakia's penal code punishes both active and passive forms of bribery. In 2002, the Parliament passed an amendment to the penal code that introduced stronger punishment for some crimes connected with corruption.

In spring 2003, the cabinet launched a massive anticorruption media campaign, financed from the EU Phare program and coordinated by the Government Office. In December 2003, police detained a member of Parliament, Gabriel Karlin, as well as Milan Mraz, director of the office of the self-administrative district Banska Bystrica, for accepting a bribe of 500,000 SKK (US$16,000) from a local entrepreneur. The Parliament voted to suspend Karlin's immunity and approved putting him in prison custody. Mraz, who did not have immunity, was put in custody automatically.

In 1995, the Parliament approved the Law on Conflicts of Interest for constitutional officials and higher civil servants. The law bans the president, deputies of the Parliament, members of the cabinet, justices of the Constitutional Court, and other high-level state officials from pursuing any private sector business activities, mediating between private entities and the government, and receiving income generated by a side job or contracted business relation that exceeds the minimum wage.

Under the law, all constitutional officials and higher civil servants are obliged to submit an annual declaration of income. However, these declarations are submitted exclusively to the parliamentary Committee for the Prevention of Conflicts of Interest and are not available to the general public. The laws on civil and public service aim to decrease opportunities for corruption by providing clear criteria for the appointment, supervision, and remuneration of civil servants.

Legal experts maintain that the Law on Conflicts of Interest fails to create effective obstacles to official malpractice, and a special task force led by Justice Minister Daniel Lipsic has drafted a new bill that should improve transparency in public and political life. If passed in its current form, the law will apply to all constitutional officials, prosecutors, territorial self-government officials, and civil servants. The new law will apply to all representatives of organizations and institutions that fall under the Law on Civil Service, managers of state and public enterprises, representatives of the government, and public subjects in legal entities that pursue business activities.

In 2002, Slovak law enforcement prosecuted 120 persons for corruption-related criminal offenses; 57 of them have been convicted. In the first half of 2003, 87 persons were prosecuted and 28 convicted. The war on corruption is invigorated each time law enforcement wins an important battle. In January 2003, for example, a grand-scale tax fraud involving employees of the Piestany tax office was exposed. In June, the police broke up a group of customs officers in Bratislava who required bribes for services provided. In the same month, the police arrested an inspector with Slovak Environmental Inspection as he accepted a bribe of 100,000 SKK. Yet the relatively low number of registered corruption cases in Slovakia indicates the overall inefficiency of law enforcement.

All institutions financed from public funds are subject to the Supreme Bureau of Supervision (NKU). Although top officials of the NKU are elected by the Parliament, this office is fully independent. Its findings are made publicly available via all types of media, including the Internet, and often become the focus of lively public debate. In 2003, there were no attempts to restrict activities of the NKU or question its findings.

Slovakia has a number of independent NGOs active in fighting corruption and promoting transparency and accountability in public life, such as Transparency International Slovakia, the Alliance for Transparency and Combating Corruption, the Alliance to Stop Conflicts of Interest, the Integra Foundation, and the Fair Play Alliance. There have been no attempts by the state and private individuals to hinder their activities or intimidate their activists. The police encourage citizens with information on corrupt civil servants, or personal experience with such practices, to cooperate in exposing concrete cases of corruption. Under the protected witness provision, some protection against intimidation and physical harm is offered to those who help expose corruption and organized crime.

The Slovak media freely and openly inform the public on corruption and suspicions of corrupt practices. In September and October 2003, the media paid close attention to Prime Minister Dzurinda's efforts to dismiss Jan Mojzis, who according to Dzurinda had participated in activities designed to privilege certain private companies in public bids for lucrative state orders. Mojzis denied all allegations and fought back by alleging that Dzurinda was involved in similar acts.

Public opinion polls conducted by respected agencies and institutions over the past several years indicate that Slovak citizens perceive corruption as being widespread, especially in the health care service, judiciary, police, government ministries, customs offices, and schools. Slovak citizens are critical of the high prevalence of corruption and view it as the fourth most pressing social problem, following the unsatisfactory standard of living, high unemployment, and poor health care.

The Slovak public believes that while in office, public officials generally tend to pursue their private interests over those of the society. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the independent FOCUS agency, 31 percent of Slovak citizens believe this applies to all public officials. However, public opinion polls also reveal that many citizens admit their own participation in corrupt practices when to do so is likely to produce an advantage.


The Slovak government is sufficiently stable. Changes in the cabinet are determined by free and democratic parliamentary elections. Replacing various members during a cabinet's tenure does not endanger its stability.

Relations between the government and the president have had a cooperative character. The president exercises his right to veto laws passed by the Parliament in a way that does not exceed the constitutional framework and does not detract from the stability of the government. Since December 2002, during the tenure of current prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda, President Rudolf Schuster referred 23 approved laws back to the Parliament. Following subsequent deliberations, the Parliament again passed 20 laws, with and without Schuster's recommendations. Verdicts of the Constitutional Court are typically respected without reservations. Ministries and other executive offices have adequate administrative power to properly perform their functions.

In 2000, the Parliament adopted the Law on Free Access to Information, which considerably improved conditions for the media and the public. The law orders all officials of state and local government to provide citizens with information to the extent stipulated. However, implementation has revealed difficulties, due mostly to a lack of knowledge on both sides about the new rights and obligations conferred by the law.

The Parliament's plenary sessions are open to the public and often broadcast on state-owned STV. Plenary sessions are closed only if the Parliament discusses issues related to state secrets, such as annual reports on activities of the SIS. Stenographic records of deliberations are accessible to the public in printed form. The Parliament's Web site contains an overview of its legislative activity as well as a list of all passed and rejected laws and detailed records on all votes.

Before each session of the cabinet, the government informs the public about its program. After each session, it provides the media with comprehensive and detailed written reports on the results of all deliberations. These are accompanied by media briefings attended by relevant cabinet members. In compliance with the Law on Public Procurement, conditions and results of all public bids for government orders are published in its business gazette, Obchodny Vestnik. Data on public bids for EU-financed projects (part of the EU's preaccession assistance) are published on the Web sites of the respective ministries.

The public and media have sufficient access to legislative proposals, though there are certain exceptions when proposals are passed using an accelerated procedure. This procedure was used infrequently in 2003, and only 6 laws and amendments were accelerated from the total of 155 approved laws. All bills, including state budget drafts, are available to the public.

The Parliament and individual deputies have sufficient resources to fulfill their basic functions. All deputies have personal assistants who combine administrative and professional duties, such as constituency communications and preparation of legislative materials. The Parliamentary Institute prepares expert materials and documentation for deputies related to their lawmaking activities. Deliberations of particular parliamentary committees are often attended by experts in the discussed fields. Also, many deputies use the expert background provided by the political parties they represent in the Parliament.

The Slovak system of public administration is based on the principle of subsidiarity, which means empowering smaller units where there is no major advantage gained by transferring functions to larger, higher units. Representatives of regional and local self-governments--such as deputies of city and community councils and regional assemblies, mayors of cities and communities, and regional governors--are directly elected in free and democratic competitions. At this level, elections are open to political parties as well as independent candidates.

In 2001, Slovakia launched public administration reforms that seek to transfer a number of executive powers from the central government to regional and local self-governments. In 2003, the transfer of powers in certain areas (such as education and health care) was problematic and encountered insufficient organizational and financial resources in regional and local self-governments. Also in 2003, the government reorganized the structure of territorial state administration by abolishing integrated district offices and replacing them with a smaller number of special district bureaus as well as specialized offices for general internal administration, enterprises, land registry, the environment, construction, transport, labor and social affairs, health care, and education. Another reform objective is to decentralize governmental authority over taxation and public expenditures. In 2002, the central government collected 96.6 percent of all tax revenues and distributed 73.7 percent of all public administration expenditures.

In 2001, the Parliament amended the labor code, the Law on Civil Service, and the Law on Public Service to draw clearer distinctions between professional and politically appointed public servants and to raise the professionalism of civil servants overall. Selection of candidates for top civil service positions has been open to public competition for several years. The Slovak legal system provides sufficient protection against political pressure on civil and public servants. In 2003, there were few cases of political pressure at the regional and local levels; however, some elements of political pressure could be observed in Prime Minister Dzurinda's campaign to remove Jan Mojzis from the post of director of the National Security Office.

Dzurinda proposed to remove Mojzis in September 2003, stating that he had lost confidence in the official. He publicly implicated Mojzis in a small organized group of entrepreneurs, state officials, and journalists who the prime minister claims are harming the country and the SDKU, manipulating results of state bids, and feeding media campaigns against government policies. Mojzis denies the allegation that he was a member of this group.

Although formal aspects of Mojzis's removal complied with the law, the act provoked negative reactions from Dzurinda's two coalition allies, the KDH and the SMK. These two parties have criticized the prime minister for not providing a satisfactory explanation for the recall of Mojzis. The KDH and the SMK considered Dzurinda's approach an effort to strengthen his own position and to concentrate power in the SDKU. Measures adopted since 1999 have reduced the impact of corruption on the performance of public administration, but the Slovak government has not yet eliminated the problem entirely.

2004 Scores