WORLD REPORT 1998 - Slovakia

Human Rights Developments

Slovakia's human rights record continued to deteriorate in 1997, despite pressure from the European Union and North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries to improve efforts towards full democratization and the protection of minorities in order to be considered for admission into the E.U. and NATO. A number of troubling developments-including the illegal ousting of a Slovak parliamentarian, refusal to enact a law to protect minority languages, official inaction in the face of skinhead violence against Roma, and continuing police brutality-led to wide international criticism of Slovakia's human rights record. On December 4, 1996, the Slovak parliament stripped deputy Frantisek Gaulieder of his mandate after he left the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HDZS) for membership in an opposition party. Claiming to have received a letter announcing Gaulieder's resignation from the parliament, Parliamentary Chairman Ivan Gasparovic refused to reinstate Gaulieder despite Gaulieder's protestations that the letter was a forgery and that he would go to court to recover his mandate. On December 6, a bomb exploded outside of Gaulieder's home, demolishing the front of the house; the investigation into this incident was later "closed for lack of evidence."

The E.U. immediately issued a resolution demanding that Gaulieder be reinstated, and thirty-seven opposition party deputies lodged a complaint with the Slovak Constitutional Court, demanding that it call for his reinstatement. Gauleider, however, was not reinstated. On July 25, the Constitutional Court announced that Gaulieder had been illegally removed from his position; however, it stopped short of demanding his reinstatement as it concluded it had no legal basis to do so. Opposition parties then introduced a bill in parliament to return him to his position. Through September, however, members of the ruling coalition routinely left the chamber whenever the bill was up for a vote, thus effectively blocking a vote on the bill for lack of a quorum. Though this obstructionism brought wide international criticism, as of this writing Gaulieder has not yet been reinstated.

In the first half of 1997, an opposition-proposed referendum on the direct election of Slovakia's president was first the subject of delaying tactics and then finally subverted through the misprinting of referendum ballots. As the president is elected by the parliament under Slovakia's current constitution, the referendum's success would have constituted a loss of power for the sitting parliamentarians and particularly for Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, who will be responsible for performing presidential functions in the event that a new president is not elected immediately after President Michal Kovac's term expires in March 1998. In response to the opposition's successful fulfilment of an election petition, Prime Minister Meciar insisted that there was no constitutional basis for a referendum on this question and asked the Constitutional Court to rule on its constitutionality. However, Meciar continued to oppose the referendum even after the Constitutional Court declared that the referendum was indeed constitutional and the government's own Central Referendum Commission declared the referendum legal. The referendum on presidential elections was to take place on May 23-24, at the same time as a previously-scheduled referendum on membership in NATO. While the government wrangled over the legality of the referendum, Interior Minister Gustav Krajci declared his intention to print ballots with only the questions related to NATO. Despite the government's final decision to proceed with the referendum on presidential elections, many ballots containing only questions relating to NATO membership were distributed at polling stations. This provoked a boycott of the poll in which voter turnout was so low that the results of all of the referenda were ultimately invalidated. On June 8, 8,000 people demonstrated against the government's interference in the referendum, and opposition leaders demanded Krajci'sdismissal; Krajci, however, survived several attempts by the opposition to achieve a no-confidence vote on his performance as interior minister. Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik did resign, as he viewed the government's blockade of the referendum to be fatally damaging to his attempts to bring Slovakia into NATO.

On a positive note, the Slovak parliament ultimately failed to approve penal code amendments that would have criminalized speech uttered with "the intention of subverting the country's constitutional system, territorial integrity, or defense capability." A more restrictive version of this amendment nearly passed into law in 1996; the amended version passed the parliament in 1997 but was vetoed by President Kovac, and the parliament failed to pass the bill over his veto.

Slovakia's record on other issues related to free expression was poor. Journalists, international organizations, and even President Kovac continued to complain about the government's pervasive control of state media. Slovakia's first private news agency, SITA, was burglarized a week before it opened and lost computers and supplies; rather than displaying any support for the agency, the Slovak Ministry of Culture just one week later urged government institutions not to use the independent SITA. In September, long-running anonymous threats against Peter Toth, a journalist for the independent paper Sme, culminated in the bombing of his car; to date, no one has been charged in the case. On October 16, the state telecommunications company cut the independent radio station Radio Twist off its main frequency for twenty-five hours, claiming that it had not paid for use of its transmitter in Bratislava, though the station maintained that it had paid the bill days before.

Slovakia's ruling coalition continued to draw criticism in 1997 for its treatment of national minorities, particularly Hungarians, Roma, and Jews. In September, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn revealed that, during their August meeting, Prime Minister Meciar proposed a "population exchange" of ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia for ethnic Slovaks living in Hungary. This outrageous suggestion followed a year of controversy over Slovakia's language law, which currently outlaws the use of Hungarian for, among other things, printing bilingual school report cards in Hungarian minority-dominated areas. At least one school teacher, Alexander Toth, was fired for violating this law. In April, the Ministry of Education also proposed that certain subjects be taught only by "native" ethnic Slovaks in minority school districts, but no action was taken on this proposal.

Jewish groups were outraged over the Ministry of Education's unqualified endorsement of Milan Durica's The History of Slovakia and the Slovaks, a primary school textbook that justifies Slovakia's mass deportation of Jews during the Holocaust . Because the book was published using funds from the E.U. PHARE program intended to help Slovakia prepare for admission to the E.U., the European Commission immediately issued a stern rebuke to the Slovak government and demanded that it withdraw the book from the country's schools.

The situation of Roma in Slovakia did not improve in 1997. After the brutal murder of a Romani man by a skinhead teenager on December 22, Romani leaders accused the government of indifference to the growing intolerance and later announced the formation of ethnic militias to protect Roma against high levels of skinhead and police brutality. In a report released by the European Roma Rights Center in February, a quote from a young Romani man encapsulated the pervasiveness of anti-Roma prejudice in both the public and private sectors: "If I am attacked again, I won't call the police. It would be like calling the skinheads." Roma also continued to face discrimination in education, housing, and employment.

The Right to Monitor

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any attempts by the Slovak government to impede the monitoring of human rights in 1997.

The Role of the

International Community

The international community's most effective condemnation of Slovakia's human rights practices came through its refusal to issue Slovakia membership into NATO and the E.U. The E.U. and the U.S. were particularly disapproving of the Slovak government's unwillingness to reinstate Gauleider, its ongoing failure to protect minority languages, and its obstruction of the presidential election referendum. The Human Rights Committee of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report in August, which noted that "the remnants of the former totalitarian rule have not yet been completely overcome" and that Slovakia needed to improve its response to discrimination, independence of the judiciary, and free expression, among other issues. In April, the E.U. also released a report critical of prison conditions in Slovakia.The Commission for Cooperation and Security in Europe (CSCE) released a 40 page report in September criticising Slovakia's human rights record.

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