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Democracy in Slovakia will not be derailed

DEMOCRACY in countries from former communist bloc is stagnating or even decreasing, Freedom House, an international democracy watchdog, wrote in a report published on June 14, inspiring a debate among non-governmental organizations and think-tanks, but leaving most government officials unconcerned.

DEMOCRACY in countries from former communist bloc is stagnating or even decreasing, Freedom House, an international democracy watchdog, wrote in a report published on June 14, inspiring a debate among non-governmental organizations and think-tanks, but leaving most government officials unconcerned.

Political conditions have worsened in Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, Lithuania and Slovenia. In the Czech Republic, Estonia and Latvia, they have been stagnating.

The situation in Slovakia has aggravated from the 1.96 points in 2005 to 2.14 points in 2006 on a scale of one to seven, with one being the best score and seven being the worst, said the authors of Nations in Transit.

"Populism and anti-liberal trends are on the rise and judicial independence is coming under increased pressure," says the report.

Prime Minister Robert Fico's spokesperson Silvia Glendová refused to comment on the report.

"I do not consider it necessary to comment on polls whose results are not based on reality," she said.

Slovak President Ivan Gašparovič did not agree with the report's conclusions and said that, on the contrary, the level of democracy in Slovakia is improving.

"I think that in Slovakia today the tendency is just the opposite - an increase in the level of democracy, not a decrease," he told the SITA newswire.

Slovak political scientists, while agreeing with the report's negative appraisal of Slovakia's situation, are convinced that the country will not return to a totalitarian system.

"I do not see any reason why Slovak stability should be thought to be in serious danger," Soňa Szomolányi, head of the Political Science Department at Comenius University in Bratislava, told The Slovak Spectator. "This does not mean that there are not any deviations from the standard, but this is not just the case for newer democracies."

"In Central European countries, there is an inclination, which is especially strong in Slovakia, to mistake an ideal kind of democracy, its model, for a real state of democracy, as it works in old member states of the European Union," Szomolányi said.

"Subsequently, people in post-communist countries often compare themselves with an ideal kind of liberal democracy, the result being that they tend to over-dramatize the situation and persuade themselves that democracy in Central Europe is in danger," she said.

"It has been happening since the autumn after the 2006 elections," said Szomolányi.

Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs think-tank and one of the authors of the Freedom House report's section on Slovakia (together with Miroslav Kollár and Michal Vašečka), is of a similar opinion.

"Central Europe is witnessing a slump of the post-integration period to the EU," said Mesežnikov.

"Aspects that bring these countries closer to the European Union are taken much less into consideration," he told The Slovak Spectator. "Thus, strange ruling coalitions emerge. However, they do have unchallenged legitimacy and handle the populism in their political way by applying some non-liberal elements to it."

It is a sort of a response to reforms, which are being implemented in Slovakia, and which are quite challenging, he said, adding that one part of the population does not accept these reforms and it supports the populist parties that come with its wave of hostility towards these reforms.

Szomolányi refused the opinion that Slovakia could return to autocracy similar to the regime of Vladimír Mečiar, the-then PM who led the country between 1994 and 1998.

"After the first year of Robert Fico's rule, we see that in spite of a strong rhetoric, the promised discontinuity has not occurred," she said.

Mikuláš Dzurinda's government strengthened the plurality of the society, which has come a long way since the first half of 1990s, and so there is no risk of returning back to the Mečiar era, she said.

Slovakia is still in the group of stabilized democracies according to Mesežnikov, who however, did not rule out the possibility that the effort of the ruling coalition to concentrate power will continue.

"But unlike the time of Mečiarism, we have much more functional institutions now," Mesežnikov told The Slovak Spectator. He listed the amended constitution and developed civil society as examples.

"However, I cannot rule out the possibility that the practice of totally ignoring the opposition will continue in parliament," Mesežnikov said.

Concerning the ruling coalition's approach to minorities in Slovakia, Mesežnikov said that so far a limitation of their rights has not happened.

"But I think the worst thing is that the social atmosphere has been changing," he said. "The Slovak National Party's (SNS) presence in the government encourages Slovakia's nationalistic fringe. Moreover, if we interpret minority in a broader sense, then the way that the SNS chairman [Ján Slota] comments on sexual minorities is literally propagating hatred."

The Freedom House report's summary lists its main reasons for giving Slovakia a lower democracy rating. The report mentions the concentration of power after the 2006 elections through politically motivated administrative appointments, the decrease in the government's cooperation with the civil society, especially regarding its treatment of NGOs and its interfering in the legal system by replacing judges for political reasons and trying to shut down the Special Court and the Special Attorney's Office, which were set up to fight corruption and organised crime.

Freedom House is an independent non-governmental organization, founded in 1941. It supports and monitors freedom and democracy throughout the world.

When rating countries, Freedom House focuses on seven criteria: the election process, civic society, independent media, public government, local government, justice and corruption.

This assessment has been taking place since the 1990s in the post-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

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