SEVERAL non-governmental organisations sponsored by the German state may be violating a Slovak law on political parties by supporting Slovak political entities in the same way two US-funded organisations provided aid before the last elections.
The law stipulates that a political party is not allowed to receive funding or gifts from foreign entities other than partner political parties and foreign foundations. According to information from the Finance Ministry, which is responsible for imposing sanctions on parties that violate these provisions, this applies to activities such as training for members and organising seminars and opinion polls.
Experts say these rules are intended to protect the domestic political scene from foreign influence.
"These provisions are tightly connected with the protection of state sovereignty," said Peter Kresák, constitutional expert from the Commenius University, in a recent interview with The Slovak Spectator.
He was reacting to an investigation carried out by this newspaper, which uncovered that the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute provided non-financial assistance to a select group of political parties in the run-up to this September's national elections.
A number of German organisations are involved in similar activities in Slovakia, among them the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Hans-Seidel-Stiftung (HSS). These groups were established by political parties represented in the German parliament, and receive funding from Germany's Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as from its Foreign Office.
Political insiders claim that these German organisations have become noticeably more involved in local politics in recent years. For example, some people believe one such group was instrumental in Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's decision to leave the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and found the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) in 2000.
Responding to a question about what led to the split, KDH MP František Mikloško said in an interview with the weekly Domino Fórum in August this year: "Among other factors, there was pressure from the outside. Groups close to the German Christian Democrats, represented by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, brought disruption into the KDH and tried to weaken the position of [party chairman] Ján Čarnogurský, because following their own example they wanted to see a strong party in Slovakia."
Representatives of the KAS were unavailable for comment.
The law on political parties allows foreign foundations to support Slovak parties, and at first glance it might appear that these German groups fall into that category. However, despite having the word 'Stiftung', which means 'foundation' in German, in their names, they are in fact not foundations. Under German law, these 'foundations' are registered as associations only.
The FES, which is associated with the political party the German Social Democrats, also provides some support to Slovak entities. Its official web site lists the following activities the group has carried out with local associates: seminars, work meetings, conferences, training, short-term counselling by experts and the publication of analyses.
The FES web page displays a list of the organisations it has worked with, among them the Democratic Left Party (SDĽ), the Social Democratic Party (SDSS) and the Young Democratic Left.
Despite the publication of this information, it was denounced as untrue by Peter Weiss, prominent former member of the SDĽ, who stated: "There has never been cooperation [with the FES] at the party level".
Weiss did admit, however, that the FES worked with the youth branch of his party, many of whose members were members of the party itself.
"Those were projects focused on specific issues of [our] political agenda," Weiss said. Skirting the issue of Slovak law, he added that the activities were "in compliance with German law, with what the law allows German 'foundations' to do."
Another German organisation, the HSS, is affiliated with the German party the Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU) and works with members of the KDH. HSS representatives do not have to go too far, as the HSS has its headquarters in the same building as the KDH.
"I know that in cooperation with the HSS the KDH youth organisation runs seminars for its members, and carries out media training and other such activities. I know there are quite a few such events where the HSS helps in this way," said Milan Krajniak, who is in charge of the KDH press department.
The HSS admits it cultivates links with certain political parties in Slovakia, but denies trying to influence local politics.
"Our organisation has ties to the CSU. There is a certain ideological proximity [with the KDH], but we act in a way that does not influence political parties in Slovakia. We naturally keep in touch with them and when a Bavarian MP comes to Slovakia I take him to see [KDH vice-chairman and Slovakia's main negotiator with the EU Ján] Figeľ if he wants," said Eva Hlaváčková, head of the HSS in Slovakia.
Hlaváčková stressed that all German 'foundations' have an educational purpose. When asked whether they also represent a tool of German foreign policy, Hlaváčková said: "Our German [bosses] could answer this better for you. I can't judge this. We, as local workers, are not involved in any political activities."