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EXPERTS LOOK BACK ON 11 YEARS OF THE SLOVAK CONSTITUTION

Legal cornerstone holding firm

THE SLOVAK Constitution is today seen as a standard democratic document with no pressing changes needing to be made with respect to Slovakia's entry into the EU scheduled for May 2004, experts agree.
Nearing the eleventh anniversary of the existence of the first Slovak constitution, The Slovak Spectator asked several observers, as well as lawyers directly involved in designing the current Slovak constitution, to reflect on the development of the document over the past decade, and what they thought should be added to it or changed in the future.


THE AUTHORS of the 2001 amendments brought the constitution closer to Europe.
photo: TASR

THE SLOVAK Constitution is today seen as a standard democratic document with no pressing changes needing to be made with respect to Slovakia's entry into the EU scheduled for May 2004, experts agree.

Nearing the eleventh anniversary of the existence of the first Slovak constitution, The Slovak Spectator asked several observers, as well as lawyers directly involved in designing the current Slovak constitution, to reflect on the development of the document over the past decade, and what they thought should be added to it or changed in the future.

Back in September 1992, a group of lawyers who were members of or close to the then ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) drafted the first ever democratic Slovak constitution and despite criticism that remains over the text, HZDS spokesman Igor Žvach says the event marks "the most important day in the history of the Slovak Republic."

"Passage of the Constitution was a decisive step towards the creation of an independent republic in January 1993," he said.

Slovakia emerged after a peaceful split of the Czechoslovak federation in January 1993. But critics, such as Katarína Závacká from the Institute of State and Law, continue to insist that the 1992 constitution was a "result of nationalistic efforts" that had led to the split of Czechoslovakia.

According to Závacká, the 1992 constitution was a combination of a 1920 Czechoslovak constitution with parts from a 1960 communist constitution that "inevitably led to the development in Slovakia that we have witnessed".

Slovakia was pushed to international isolation under the 1994 - 1998 Vladimír Mečiar government due to the cabinet's perceived lack of dedication to democratic values shared in developed western democracies, and Mečiar was increasingly criticised over his authoritative execution of power.

Although Žvach admitted that the 1992 constitution was not without flaws, he noted that the document "has proven functional in the initial stage of a young Slovak Republic. Later development showed that some changes were necessary," he said.

Among issues that were perceived as the most critical were, for example, the lack of safeguards for an independent judiciary, with judges, as well as judicial officials being elected by parliament and thus inevitably dependent on the legislature.

Another problem was the inadequacy of tools to enforce the rulings of the Constitutional Court, the country's top authority for resolving constitutional disputes.

The first large change was made to the constitution in 1998 when parliament decided that the country's president should be elected in a direct vote by the people of the country, rather than by parliamentarians, as it had been until then.

But it was not until February 2001 when major changes to the document were approved, including the strengthening of independence of the judiciary and the authority of the Constitutional Court, and establishing an ombudsman to offer people help in situations where they feel that their rights have been violated.

Western observers welcomed the new constitution because it paved the legal way for Slovakia's planned EU membership.

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