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Economic boom, democratic decline

ALTHOUGH the Slovak economy continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the quality of democracy in Slovakia has decreased during the reign of the current ruling coalition - Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

ALTHOUGH the Slovak economy continues to grow by leaps and bounds, the quality of democracy in Slovakia has decreased during the reign of the current ruling coalition - Smer, the Slovak National Party (SNS) and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

This is the central thesis of a publication recently released by the non-governmental think tank Institute for Public Affairs (IVO).

According to the authors of the report, last year saw the continuation of one of the most productive periods of the Slovak economy on the one hand, balanced by several problematic elements on the other.

Among those problems, the authors list government interference in the freedom of enterprise and possession as well as attempts to curb freedom of association and the activities of non-governmental organisations.

They also discuss freedom of the press. According to the authors, Fico’s government tries to “put on a muzzle” on the media. The authors further criticise the current government’s intervention in crucial social and other reforms, and ask questions about the administration of police, claiming that representatives of the ruling coalition have made several statements vulgarizing the political discussion. They also mention some statements degrading to citizens of ethnic Hungarian origin, stigmatising them as “second-class” citizens.

The report further warns of tendencies to mythologise Slovak history, revealing a nationalistic rather than a patriotic bent, and gestures ridiculing the fight for freedom being led, for example, in Cuba. All this is cause for concern, according to the authors.

“The process of strengthening the role of state was part of the most productive and crucial trends in the country’s development in 2007,” Grigorij Mesežnikov, president of the IVO and one of the editors of the publication, told the media. “But this intended patriotism has become the foundation for the exercise of cronyism.”

Last year, Mesežnikov said, the effort of dominant political forces to limit the impact of the market mechanisms in some spheres, and, under cover of social rhetoric, to create obstacles to the development of a free democratic society, was also evident.

Prime Minister Robert Fico was irritated by the publication.

The government’s press department on February 19 said that IVO analysts are not independent experts, and thus should not represent their opinions and judgements as independent and unbiased. Fico said it is clear that the IVO is an entirely rightist institution.

“In order to give an accurate impression to the public, it should declare its orientation publicly, and not hide it under a false pretence of independence,” Fico stressed.

Fico also pointed out that the publication’s authors, namely Mesežnikov, Martin Bútora and Zora Bútorová, were advisors to the [previous] rightist government.

“They cannot just publish their little books with a steamroller on the cover and highways on the back and declare 2007 the year of tyranny of the majority,” Fico told a press conference. “How dare someone refer to the Slovak government, which was legitimately created and elected, in such a way.”

Mesežnikov said that IVO has invited Fico to a debate.

Fico’s comments are “symptomatic of his authoritarian way of thinking,” Mesežnikov said.

“Fico obviously isn’t familiar with the global report project and has not read the new publication, otherwise he would not have come up with such flat accusations,” Mesežnikov said. “In some areas, the report noted the progress Slovakia has made.”

IVO published the 11th annual collection of more than 50 analyses of the state of Slovak society under the title of The Collected Report on the State of Society: Slovakia 2007.

Compiled from press releases

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