SEVERAL human rights problems in Slovakia were noted in the 2008 Human Rights Report prepared by the US Department of State, “including some continuing reports of police mistreatment of Romani suspects and lengthy pre-trial detentions…” as well as “corruption in the judiciary, in local government, and in government health services.” The introduction to the report noted that “social discrimination and unprovoked violence against Roma and other minorities” was a continuing problem.
The report further cites four specific cases involving possible human rights violations: Radoslav Puky, a Slovak citizen of Romani origin who died in 2004; alleged forced sterilisation of Romani women; Hedviga Malinová, who said she was attacked on the streets of Nitra for speaking Hungarian; and police handling of violence that erupted at the Dunajská Streda soccer stadium last November.
Ján Škoda, spokesman of the Foreign Affairs Ministry (MZV) told The Slovak Spectator that his ministry acknowledged the report. But Škoda said the purpose of the report is not to evaluate countries, nor to compare them, but rather to serve as an information document for the needs of the US Congress.
“And that is how we, at the MZV, perceive it. The record in observing human rights in Slovakia has not changed markedly when compared with previous years.”
The death of Radoslav Puky
“There were some indications that impunity [on the part of the police] was a problem, as evidenced in the ongoing case of Radoslav Puky, a Slovak citizen of Romani origin,” states the report.
“In 2004, Puky's body was found in a Trebišov canal following his disappearance during a police operation,” reads the report. A subsequent investigation indicated that police took only perfunctory action to investigate reports of a police assault against Puky.
The case has been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on behalf of the Puky family, where it is pending.
The report mentions multiple allegations made by Romani women who claimed they were sterilised without their informed consent.
“Eight Romani women, who suspected they had been sterilized without their knowledge, filed a case with the ECHR when hospitals allegedly denied them access to their medical records. Four of the women subsequently received access to their medical files, and at least one discovered that she had been sterilized,” reads the report.
“The remaining four women continued to be denied access to their medical records despite a government decree. In May 2007, the Ministry of Health informed [the NGO] that the women's medical records were lost,” the report continues.
Freedom of the press
The report mentions Slovakia’s amended Press Code and notes that publishers are now required to print responses to any “statement of fact that impinges on the honour, dignity, or privacy of a natural person, or the name or good reputation of a legal entity” on the same page and equal space as the original article, regardless of whether the original statement was factually correct.
The report notes that journalists and publishers opposed the law because it could force them to print official government responses without the opportunity for any counter-response and that Miklos Haraszti, Representative on Freedom of the Media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spoke vigorously against adoption of the law.
The report also mentions the statement by Minister of Justice Štefan Harabin who said to opposition parliamentarian Daniel Lipšic that his behaviour reminded him of “the behaviour of certain Nazis, who had Jewish ancestors and managed to participate in the killing of innocent children, women, and old men in concentration camps, just to prove their loyalty to fascism”.
“What is the difference between Goebbels and Lipšic?” Harabin asked during a parliamentary session last September.
Prime Minister Fico publicly distanced himself from Harabin's statements and stated that there was no room for anti-Semitism in his government.
Michal Jurči, spokesman of the Justice Ministry told The Slovak Spectator that minister Harabin is convinced that the State Department’s report mentioning his statement stems from a grave misunderstanding, as he is a firm opponent of fascism and anti-Semitism.
“He [Harabin] personally pushed through the amendment making the punishment for denial of Holocaust much stricter and wider, and also granting compensation to Holocaust victims who have not been compensated over a long term,“ Jurči stressed for The Slovak Spectator.
The reports states that “While direct denial of the Holocaust was not common, expressions of support for the World War II-era Slovak fascist state, which deported tens of thousands of Slovak Jews, Roma, and others to their deaths in German concentration camps, occurred during the year.”
“Extreme right-wing groups, such as Slovenské Hnutie Obrody (SHO), regularly praised the wartime fascist state and denied its role in the Holocaust in 2008,” reads the report. It notes that SHO and other similar groups have linked their websites to that of Matica Slovenská, a cultural heritage organisation that has received significant state subsidies and which has reproduced articles from SHO’s newsletter.
The report says that during 2008 a group of governing coalition parliamentarians, led by chairman Vladimír Mečiar from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Party, campaigned for the dissolution of the special Slovak court that specialises in corruption cases.
It also mentions several incidents of alleged corruption involving members of the government: the resignation of defence minister František Kašický in January 2008; the dismissal of the minister of environment, Jaroslav Izák in July 2008; and the removal of Branislav Máčaj, the head of the telecommunications regulatory agency in December 2008.
Hedviga Malinová case
The report analyses the alleged 2006 attack on ethnic Hungarian university student Hedviga Malinová in Nitra. “Journalists and human rights advocates criticized the decision, charging that a cover-up had taken place…in May 2007, the Nitra police formally charged Malinová with perjury.” The report notes that in September 2007, the prosecutor reopened the case with new investigative and prosecutorial teams and that resolution of the case was still pending.
Dunajská Streda soccer match
The report review the police actions at a fight at a soccer match in Dunajská Streda last November.
“At a soccer match in Dunajská Streda on November 1, authorities used force to expel rowdy Hungarian fans from the stadium, which triggered a demonstration by Hungarians at the Slovak Embassy in Budapest,” says the report.
Erik Tomáš, the Interior Ministry’s spokesman, told The Slovak Spectator that the report only described the course of events in the case of Malinová and of the confrontation at the soccer match in Dunajská Streda.
“It does not evaluate them in any way, so we have nothing to comment on,” Tomáš told The Slovak Spectator. “In any case, the police action [in both cases] was in accordance with the law, which was also confirmed by control bodies.”
Opinion of a political analyst
Grigorij Mesežnikov, head of the non-governmental think tank Institute for Public Affairs, who regularly assesses the state of society from a sociological and political point of view, told The Slovak Spectator that the State Department report was balanced, although critical.
“The report points out some chronic problems of Slovakia with violation of the rights of ethnic groups of citizens,” Mesežnikov said.
The report also focused on corruption because it leads to decreased effectiveness of democratic institutions, according to Mesežnikov.
“Of course, corruption also has a human and legal dimension because when corrupt practice starts taking root, the protection of human rights and legal rights is generally reduced.“
In connection with Roma issues, Mesežnikov said that Slovak government has targeted mostly irrelevant things.
“The issue of social integration of Roma inhabitants has been evaded, which is a key factor,” Mesežnikov said. “The government’s policy is focused on strengthening the ethnic identity, but less so on the social integration of Roma communities.”