IVO BAROMETER SURVEY RELEASED

Better democracy in Slovakia?

THE QUALITY of democracy in Slovakia has stopped deteriorating after the country’s government passed from the coalition led by Smer’s Robert Fico to the four centre-right parties led by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, according to the IVO Barometer covering the third quarter of 2010, a time span which essentially overlapped the first 100 days of the incoming government.

THE QUALITY of democracy in Slovakia has stopped deteriorating after the country’s government passed from the coalition led by Smer’s Robert Fico to the four centre-right parties led by Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, according to the IVO Barometer covering the third quarter of 2010, a time span which essentially overlapped the first 100 days of the incoming government.

For the first time since 2008, when the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) began preparing its quarterly measurements of the quality of Slovak democracy, the country’s grade did not get worse.

“That, however, doesn’t mean that it has returned to the level at the beginning of 2008 when we started this project,” said Grigorij Mesežnikov, the president of the non-governmental group.

For the third quarter of this year democracy in Slovakia received a grade of 3.1 on a scale where 1 is excellent and 5 is failing. The country’s overall grade improved from the previous quarter by 0.3 points, based on what IVO found to be a positive shift in the quality of democracy in all monitored areas except for the independence of media and the quality of public-service media, which had an unchanged grade of 3.5.

The IVO Barometer evaluates the quality of democracy in Slovakia on a quarterly basis in five key domains: democratic institutions and a lawful state; legislation; protection and respect for human and minority rights; media freedom and public-service media; and the transatlantic and European integration aspects of foreign policy. Experts define the criteria and then assign numerical ratings for each domain (except for foreign policy) and from these calculate an overall average.

Democratic institutions and a lawful state received a grade of 3.0 during the first 100 days of the new government, improving by 0.5 points. Mesežnikov noted a change in the behaviour of constitutional institutions.

“There has been an approach to power that is more along liberal-democratic lines,” Mesežnikov said.

He pointed out, however, that problems remain in the human rights domain, which received a ranking of 3.0, a slight (0.25 point) improvement from the previous quarter. Mesežnikov said the government’s failure to repeal the negative aspects of the State Language Act (see interview with Mesežnikov) was a reason for the limited improvement.

“The ruling coalition has not been timely in amending those legal measures that it criticised while in opposition,” Mesežnikov said.

IVO analyst Miroslav Kollár, who evaluated the area of independent media and public-service media, said the not very complimentary grade of 3.5 was carried over from the previous quarter because “pressure by politicians on the media did not change”. He added that he views the programme statement of the new government as problematic because it only broadly describes desired systematic changes in the media area and it lacks a systemic view of regulation in the media market.

Kollár noted that another emerging negative development in this area is the absence of programmes including investigative journalism on Slovak television since the last remaining investigative reportage show on a private TV channel was dropped from the station’s programme schedule.

The foreign policy area is evaluated only in a descriptive manner and does not receive a numerical grade.

“One era of Slovak foreign policy has ended,” said IVO’s Martin Bútora, adding that this era could best be defined by using the words of past foreign minister Miroslav Lajčák after his term ended in June. Lajčák reportedly said that having the Slovak National Party (SNS) in the government was for state diplomacy like having an iron ball on one’s ankle.

“Restoration of a values-based foreign policy is not only a phrase, as can be seen from the reaction of the foreign minister to the decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident,” Bútora said, adding that Foreign Affairs Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda was among the 51 members of the Slovak parliament who signed a petition to support the nomination of Liu Xiaobo for this honour.

Bútora gave a negative grading to the government’s refusal to participate in the emergency EU loan to Greece and its reluctant participation in the European Financial Stabilisation Facility (EFSF). Slovakia did decide to participate in EFSF but refused to provide any money directly for Greece, saying that Slovakia needed to consolidate its own public finances and that lending to Greece would support irresponsible behaviour by governments.

Bútora said that Slovakia, in the light of the domestic political situation, underestimated the importance of political solidarity with the EU.

“Other member states agreed on a solution which they also didn’t consider ideal,” Bútora said, adding that endorsing the solution meant showing political solidarity with other EU countries but that by ignoring this Slovakia might unleash some undesirable EU actions – in evaluating budgets, opening new projects, and considering Slovak candidates for European posts, as well as in other areas.


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