“We still consider Slovakia our home,” says 27-year-old Lucia Hrnčiarová from Liptovský Mikuláš, who currently lives with her boyfriend in Auckland, New Zealand. “Moreover, we want to return to Slovakia so we want to participate in deciding on its future.”
Similar opinions were voiced also by other people addressed by The Slovak Spectator, who registered for the March 5 elections.
“Every vote is important because we will not achieve the real change otherwise than by voting,” Matúš Mišík, who currently works at the Department of Political Sciences at University of Alberta in Canada, told The Slovak Spectator.
Vojtech Čelko, a 70-year-old living in Prague, will attend the parliamentary elections for third time. He could not do so earlier as, after Czechoslovakia separated, he lost his Slovak citizenship. After the laws changed and people like him were allowed to reclaim it, he did. For Čelko, the elections represent a “certain bond to home”.
Low impact on results
The Interior Ministry estimates there are about 200,000-300,000 Slovaks with voting rights living abroad. Some 21,000 of them registered for a mail in vote by January 15.
The most applications came from the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. The ministry also registered people living in New Zealand, Kenya, South Africa, Bahrain, China, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, and Barbados, according to the information provided to The Slovak Spectator.
Their impact on the election results however, is minimal, according to Martin Slosiarik of Focus polling agency. Only about 7,051 Slovaks voted by mail in 2012 parliamentary elections, while in 2010 it was only 5,861.
One of the reasons for low interest of Slovaks living abroad in attending parliamentary elections may be that with their departure they expressed their reluctance to impact public affairs in Slovakia.
“An important obstacle, however, can be administratively difficult election process or the administrative steps they have to take before the elections,” Slosiarik told The Slovak Spectator.
The election laws stipulate that Slovaks living abroad must register for the election 60 days before election day, January 15 this year. Voters send a letter or an email application to the municipal authority (if they have a permanent residence in Slovakia) or to the Interior Ministry (in case they do not have a permanent residence in Slovakia).
Ján Krajčovič, 33-year-old IT manager living in Luxembourg, considers the registration process chaotic. According to him, this may be done with the intention “to distract people from abroad with other opinions”.
Moreover, not many Slovaks living in the Czech Republic asked for returning their Slovak citizenship after the laws changed, said Čelko.
“Thus dozens of thousands of Slovaks in the Czech Republic were lost, since they did not feel the need to say they are Slovaks,” Čelko told The Slovak Spectator, adding that many people maybe do not even know it is possible.
Foreign Slovaks still have a say
Some Slovaks, however, say that only people living in Slovakia and paying taxes there should vote, said Ján Varšo, head of the Office for Slovaks Living Abroad, referring to the opinions of some expats in the United States and Canada.
“They think that Slovaks living abroad achieved their mission for their homeland when they contributed to achieving our democratic statehood,” Varšo told The Slovak Spectator.
Mišík, however, says that though Slovakia is a stable democracy, this may change as it has in Hungary and Poland. The only way to protect democracy is to vote, he stressed.
“Though the change in a direction, which I as a voter hope for, will not happen immediately, voting is the best information for ruling elites so that they remain sensitive to changes and do not drift towards anti-democratic tendencies,” Mišík added.
Since the view from abroad can be clearer, and the number of Slovaks abroad is big, such people could contribute to significant changes, according to Mišík.
Ján Ferenčík, a 36-year-old cultural event coordinator living in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, says that you become less biased and more critical when you live in a place where everything works as it should. You have a country which you can compare with Slovakia and learn about things that should be changed.
“Though you know it is like fighting windmills, you want to express your opinion, to vote, even though your homeland will progress only very slightly,” Ferenčík told The Slovak Spectator.
Registration process simplified
Most people addressed by The Slovak Spectator say that they used the Volby.digital website to register for the vote. Developed by a group of people from the Slovensko.digital initiative, the application shortened the whole process to three minutes, 20 words and eight clicks, Ľudovít Scholtz, one of the programmers, told the TASR newswire.
The application helped to triple the number of applications compared to the 2012 elections, Slosiarik said.
One of those users was Miroslava Prugna Piatrik, 36, who lives in Ponsacco, Italy. She says she could not vote for 11 years, but when she saw the possibility to register via Volby.digital, she did not hesitate.
The application was also open to those who will not be in Slovakia on the election day. Alexandra Šmálová, a 29-year-old teacher currently living in Bratislava, says she regularly votes. When she found out that this year she will be in the United States on March 5, she and her boyfriend searched the internet to learn about possibilities to vote. They found Volby.Digital and registered for the vote.
“It would be good to give more promotion to this [project] because I was not aware that people can quickly register online until a few weeks ago,” Lenka Zrubáková, 27, from Banská Bystrica told The Slovak Spectator.
Some people however admit some problems. Krajčovič, for example, did not receive any confirmation about accepting his application. Thus he called to the municipal authority to which he sent it, and found they received it, but did not know what to with it next. Some of his friends do not know even today whether their application was delivered and whether they will be allowed to vote.
Attracting more foreign Slovaks
Alexandra Demetrianová, a 29-year-old journalist currently living in Thailand, tells a different story. She tried to fill in the form via her phone, but could not download the application which she was to send by email. Since it did not work, she missed the deadline and cannot vote.
Though she admits that it was partly her fault, Demetrianová dislikes that she learned about the possibilities and the deadline only from social networks and her friends.
“I have the feeling that despite the number of Slovaks living abroad, the authorities and the government in Slovakia make only minimum effort to attract people outside to vote,” Demetrianová told The Slovak Spectator.
She points at weak and non-effective marketing and awareness, as well as ineffective ways to register. Demetrianová criticises mail-in voting system and says that it would be better if the voters could cast ballots at embassies.
Ferenčík also criticises the process, saying that the communication via classic mail rather than email “remains pointlessly and deliberately complicated”.
“Nobody is talking about voters from abroad in public discussions, like they do not even exist,” he said.
Slosiarik says that higher interest of Slovaks living abroad would increase their impact on election results. One way to do so is with electronic voting, but it would be discriminatory as only people from abroad could cast the ballots this way. Thus a comprehensive change to rules is needed, he said.
“There is, however, a question whether the internet vote does not degrade the election act to a click of mouse and whether the spirit of an important social event then disappears,” Slosiarik added.