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Nearly two years after settling in Žilina with his Slovak partner, Spaniard Manuel Piñeiro González knows exactly what he would want the city to look like in the future: more pedestrian and vibrant, with fewer potholes and damaged pavements, and no more shopping malls.
“Of course, open to newcomers from anywhere across the world,” the corporate employee noted.
The impact of the foreigner community in Žilina, where the car maker Kia is based, is “really low”, in his own words, and foreigners are not an “interesting” group for local politicians. The Spaniard suggests Žilina learn from the Czech town of Brno, where he had lived before moving to Slovakia. Having obtained permanent residence, Piñeiro González is determined to cast his vote in next year’s municipal and regional (VÚC) elections.
A lot of foreigners do not realise they have the right to stand for public office.„
“I am a citizen. I have the right to express my political view in the elections,” he said.
In the 2018 municipal election, Žilina registered 1,869 foreigners who could cast their vote. Trnava, for example, had 1,224 foreigners on its list of voters. Yet, no single list of foreigners who are entitled to vote in Slovakia exists.
How many foreigners vote in Slovakia?
To vote or get elected in the municipal and VÚC elections, foreigners need to only apply for permanent residence. Although 152,902 foreigners lived in Slovakia in June 2021, data provided by the foreigners’ police does not reveal how many of them in total had permanent residence in the country.
The police claim 24,603 third-country nationals had permanent residence in June; most of them came from Ukraine, Russia, the UK, China and Vietnam. But data for 55,882 EU nationals provide no detailed analysis about residence statuses.
In addition, Žilina and Trnava do not know how many foreigners actually voted in the previous elections, nor does the Statistics Office. This is common in Slovakia.
When The Slovak Spectator asked the Interior Ministry if they know how many foreigners actually voted, say, in the 2018 municipal election, the ministry responded: “As for those who voted in the election, such evidence not only does not exist, but would go against the law.”
Hence, unless legislation is changed, Slovakia will never know how many foreigners with permanent residence in Slovakia take part in the municipal and VÚC elections.
Surprised they can vote
Unlike some Zvolen-based China-born shop owners approached by The Slovak Spectator who are not interested in casting their votes in the elections despite living in Slovakia for many years, Sanja Nikolov votes in every municipal and VÚC elections. She moved to Zvolen, central Slovakia, from Croatia 24 years ago, after the civil war.
Asked why she votes regularly, Nikolov, who co-founded the community centre OKO, said: “Everything that can affect the quality of life in our region is important to me.”
Canadian copy editor Naomi Hužovičová votes in a town outside Trnava where she lives. It was her Slovak husband who told her about her right to vote. Nikolov learnt about it from the media.
“I still feel some civic duty to vote,” Hužovičová said, noting her vote can also improve the town she lives in.
Brazilian Tiago Viganó, a hotel manager living in Bratislava since 2008, was surprised when he learned he could cast a vote: “I remember getting a leaflet in our mailbox with overall information.”
For him, voting is the least he as a citizen can do to change things. However, he, along with other respondents, does not plan to run in elections, citing several reasons. Nikolov said she sees other ways to help her local community.
“Politics is not for me,” Viganó said.
Needle in a haystack
Several municipalities, including Bratislava and Žilina, told The Slovak Spectator they did not register any foreigners who wanted to run for office in the last municipal and VÚC elections.
Everything that can affect the quality of life in our region is important to me.„
“A lot of foreigners do not realise they have the right to stand for public office,” Addy Akram from East London, who has lived in Spišská Nová Ves, eastern Slovakia, for almost 30 years, argued.
The Briton is thought to be the only foreigner in the country who has become a councillor. When Akram announced his plan to run for local office in 2006, people thought it was a joke. His win thus came as a huge surprise to many people.
Unlike entrepreneur Džemal Kodrazi who moved to Slovakia in the eighties from former Yugoslavia and failed to become the Košice mayor in 2018, Akram’s hardwork has already earned him a third term as councillor.
“The feeling that I am doing something positive keeps me going,” he said. “Your Slovak does not have to be completely fluent to carry this job out. I am an example of that.”
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