Landlocked country in central Europe, bounded north by Poland, east by the Ukraine, south by Hungary, west by Austria, and northwest by the Czech Republic.
Government The Slovak Republic is a multiparty liberal democracy, with a prime ministerial political executive. Its 1992 constitution provides for a single-chamber, 150-member national assembly, the National Council of the Slovak Republic, elected by universal suffrage using a proportional representation system for a four-year term. The ceremonial head of state is the president, who has been elected since 1999 by direct popular vote for a maximum of two terms of five years. The president appoints a prime minister, who is able to command a majority in the National Council and who, in turn, appoints a cabinet or council of ministers. There is a Supreme Court, comprising judges elected by the National Council, and a Constitutional Court, with judges nominated by the National Council and appointed by the president. The country is divided for administrative purposes into eight regions, each of which has its own parliament.
History Slovakia was under Habsburg rule 1906–18, when it gained independence and chose to unite with the Czech lands as the sovereign state of Czechoslovakia. Prior to World War II there was a growth in Slovak nationalism, partly in reaction to the Nazi threat, but this was less marked after the communists took power in 1948. In November 1989 there were pro-democracy demonstrations in Prague and the Slovak capital, Bratislava. The Communist Party was disbanded, a new ‘coalition government’ formed with Václav Havel as president, and political parties legalized, including the Slovak-based People against Violence (PAV). This smooth and largely peaceful transition to democracy was later termed the ‘velvet revolution’.
Independence The next two years saw a revival of Slovak separatism, and in 1991 the populist-nationalist Vladimir Meciar, who had been Slovak premier since June 1990, was dismissed from his post after forming a PAV splinter group, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), pledged to greater autonomy from Prague. Jan Carnogursky, leader of the junior partner in the PAV-led coalition, the Christian Democratic Union, took over as premier, and in October 1991 the PAV was renamed the Civic Democratic Union (CDU). Meciar's dismissal had provoked protest demonstrations in Bratislava, and in the June 1992 assembly elections the HZDS, which had campaigned for Slovak independence, emerged as the largest group in the Czechoslovak federal assembly and Meciar became Slovak premier again. In July 1992, Havel resigned as president and, after failure to agree a federal style of government, creation of a separate Slovak state was agreed.
In September 1992 a new constitution was ratified and in January 1993 the Slovak Republic came into being, with Meciar as prime minister. A treaty of good neighbourliness was signed with the Czech Republic, concluding what inevitably became known as the ‘velvet divorce’. A new constitution had been adopted in 1992 and in February 1993 ex-communist Michal Kovac was elected president. In June 1993 the new republic was admitted to the United Nations and the Council of Europe, and formally invited to apply for European Community (now European Union) membership. In January 1994 it joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's ‘partnership for peace’ programme.
Prime Minister Meciar was ousted on a vote of no-confidence in March 1994 and replaced by Jozef Moravcik, heading a non-HZDS coalition committed to privatization and economic reform. In the October 1994 elections the HZDS won most assembly seats, although not an overall majority, and Meciar returned to power in December 1994. During this ‘third term’ in power, Meciar came under external criticism for the country's treatment of its ethnic minorities and his increasingly authoritarian style. In September 1995 President Kovac's son was kidnapped and beaten up. It was alleged that the attack was part of a campaign of intimidation by supporters of Prime Minister Meciar, who for months had sought to remove President Kovac from office. In response to the allegations, the EU and USA warned Meciar that the republic would not be considered for EU membership unless he and his supporters stopped harassing the opposition and the president. A controversial language law was approved in November 1995, making Slovak the only official language and restricting the public use of others. In March 1996 the Slovak Republic signed a friendship treaty with Hungary.
Presidency vacant President Kovac's term expired in March 1998, and attempts to elect a successor during January and March failed since the candidates were unable to secure the necessary three-fifths majority in the National Council. This deadlock was caused by Prime Minister Meciar's HZDS failing to put forward a candidate and abstaining with the intention of creating a constitutional vacuum to augment Meciar's authority. It enabled Meciar to take over the president's powers in March with the intention of implementing changes to electoral rules that would improve his party's prospects in the September 1998 general election. He immediately used these new powers to sack 33 of the country's 42 ambassadors and to cancel a planned referendum on whether a new president should be directly elected. In August 1998 the National Council Chair, Ivan Gašparović, took over as acting head of state.
Coalition government in power In September 1998 Meciar stepped down as prime minister, after his ruling coalition lost its parliamentary majority in the general election, with the HZDS winning only 43 of the 150 National Council seats. In October 1998 Mikulas Dzurinda, leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Movement (KDH), became prime minister, heading a new centre-right coalition which included four main components: the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL), the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP).
This new government was a turning point for the republic. Under Meciar, the economy had remained largely unreformed and conditions were difficult for its Hungarian and Romany minorities. But Dzurinda committed the country to integration with Western Europe, with the goal of membership of NATO and the EU, and embarked on a programme of economic, constitutional, and human rights reforms to make this possible. Inward foreign investment was encouraged and, to improve inter-ethnic relations, an ethnic Hungarian was appointed to a new post of minister for minorities and human rights.
The country's first direct presidential elections were held in June 1999 and were won by Rudolf Schuster, the candidate of the centre-right, who defeated the populist-nationalist Meciar in a run-off. In October 1999, the government approved a plan for accession to NATO. In April 2000 the death penalty was abolished to bring the human rights system in line with that of Europe. And in the same month Meciar was arrested on charges of corruption.
Dzurinda re-elected and the republic joins the EU Prime Minister Dzurinda formed a new broad-based centre-right Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) in January 2000, which included the KDH, the SMK, and the Alliance of the New Citizen. The country was admitted into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in September 2000 and in January 2002 regional parliaments were created to devolve power.
Dzurinda secured a second term in October 2002 and, with EU accession talks completed, a referendum was held in May 2003 in which 92% of voters supported joining the EU. The Slovak Republic became a member of the EU on 1 May 2004.
Under Dzurinda the economy was restructured, with US and South Korean investment in its steel and automobile industries, taxes simplified (including a new 19% flat rate), and pensions and benefits reformed. The economy grew by over 5% a year between 2002 and 2006, and became nicknamed ‘the central European tiger’. But unemployment remained high, at 18% in 2005, wages low, and jobs insecure. While respected internationally, Dzurinda was not popular at home and in February 2004 there were riots in eastern Slovakia triggered by cuts in benefits.
Swing to the left The April 2004 presidential election saw a swing back in support towards the populist Meciar, who finished ahead, with 33% of the first-round vote, but was defeated in the run-off round by his former ally, Ivan Gašparović, who led the breakaway Movement for Democracy (HZD), and was later re-elected in 2009.
The 2006 parliamentary elections saw a swing to the left, with defeat of Dzurinda's governing coalition and victory for the pro-European centre-left Direction-Social Democracy Party (Smer), led by the populist former communist Robert Fico. It won 29% of the vote to 18% for the SDKU and Fico became prime minister, heading a coalition government which included the populist HZDS and the right-wing Slovak National Party (SNS). The new government put a greater emphasis on social welfare and withdrew Slovakian troops from Iraq and refused to allow then to serve in southern Afghanistan. However, the government also made sure that the level of public debt was reduced sufficiently for it to adopt the euro as its currency in January 2009. This was despite the turbulence caused by the global financial crisis in 2008–09.
The country's first female prime minister Smer raised its share of the vote to 35%, to win 62 of the 150 seats in the June 2010 parliamentary elections, but a slump in support for the SNS and HZDS meant the governing coalition lost its majority. In July 2010, a new right-of-centre four-party coalition was formed, with Iveta Radicová of the second-placed SDKU as the country's first female prime minister, and including the KDH, the centrist Freedom and Solidarity Party (SaS) and the ethnic Hungarian Most-Híd party. Radicová pledged cuts to state spending to address the budget deficit, and to improve relations with Hungary. However, she was defeated in a confidence vote in parliament in October 2011 after the SaS failed to support its partners in a vote in support of expansion of the European Financial Stability Fund to bail out member states.
Fico returns as prime minister but fails to become president An early general election was called in March 2012 and Fico's Smer achieved a landslide victory, winning 44% of the vote and 83 seats, while the SDKU, led by Mikulas Dzurinda (after Radicová had retired from politics) won only 6% support. Fico became prime minister at the head of the first Slovak government since 1989 with an absolute majority in parliament. He pledged to continue with the previous government's policy of reducing the deficit, but to introduce higher taxes on the rich to protect social welfare.
In March 2014 Fico contested for the presidency of Slovakia but was resoundingly defeated in the second round, by a 59% to 41% margin, by Andrej Kiska, an independent former businessman and philanthropist. Kiska successfully campaigned on the dangers of one party controlling both the government and presidency.
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