THE SLOVAK REPUBLIC
Human Rights Developments
During 1994 the nature of human rights abuses in the Slovak Republic corresponded to the shifts in political power. Government efforts to interfere with the independence of the press and to place restrictions on the rights of ethnic minorities, in particular the ethnic Hungarian minority, subsided substantially during the six months prior to the September 31 elections.
On March 11, the government of Vladimir Meciar was defeated by a no-confidence vote and a coalition government was formed by Jozef Moravcik, former Slovak foreign minister. Then, in parliamentary elections held on September 31 and October 1, Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (MDS) won almost 35 percent of the vote, making it the decisive winner. By early November, Meciar, in coalition with the Slovak National Party and several other small parties, had not been able to form a new government.
Although election observers did not report any significant irregularities on election day, voters in some precincts, including Vladimir Meciar himself, were unable to vote on the first day of the elections because their names did not appear on the election lists. The electoral commission was apparently able to resolve the problem by allowing individuals to vote if they fulfilled other criteria set out by the law. There were also complaints that Slovak Television, which is state-run, was biased in its reporting during the election campaign. The Council of Slovak Television concluded that Slovak Television had not given the political parties equal access to television airtime and that the reporting on political events and the campaign had been biased.
Controversy over the media had long preceded the election campaign. For nearly two years the Meciar government had been intolerant of press criticism, tending to view such criticism as slanderous attacks on the Slovak state. As early as 1992, Slovak government officials had become preoccupied with what they viewed as the failure of the press to tell the "truth" about the Slovak Republic and its government, and they initiated a series of steps intended to subjugate the media to the government's own political interests. For example, on January 25, 1994, Andrej Hrico, editor-in-chief of the independent newspaper Domino efekt, was charged with defamation under Article 103 of the penal code for having published a reader's letter critical of several political leaders, including then-Prime Minister Meciar and President Kovac. Hrico was interrogated by the police on several occasions during 1994. His case was still pending in November.
Tensions between Slovaks and the ethnic Hungarian minority ran high during the first half of 1994. The Meciar government repeatedly refused to approve legislation that was of particular concern to the Hungarian minority and that had been recommended by the Council of Europe when it approved the Slovak Republic's membership in October 1993. By contrast, the Moravcik government took steps that reduced tensions during the summer and fall of 1994. For example, on May 3 the interim government adopted legislation allowing members of minority groups to spell their names in a manner consistent with their own language and traditions. On May 10 the interim government also approved a new law allowing approximately 600 towns and villages with minority populations of 20 percent or more to post bilingual road signs. What is more, the outgoing cabinet of Jozef Moravcik established a new governmental agency to combat racism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. This agency fulfilled another recommendation made by the Council of Europe in 1993.
The Right to Monitor
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki was not aware of any interference in the work of human rights monitors by the government of the Slovak Republic.
Immediately prior to the elections, on September 16, President Clinton sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Moravcik expressing the interest of the U.S. in continued progress in the Slovak Republic's transition to democracy. This letter was widely viewed in the Slovak Republic as indicating U.S. support for the Moravcik government in the upcoming elections.
The only other significant comment on human rights in the Slovak Republic was found in the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993. The country report was generally comprehensive in its discussion of the human rights issues in the Slovak Republic. However, the report failed to discuss adequately the nationalist and anti-minority sentiments given expression by the Meciar government and their impact on human rights policies. For example, the report failed to discuss in any detail the statements made by then-Prime Minister Meciar in September 1993 that it was necessary to curtail family allowances that encourage "widespread reproduction" because Gypsies are having children who are "mentally and socially unadaptable."
The Work of
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki closely monitored developments regarding restrictions on the press in the Slovak Republic, particularly in the months leading up to the September electoral campaign. In June, we issued a report documenting a series of governmental abuses related to the press that had occurred during the previous two years. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki called on the interim government of Jozef Moravcik to disassociate itself from the media policies of its predecessor in order to create an environment in which the independent press could flourish. Specifically, the report stated:
It is not enough that the new government leaders, prior to coming to power, criticized the Meciar government for its efforts to control and intimidate journalists who were critical of its policies. The new government, which is itself likely to become the focus of increased press scrutiny, must also resist the temptation to resort to such methods against its own opponents in the press.
Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also continued to monitor closely the treatment of the Roma and Hungarian ethnic minorities, as well as efforts by the Slovak government to address serious problems of discrimination on the basis of race and ethnicity.