Type of Government
The Slovak Republic, also known as Slovakia, is a parliamentary democracy. Its legislature, the National Council, consists of a single house with 150 seats. Most power in the government lies with the prime minister; the country has a president, but that position is largely ceremonial. The Slovak Republic also has four separate court systems: the Constitutional Court, the regular court system, a military court system, and a special court that deals only with cases of corruption.
The first Slovaks arrived in what is today Slovakia around 500 AD, but little is known about Slovak history until the early ninth century. At that time the Slovaks and their neighbors, the Czechs, joined together to form the Great Moravian Empire. The Great Moravian Empire ended when the Magyars (ancestors of modern-day Hungarians) conquered it in 907. Slovakia was then incorporated into the Kingdom of Hungary, and it remained under Hungarian rule for the next one thousand years. When the Kingdom of Hungary was defeated by the Ottoman Turks in 1526, Slovakia became part of the Austrian Habsburg Empire, but the Hungarian nobles who lived in Slovakia continued to rule over the Slovak peasants.
After World War I the Austro-Hungarian Empire was broken up, and the many nations that had been part of the empire became independent. Slovakia was joined with the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia to form a new country, Czechoslovakia. Slovaks generally supported this merger at first, but many of them later came to feel oppressed in Czechoslovakia. The Slovaks were dominated politically and economically by the Czechs, who were more numerous, more educated, more industrialized, and less devoutly Catholic than the Slovaks.
Nazi Germany actively meddled in the affairs of Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s, and some radicals in the Slovak parts of the country allied themselves with the Germans against the Czechs. The Slovaks were briefly rewarded, when under pressure from Germany, the Czechoslovak government permitted Slovakia to form its own autonomous government in October 1938. When the Czechs tried to reassert their control over Slovakia in March 1939, Slovakia, at German urging, declared its independence; the next day, the Germans conquered the Czech portions of the country. Slovakia remained closely allied with, and largely controlled by, Nazi Germany throughout World War II.
The Soviet Union liberated Slovakia from the Germans in 1944. In 1945 Slovakia and the Czech lands were once again reunited into the single country of Czechoslovakia. With the support of many Czechs and Slovaks, the Soviet Union punished the Slovaks who had collaborated with the Germans during World War II and instituted a new government. This government was originally democratic, but in 1948 Czechoslovakia became a Communist dictatorship.
Slovaks had somewhat more power relative to the Czechs in Communist Czechoslovakia than they had had in interwar Czechoslovakia, although the country was still dominated by the Czechs. Two of Czechoslovakia’s Communist presidents, Alexander Dubcek (1921–1992) and Gustav Husák (1913–1991), were Slovaks. However, ultimately both Slovaks and Czechs were ruled by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union even invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 in order to remove Dubcek as the country’s leader and to end the reforms that Dubcek had instituted under the slogan “socialism with a human face.”
The Communist government of Czechoslovakia was brought down by popular protests late in 1989. The old tensions between Czechs and Slovaks reemerged almost immediately thereafter. Czech and Slovak politicians were unable to agree on a new constitution, on the speed of economic reform, or even on the country’s name. (The Czechs wanted to call it the Czechoslovak Republic; the Slovaks preferred Czecho-Slovak Republic.) By the end of 1992 politicians on both sides had become resigned separation, despite the fact that fewer than 40 percent of both Slovaks and Czechs said in polls that they wanted the country to be dissolved. On January 1, 1993, Slovakia officially became an independent country.
Political power in the Slovak Republic centers on the National Council, a unicameral (one-house) parliament containing 150 seats. Representatives are elected to four-year terms in the National Council based on a nationwide proportional representation system. (Under a proportional representation system, voters vote for parties, rather than for individual candidates, and the seats in the parliament are divided up among the parties based on the percentage of the votes that each party receives.) There are no districts; all voters in the country vote for the same lists of candidates, and all representatives represent the entire country. Parties have to receive a minimum of 5 percent of the vote in elections in order to be assigned seats in the parliament.
Once all of the seats in the parliament have been assigned, the parties negotiate with each other to form a governing coalition—a group of parties that controls (usually) a majority of the seats in the parliament and that agrees to work together to govern the country. The leader of the largest party in this coalition generally becomes the prime minister. The prime minister then selects a group of legislators from the parties in his coalition to form a cabinet, which is officially appointed by the president. Together, the prime minister and the cabinet exercise the majority of executive power in Slovakia.
Before 1998 the president was elected by the parliament, but that year a constitutional amendment was passed calling for the president to be elected directly by the people. These elections take place in two rounds, with the top two finishers in the first round competing head-to-head in the second. The president serves a five-year term as the head of state. He or she has some executive powers, including the power to command the Slovak military, but most power in the government lies with the prime minister, the cabinet, and the parliament.
The Slovak Republic has four separate court systems: a Constitutional Court that determines whether laws contradict the Slovak constitution, the regular court system, a military court system, and a Special Court that deals only with cases of corruption. The regular court system is headed by a Supreme Court, the highest appeals court in the country, whose judges are elected by the National Council. The judges of the Constitutional Court and the Special Court are appointed by the president, but in both cases the president is limited in his or her choices. Constitutional Court judges must be appointed from a list of nominees approved by the National Council, and Special Court judges are elected by other judges before being appointed by the president.
Political Parties and Factions
The Slovak Republic has had a dizzying number of political parties and coalitions since it became independent in 1993. The longest-lasting parties have been the party of former Slovakian Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar (1942–), the People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (LS–HZDS, which formerly went by the name Movement for a Democratic Slovakia); the Christian Democratic Movement, a small conservative party; and the Slovak National Party, a far-right party known for its hostility toward Slovakia’s Hungarian and Roma (Gypsy) minorities.
As of the 2006 elections, the most popular political party in Slovakia was Smer (“Direction”), a populist ex-Communist party that was founded in 1999 when the original Slovakian ex-Communist party, the Party of the Democratic Left, split. Following this split, most of the Party of the Democratic Left’s supporters defected to Smer, and on January 1, 2005, the two parties remerged. The remerged party, which also incorporated the smaller left-wing parties the Social Democratic Alternative and the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia, goes by the full name Smer–Social Democracy.
Other important political parties include the Party of the Hungarian Coalition, which represents the substantial Hungarian minority in Slovakia; the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union–Democratic Party, a right-wing party formed by the 2006 merger of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union and the Democratic Party; the Alliance of the New Citizen (known by its abbreviation ANO, which means “yes” in the Slovak language), an economically and socially liberal party; and the Communist Party of Slovakia, whose support has hovered between 4 and 6 percent since 2000.
For most of the 1990s Slovakia was under the control of Meciar, an ex-Communist who perpetuated some of the worst aspects of Communist rule. During Meciar’s time as prime minister, the government controlled television, radio, and theaters; Meciar’s political opponents were harassed; and foreigners viewed the government as so corrupt that the European Union and NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) would not even discuss allowing Slovakia to join those organizations. Meciar, however, was popular with many voters because he provided them with jobs and other economic benefits.
Meciar was finally voted out as prime minister in 1998. His party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, won more seats than any other party in the parliament that year, but five opposition parties united to form a broad coalition of both liberals and conservatives that together controlled 93 out of the 150 seats in the parliament. This coalition’s leader, Mikuláš Dzurinda (1955–), became prime minister.
Dzurinda and his allies enacted a number of reforms. They attacked corruption within the police, the intelligence services, and other arms of the government; simplified the tax system; reformed the health care and retirement systems to make them less costly; and ended state control over the prices of goods and services. These changes improved Slovakia’s image in the eyes of foreigners. Foreign investment money began to pour into Slovakia, and the country joined both NATO and the European Union in 2004. However, the reforms proved less popular with the voters. Dzurinda’s government was forced to cut many expensive but popular programs as it tried to dig the country out of the debts that Meciar had left behind, and by 2003 Dzurinda’s popularity rating was a mere 5 percent.
In 2006 Slovaks voted out Dzurinda’s reformist government and voted in a populist government led by Smer and also including Meciar’s People’s Party–Movement for a Democratic Slovakia and the Slovak National Party. During the campaign these parties promised to roll back many of Dzurinda’s reforms, to the dismay of the business community and foreign investors in Slovakia, but once in power they did not make any strong moves toward carrying out their promises.
National Council of the Slovak Republic. (accessed July 4, 2007).