Background Notes: Slovakia, Slovakia Official Info - RealAdventures

Background Notes: Slovakia

Slovakia Official Info

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Details of Background Notes: Slovakia, Slovakia Official Info
Details for Background Notes: Slovakia

Slovakia Official Info

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The majority of the 5.3 million inhabitants of the Slovak Republic are Slovak (86%). Hungarians are the largest ethnic minority (11%) and are concentrated in the southern and eastern regions of Slovakia. Other ethnic groups include Roma, Czechs, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Germans, and Poles.

The Slovak constitution guarantees freedom of religion. The majority of Slovak citizens (60%) practice Roman Catholicism; the second-largest group are Protestants. About 3,000 Jews remain of the estimated pre-WWII population of 120,000. The official state language is Slovak, and Hungarian is widely spoken in the southern region.

Despite its modern European economy and society, Slovakia has a significant rural element. About 45% of Slovaks live in villages of less than 5,000 people, and 14% in villages of less than 1,000.



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From the 11th until the early 20th century, present-day Slovakia was under Hungarian rule. The Slovak national revival was begun in the 19 century by intellectuals seeking to revive the Slovak language and culture. The formation of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1918 following World War I satisfied the common aspirations of Czechs and Slovaks for independence from the Habsburg Empire.

Although Czechoslovakia was the only east-central European country to remain a parliamentary democracy from 1918 to 1938, it was plagued with minority problems, the most important of which concerned the country's large German population. In 1938, the Allies concluded the Munich agreement which forced Czechoslovakia to cede the predominantly German region known as Sudetenland to Germany. Then, in March 1939 Germany invaded what remained of Bohemia and Moravia and established a German protectorate. Slovakia had already declared its independence on March 14, 1939, and had become a Nazi German puppet state led by Jozef Tiso.

On August 29, 1944, 60,000 Slovak troops organized by the underground rose up against the Nazis and the Tiso regime in what became known as the Slovak National Uprising. Although ultimately unsuccessful, this act of resistance became an important historical landmark for the Slovaks. At the close of World War II, Soviet troops overran all of Slovakia, Moravia, and much of Bohemia.

Reunited after the war, the Czechs and Slovaks held elections in 1946. In Slovakia, the Democratic Party won the elections, but the Czechoslovak Communist Party won 38% of the total vote in Czechoslovakia and eventually seized power, in February 1948. The next four decades were characterized by strict communist rule, interrupted only briefly in 1968 when Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak, became party leader. Dubcek proposed political, social, and economic reforms in his effort to make "socialism with a human face" a reality. Concern among other Warsaw Pact governments that Dubcek had gone too far led to the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968, by Soviet, Hungarian, Bulgarian, East German, and Polish troops. Dubcek was removed as party leader and replaced by another Slovak, Gustav Husak, in April 1969.

The 1970s and 1980s became known as the period of "normalization," in which the apologists for the 1968 Soviet invasion prevented, as best they could, any opposition to their conservative regime. Political, social, and economic life stagnated. Because the center of the reform movement had been in Prague, normalization was less harshly felt in Slovakia. In fact, the Slovak Republic saw comparatively high economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s relative to the Czech Republic.

The 1970s were also characterized by the development of a dissident movement, especially in the Czech Republic. On January l, 1977, more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to meet its human rights obligations.

On November 17, 1989, a series of public protests known as the "Velvet Revolution" began and led to the downfall of communist rule in Czechoslovakia. A transition government was formed in December 1989, and the first free elections in Czechoslovakia since 1948 took place in June 1990. In 1992, negotiations on the new federal constitution deadlocked over the issue of Slovak autonomy, and in the latter half of 1992, agreement was reached to peacefully divide Czechoslovakia. On January 1, 1993, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic were simultaneously and peacefully founded. Both states attained immediate recognition from the U.S. and their European neighbors.

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Slovakia's highest legislative body is the 150-seat unicameral National Council of the Slovak Republic. Delegates are elected for 4-year terms on the basis of proportional representation. The Slovak political scene supports a wide spectrum of political parties ranging from the successors to the Communist Party -- the Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) -- to the nationalistic Slovak National Party (SNS) on the right.

In the days following the "Velvet Revolution," Charter 77 and other groups united to become the Civic Forum, an umbrella group championing bureaucratic reform and civil liberties. Its leader was the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel who was elected President of Czechoslovakia in December 1989. Its Slovak counterpart, Public Against Violence, was based on the same ideals.

In the June 1990 elections, Civic Forum and Public Against Violence won landslide victories. Civic Forum and Public Against Violence found, however, that although they had successfully completed their primary objective -- the overthrow of the communist regime -- they were less effective as governing parties. In the 1992 elections, both Civic Forum and Public Against Violence were replaced by a spectrum of new parties.

In elections held in June 1992, Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party won in the Czech lands on a platform of economic reform, and Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) emerged as the leading party in Slovakia, basing its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy. Meciar and Klaus negotiated the agreement to divide Czechoslovakia, and Meciar's party -- the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)-- ruled Slovakia for most of its first 5 years as an independent state, except for a 9-month period in 1994, during which Slovakia was ruled by a reformist government under Prime Minister Jozef Moravcik. The Moravcik government succeeded the country's initial HZDS-SNS coalition government led by Meciar after a vote of no confidence in March 1994, but Meciar returned to power in December 1994.

In the run-up to elections in October 1998, Meciar's government was accused of thwarting democratic principles and imposing a biased election law. A record 84% of voters participated in the vote, giving the Dzurinda government a clear mandate for change to a reformist coalition led by economist Mikulas Dzurinda and made up of four diverse parties -- the Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), SDL, the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK), and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP). Since the election, the new government has exposed widespread corruption and economic mismanagement by the previous government, which had seriously undermined efforts to maintain economic growth and integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Under the original Slovak Constitution, the president was elected by Parliament to a 5-year term. Since the Parliament was unable to agree on a successor to President Michal Kovac when his term ended March 2, 1998, most presidential powers reverted to the prime minister. In January 1999, Parliament passed a constitutional amendment allowing for direct election of the president. Kosice Mayor Rudolf Schuster was elected president in a May 1999 run-off with former PM Meciar and took office on June 15, 1999. The president serves as commander in chief of the armed forces, appoints ministers, grants pardons, and has the right to dissolve Parliament under certain circumstances. The president also signs laws and has the right to return legislation to Parliament, but Parliament can override this veto with a simple majority vote.

The country's highest court of appeals is the Supreme Court, elected by and responsible to the National Council. The 10 members of the Constitutional Court, who rule on constitutional issues, are appointed by the president from a choice of candidates nominated by Parliament.

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President -- Rudolf Schuster
Prime Minister -- Mikulas Dzurinda
Minister of Foreign Affairs -- Eduard Kukan
Ambassador to the United States -- Martin Butora
ChargŽ d'Affaires to the United Nations -- Peter Tomka
Ambassador to NATO -- Peter Burian
Ambassador to the EU -- Juraj Migas

Slovakia maintains a temporary chancery in the United States at Suite 380, 2201 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, D.C. 20007. Construction on a permanent chancery is due to be completed in 2000.

Slovakia maintains a foreign trade office in New York and honorary consulates in Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

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Since the establishment of the Slovak Republic in January 1993, Slovakia has continued the difficult transformation from a centrally planned economy to a modern market-oriented economy. This process slowed somewhat in the 1994-1998 period due to the crony capitalism and irresponsible fiscal policies of the Meciar government. While GDP growth rates and macroeconomic performance indicators rose steadily during this period, public and private debt and trade deficits soared, and privatization, often tarnished by corrupt insider deals, progressed only in fits and starts. GDP growth peaked at 7% in 1996, declining to about 5% for 1998. Much of this growth, however, was attributable to high government spending and over-borrowing rather than productive economic activity. Economic growth slowed to 1.8% in the first quarter of 1999 and will probably not exceed 1% for the year. Inflation, which had dropped from 26% in 1993 to 6% in 1997, is again rising, standing at about 7.5% at the end of 1998. It may reach 12-13% in 1999. The trade and current account deficits reached 11% of GDP in the first half of 1998. Gross foreign debt was about $12 billion at the beginning of 1999, more than 60% of GDP, but is expected to decline to $10 billion by the end of the year due to a change in monetary instruments of the National Bank. In May 1999, the Government of Slovakia approved a wide-ranging package of austerity programs to cut state spending, lower social benefits, and deregulate various prices, such as those for electricity, natural gas, and public transportation. These measures are expected to lower the budget deficit to 2.5-3% of GDP, down from 6% in 1998.

Slovakia continues to have problems attracting foreign investment, although the Dzurinda government has introduced incentives to foreign direct investment. The most egregious privatization scandals of the Meciar period are being reviewed and many state-held companies, including banks and telecoms, will be privatized in the next 1-2 years. The new government's ambitious economic plans could founder if the coalition lacks unity on some of the more painful economic decision. Encouraging words from the EU, OECD and foreign creditors should help Dzurinda and his team boost public support for their program within Slovakia.

Germany is Slovakia's largest trading partner, purchasing about 23% of Slovakia's exports and supplying more than 25% of its imports. Other major partners include the Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, and Italy. Slovakia imports nearly all of its oil and gas from Russia. Slovakia's export markets are primarily OECD countries and the European Union. More than 50% of its trade is with EU members. The United States accounts for about 3% of total trade with Slovakia. The Slovak Republic has Most Favored Nation status and receives duty-free (GSP) benefits for many of its products.

The government has applied for membership in the OECD and the EU. Slovakia signed an Association Agreement with the EU in October 1993, which went into effect in February 1995. In 1994, Slovakia was one of the original members of the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA).

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Since Slovakia became an independent state in 1993, the government has stated that integration into Western economic and security structures is its chief foreign policy objective. While Slovakia has generally met the economic requirements for membership in these institutions and was initially favored to be in the first round of integration, international concerns about the state of democratic development are currently an obstacle for EU and NATO accession. Slovakia is in the accession process for membership in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Slovakia and the Czech Republic entered into a Customs Union upon the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993. The Customs Union enables a relatively free flow of goods and services. CEFTA similarly has improved market access for Slovakia's neighbors. Hungary and Slovakia signed a Basic Treaty in 1995 and are currently negotiating its implementation.

Slovakia is a member of the United Nations and participates in its specialized agencies. It is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It maintains diplomatic relations with 135 countries of which 44 have permanent representation in Bratislava.

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Millions of Americans have their roots in Slovakia and many retain strong cultural and familial ties to the Slovak Republic. President Woodrow Wilson and the United States played a major role in the establishment of the original Czechoslovak state on October 28, 1918, and President Wilson's Fourteen Points were the basis for the union of the Czechs and Slovaks. Tomas Masaryk, the father of the Czechoslovak state and its first president, visited the United States during World War I and used the U.S. Constitution as a model for the first Czechoslovak Constitution.

Relations were cool between the two governments during the 50 years of communist rule. When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the United States referred the matter to the UN Security Council as a violation of the UN Charter, but no action was taken against the Soviets.

The fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1989 and the subsequent split of the two republics on January 1, 1993, allowed for renewed cooperation between the U.S. and Slovakia. The United States has delivered more than $200 million since 1990 to support the rebuilding of a healthy democracy and market economy in Slovakia, primarily through programs administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Slovakia and the U.S. retain strong diplomatic ties, cooperate in military and law enforcement areas, and engage in economic partnership. The election of a pro-Western, reformist government in late 1998 has further boosted close ties between the countries.

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Ambassador -- Vacant (Ambassador-designate -- Carl Spielvogel)
Deputy Chief of Mission -- Douglas Hengel
Political Officer -- Michael Martin
Economic/Commercial Officer -- Mark Bochetti
Senior Commercial Officer -- Stephen Craven (resident in Vienna)
Consul -- Sara Potter
Administrative Officer -- Heather A. Townsend
Public Affairs Officer (USIS) -- Richard O. Lankford
Defense Attache -- Lieutenant Colonel John Markowicz
USAID Representative -- Paula Goddard
Peace Corps Director -- Nelson Chase

The U.S. embassy in Slovakia is located at Hviezdoslavovo namestie 4, 81102 Bratislava (tel: 421-7-5443-08-61 or 421-7-5443-33-38; fax: 421-7-5443-00-96). Duty hours are Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The embassy is closed on U.S. and Slovak holidays.

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