Slovak Republic

International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. However, anti-Semitism persists among some elements of the population.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The Slovak Republic has a total land area of 18,933 square miles and its population is 5,396,193. There are approximately 3.2 million Roman Catholics who make up 60.4 percent of the population. There are 180,000 Byzantine Catholics (approximately 3.4 percent), 35,000 Orthodox believers (0.7 percent), 333,000 members of the Augsburg Lutheran Church (6.2 percent), and 80,000 members of the Reformed Christian Church (1.7 percent). Approximate membership numbers for the smaller groups are: Jehovah's Witnesses, 22,000; the Baptist Church, 2,500; the Brethren Church, 2,000; Seventh-Day Adventists, 1,700; the Apostolic Church, 1,200; the Evangelical Methodist Church, 1,100; Jewish congregations, 1,500; the Old Catholic Church, 900; the Christian Corps in Slovakia, 700; the Czechoslovak Husite Church, 700; and, according to the 1991 census, 27.2 percent of the population had no religious affiliation.

There are 3 categories of nonregistered religions that comprise about 30 groups: nontraditional religions (Ananda Marga, Hare Krishna, Yoga in Daily Life, Osho, Sahadza Yoga, Shambaola Slovakia, Shri Chinmoy, Zazen International Slovakia, and Zen Centermyo Sahn Sah); the syncretic religious societies (Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, Movement of the Holy Grail, and The Baha'I Faith); and the Christian religious societies (The Church of Christ, Manna Church, International Association of Full Evangelium Traders, Christian Communities, Nazarens, New Revelation, New Apostolic Church, Word of International Life, Society of the Friends of Jesus Christ, Sword of Spirit, Disciples of Jesus Christ, Universal Life, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and Free Peoples' Mission).

The number of immigrants is insignificant. There are some very small numbers of refugees who practice different faiths than the majority of native-born citizens. Missionaries do not register with the State and no official statistics exist, although according to government information, there are missionaries from the Roman Catholic, Augsburg Lutheran, and Methodist faiths as well as a Jewish emissary active in the country. From among the nonregistered churches, there are Mormon missionaries.

There is very little correlation between religious differences and ethnic or political differences. The Christian Democratic Party (KDH), which has ties to the Catholic faith, is the only political party with a religious backing. Followers of the Orthodox Church live predominantly in the eastern part of the country near the Ukrainian border. Other religious groups tend to be spread quite evenly across the country.

According to a poll conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences in 1998, the number of practicing believers increased from 73 percent in 1991 to 83 percent in 1998. There was also an increase in the number of those who do not practice any religion, from 9.9 to 16.3 percent. Approximately 54 percent of Catholics and 22 percent of Lutherans actively participate in formal religious services. No more recent polls have been completed.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Constitution provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice and also provides for the right to change religion or faith, as well as the right to refrain from any religious affiliation. The Government observes and enforces these provisions in practice.

The new Law 308 on Freedom of Religion passed on October 31, 2000, provides for freedom of religion and defines the status of churches and religious groups, including those groups not registered with the Government. It does not prohibit the existence of nontraditional religions. It allows the State to enter agreements with churches and religious communities. This law is applied and enforced in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

Governmental entities at all levels, including the courts, interpret the law in a way that protects religious freedom.

No official state religion exists; however, the Catholic Church, the dominant faith in terms of membership, receives significantly larger state subsidies because it is the most populous church. Some independent observers claim that because the Vatican has signed an international treaty with the Government, the Catholic Church is advantaged over other religious groups. However, according to the Culture Ministry, other churches are preparing agreements, as well.

There are several religious holidays that are celebrated as national holidays, including Epiphany, the Day of the Virgin Mary of the Seven Sorrows, All Saints Day, St. Stephens Day, Christmas, and Easter. The treaty that the Government signed with the Vatican prohibits the removal or alteration of existing religious holidays considered as state holidays. However, none of these holidays appear to impact negatively any religious groups.

Registration of churches is not required, but under existing law, only registered churches and religious organizations have the explicit right to conduct public worship services and other activities, although no specific religions or practices are banned or discouraged by the authorities in practice. Those that register receive state benefits including subsidies for clergymen and office expenses. State funding also is provided to church schools and to teachers who lecture on religion in state schools. Occasionally, the State subsidizes one-time projects and significant church activities, and religious societies are partly exempt from paying taxes and import custom fees. A religion may elect not to accept the subsidies. There are 15 officially registered religions.

To register a religion new to the country, a 1991 law requires applicants to submit a list of 20,000 permanent residents who adhere to that religion. There is no case of a religious order being refused registration, and the religions already established before the law passed in 1991 were all exempt from the minimum membership requirement.

There are no specific licensing or registration requirements for foreign missionaries or religious organizations. The law allows all churches and religious communities and enables them to send out their representatives as well as to receive foreign missionaries without limitation. Missionaries neither need special permission to stay in the country, nor are their activities regulated in any way.

There were no cases of religions being denied registration and to our knowledge no religious groups failed to attempt to register because of the belief that their application would not be approved.

The public school curriculum allows students to choose to study religion or ethics from grade five to grade nine. These courses are often taught by religious leaders and the churches themselves are responsible for providing and paying instructors for them. There is a lack of appropriate teachers for certain religions.

The Church Department at the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between church and state. The Church Department manages the distribution of state subsidies to churches and religious associations. However, it cannot intervene in their internal affairs and does not direct their activities. The Ministry administers a cultural state fund--Pro Slovakia--which, among other things, allocates money to cover the repair of religious monuments. There is a government institute for relations between church and state.

Under the auspices of the government Office for National Minorities and Human Rights, an official agreement was signed between the Government and the Greek Catholic and Orthodox Churches to conclude property disputes stemming from the Communist and post-World War II eras. Since 1989 the State has promoted interfaith dialog and understanding by supporting events organized by various churches. The state-supported Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia promotes communication within the religious community. Most Christian churches have the status of members or observers in the Council. The Jewish community was invited, and sends observers, but chose not to participate.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs negotiated a treaty with the Vatican to define the framework of church-state relations and mutual commitments.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally unrestricted practice of religion. Although Government support is provided in a non-discriminatory way to registered churches that seek it, the requirement that a registered organization have 20,000 members disadvantages some smaller faiths. The Government monitors, although it does not interfere with, religious "cults" and "sects." Some property restitution cases remain unresolved.

The Institute of State-Church Relations monitors and researches religious cults and sects; however, it is difficult to identify these groups because they largely register as nongovernmental organizations rather than as religious groups. The Institute conducts seminars, issues publications, and provides information to the media regarding its findings.

Law 282/93 on Restitution of Communal Property enabled all churches and religious societies to apply for the return of their property that was confiscated by the Communist government. The deadline for these claims was December 31, 1994. The property was returned in its current condition and the State did not provide any compensation for the damage done to it during the previous regime. The property was returned by the State, by municipalities, by state legal entities, and under certain conditions by private persons. In some cases, the property was returned legally by the State but has not been vacated by the former tenant --often a school or hospital with nowhere else to go. There also have been problems with the return of property that had been undeveloped at the time of seizure but upon which there since has been construction. Churches, synagogues, and cemeteries have been returned, albeit mostly in poor condition. The churches and religious groups often lack the funds to restore these properties to a usable condition. The main obstacles to the resolution of outstanding restitution claims are the Government's lack of financial resources, due to its austerity program, and bureaucratic resistance on the part of those entities required to vacate restitutable properties.

While the Orthodox Church reported that six of the seven properties on which it had filed claims already had been returned, the Catholic Church and the Federation of Jewish Communities reported lower rates of success. The Catholic Church reported that more than half of the property that it had claimed had been returned to it already. In another 12 percent of cases the property had been returned legally to the Church but typically was occupied by other tenants and would require court action to be returned to church hands. The Church had not received any compensation for the remaining 40 percent of claims since these properties were undeveloped at the time of nationalization but since have been developed. The Church also is not eligible to reacquire lands that originally were registered to church foundations that no longer exist or no longer operate in the country, like the Benedictines.

The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) has reported some successful cases of restitution and has only a few pending cases that require resolution. These include cases in which property had been restituted to the FJC but not in usable condition, cases in which the property still is occupied by previous tenants, and lands upon which buildings had been constructed after the seizure of the property.

The FJC is dissatisfied with the Government's failure to discuss compensation for property that belonged to Jewish families who no longer have living heirs.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Improvements and Positive Developments in Respect for Religious Freedom

On December 15, 2000, the government Office for National Minorities facilitated the signing of an agreement between the Government and the Greek Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches.

A new piece of legislation, Law 308 on Freedom of Religion, passed on October 31, 2000; it provides for freedom of religion and defines the status of churches and religious groups, including those groups not registered with the Government. It does not prohibit the existence of nontraditional religions. It allows the State to enter into agreements with churches and religious communities. This law is applied and enforced in a nondiscriminatory fashion.

In February 2001, the Ministry of Education and the Institute of Judaism undertook a joint educational project on Jewish history and culture that is targeted to elementary and high school teachers of history, civic education, and ethics. This project is intended to assist in educating the public about Jewish themes and increase tolerance toward minorities. Currently the Government is seeking to obtain membership in the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

Relations among churches and religious societies are amicable. However, anti-Semitism persists among some elements of the population.

Despite protests by the Federation of Jewish Communities and Slovak National Party members, the official Slovak cultural organization Matica Slovenska continued their efforts to rehabilitate the historical reputation of Jozef Tiso, the leader of the Nazi-collaborationist wartime Slovak state. On March 14, 2001, a marginal nationalist party, Slovak National Unity (SNU), held a rally to commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the wartime Slovak state. Approximately 100 persons, including a number of skinheads, attended the rally. The police kept the event under tight control to prevent any violence. The chairman of the SNU, Stanislav Panis, in his tribute to Tiso appealed to the Government to make March 14 an official national holiday.

A musical skinhead group called Judenmord (Murder of Jews), has established a Webpage and participated in several concerts in the country as well as in the neighboring Czech Republic. The Jewish community has called on the Government to ban this openly anti-Semitic band, which the Government had not done by the end of the period covered by this report.

The Catholic Church intends to canonize the late Bishop Vajtasak, who was imprisoned after World War II and died as a consequence. Many protest this move, alleging that Vajtasak was a member of the National Council of the wartime pro-Nazi Slovak state and was aware of the deportations of Slovak Jews to Nazi concentration camps. The Jewish community possesses written records indicating that Vajtasak participated in the Government session that approved the deportation of Jews and the decision to pay 500 German marks to the German Government to cover their expenses in Nazi concentration camps.

In late May 2001, unknown culprits desecrated the Jewish cemetery in the central town of Levice for the fourth time in the past 3 years. The Jewish community has appealed to the mayor of Levice to properly investigate this incident.

The Jewish community has complained that a lawsuit against a former editor of publishing house Agres, Martin Savel, who published anti-Semitic literature and the anti-Jewish magazine Voice of Slovakia in the early 1990's, has never been resolved.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

The U.S. Embassy maintains contacts with a broad spectrum of religious groups. The Embassy encourages tolerance for minority religions.

Embassy officers meet with officials of the major religious groups on a regular basis to discuss property restitution issues as well as human rights conditions. Relations with religious groups are friendly and open. The Embassy continued its dialog with the Conference of Bishops, the Federation of Jewish Communities, and the Orthodox Church. The Embassy has good relations with the Ministry of Culture and has fostered an effective dialog between religious groups, the Ministry, and the Commission for the Preservation of U.S. Heritage Abroad on matters of importance to the commission. The Embassy lobbied actively members of the Government to establish the commission to resolve the questions of property without living heirs.

Embassy officers met with the head of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Jan Korec, and the director of the local branch of Amnesty International to discuss human rights concerns, including those of a religious nature. The Embassy organized meetings between official visitors and representatives of religious communities.

Embassy officers have played an active role in assisting in restitution cases involving U.S. citizens and have assisted the Government in its attempts to become a member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research and to initiate a liaison project on Holocaust education in cooperation with the Task Force.