Slovak Republic

International Religious Freedom Report 2003
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 persisted 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 country has a total area of 18,933 square miles, and its population is 5,396,193. According to the 2001 census, the number of persons who claimed a religious affiliation increased from 72.8 percent in 1991 to 84.1 percent in 2001. This increase may be in part due to greater willingness among persons to state their affiliation, unlike in 1991 immediately after the fall of communism. According to the census, there were 3,708,120 Roman Catholics (68.9 percent of the population), 372,858 Augsburg Lutherans (6.9 percent), 219,831 Byzantine Catholics (4.1 percent), 109,735 members of the Reformed Christian Church (2 percent), 50,363 Orthodox Christians (1 percent), and 20,630 members of Jehovah's Witnesses. There were also approximately 3,562 Baptists, 3,217 Brethren Church members, 3,429 Seventh-day Adventists, 3,905 Apostolic Church members, 7,347 Evangelical Methodist Church members, 2,310 Jewish members, 1,733 Old Catholic Church members, 6,519 Christian Corps in Slovakia members, and 1,696 Czechoslovak Husite Church members. According to the 2001 census, 12 percent of the population claimed no religious affiliation, and 2 percent were undecided. There were also some Muslims living in the country, primarily immigrants from Middle Eastern countries or international students. Estimates of the Muslim population vary from 500 to 5,000.

There are 3 categories of nonregistered religions that comprise approximately 30 groups: nontraditional religions (Ananda Marga, Hare Krishna, Yoga in Daily Life, Osho, Sahadza Yoga, Shambaola Slovakia, Sri Chinmoy, Zazen International Slovakia, Zen Centermyo Sahn Sah, Rosicrucians, Raelians, and Moon Sect); 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, Nazarenes, New Revelation, 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), Free Peoples' Mission, Presbyterian Church Emmanuel, and Brothers in Christ (Christadelphians).

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 Government 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 some 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 an explicitly religious agenda. The Slovak Democratic Christian Union (SDKU) is a Christian Democratic party similar to those found in many western European countries, and the Party of the Hungarian Coalition (SMK) also has a Christian wing.

Followers of the Orthodox Church live predominantly in the eastern part of the country near the Ukrainian border. The Ruthenian minority are typically adherents to the Orthodox faith. The Reformed Christian Church exists primarily in the south, near the border with Hungary, where many ethnic Hungarians live. Other religious groups tend to be spread evenly across the country.

According to a poll conducted by the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences in 1998, the number of religious practitioners increased from 73 percent in 1991 to 83 percent in 1998. Approximately 54 percent of Catholics and 22 percent of Lutherans actively participate in formal religious services.

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 strives to protect 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, the right to change religion or faith, and the right to refrain from any religious affiliation. The Government observes and enforces these provisions in practice.

The law provides for freedom of religion and defines the status of religious groups, including those groups not registered with the Government. It does not prohibit the existence of nontraditional religions. It allows the Government to enter agreements with religious communities. The 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, because of the numbers of adherents, Catholicism is considered the dominant religion. The Catholic Church receives significantly larger government subsidies because it has the most clergy. In November 2001, the Government signed an international treaty with the Vatican, which provides the legal framework for relations between the country's Catholic Church, the Government, and the Vatican. Four corollaries to the framework treaty have been proposed. The Government approved one of the corollaries regarding military service for priests. The remaining three corollaries, including a proposal to allow Catholic government employees to refuse to perform official functions on religious grounds, remained under consideration at the end of the period covered by this report.

In April 2002, the Government signed an agreement with an additional 11 registered religious groups in an attempt to counterbalance the Vatican agreement and provide equal status to the remaining registered religions. This agreement is subordinate to national law and subject to amendment by statute; the Vatican treaty, as an international agreement, can only be amended through international legal mechanisms.

Registration of religious groups is not required, but under existing law, only registered religious groups 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 government benefits, including subsidies for clergymen and office expenses. Government funding also is provided to religious schools and to teachers who lecture on religion in state schools. The Government occasionally subsidizes one-time projects and significant religious activities, and registered religious groups are partly exempt from paying taxes and import custom fees. A religion may elect not to accept the subsidies. By law, funding is based on the number of clergy, not the number of adherents, resulting in some religions with fewer members receiving more funding than those with more. In 2001 the New Apostolic Church was registered, raising the number of registered religious groups from 15 to 16.

To register a new religion, a group must submit a list of 20,000 permanent residents who adhere to that religion. The 14 religions already established before the law passed in 1991 were exempt from the membership requirement. Although the Nazarene and the Muslim communities existed in the country prior to 1991, they were never properly registered and therefore were not given registered status under the 1991 law. Two additional religious groups have been allowed to register since 1991, the Jehovah's Witnesses and the New Apostolic Church. Leaders of a number of minority religious communities, in particular Muslims, smaller Protestant churches, the Hare Krishna community, and the Church of Scientology have complained about the membership requirement, which effectively bars them from obtaining registered status. Nonregistered religious groups may not build public places of worship or conduct legally valid religious ceremonies such as weddings. In 2000 the Muslim community in Bratislava purchased a plot of land with the hope of building an Islamic center, but municipal officials continue to deny permission for the construction. Because the law on registration of religious groups does not provide for registration of non-theistic groups, the Department of Church Affairs suggested that an atheist group that had made inquiries into obtaining registration might find funding from the Department of Minority Culture.

There are no specific licensing or registration requirements for foreign missionaries or religious organizations. The law allows all religious groups 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.

Public school curriculum allowed students to choose to study religion or ethics from grade five to grade nine. These courses often are taught by religious leaders, and the religious groups themselves are responsible for providing instructors, although their salaries are covered from the government budget. There is a lack of appropriate teachers for certain religions. Some representatives of religious groups complain that the status of religious lecturers is not equal with that of regular teachers. Religious lecturers usually are hired on contract and are not paid during the 2-month summer vacation.

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 to educate the public about Jewish themes and increase tolerance toward minorities. The Government, as an associate member, is seeking to obtain full membership in the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. The project has continued to be very successful and well received. In 2002 four teachers participated in summer training programs in the United States, and in 2003 an additional teacher attended.

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. Stephen's Day, Christmas, and Easter. A treaty 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.

The Department of Church Affairs at the Ministry of Culture oversees relations between religious groups and the State and manages the distribution of state subsidies to religious groups and associations. However, the Ministry cannot intervene in the internal affairs of religious groups 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. Public cooperation was integral to the reconstruction of a Jewish cemetery in Bratislava, which involved rerouting tram tracks. The site, including the grave of 19th-century Jewish scholar Chatam Sofer, was restored in 2001 with substantial financing from the Bratislava Local Council as well as from a foreign organization, the International Committee for the Preservation of the Gravesites of Geonai in Pressburg.

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 Government has promoted interfaith dialog and understanding by supporting events organized by various religious groups. The state-supported Ecumenical Council of Churches 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.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. Although government support is provided in a non-discriminatory way to registered religious groups that seek it, the requirement that a registered organization have 20,000 members disadvantages some smaller faiths. The Government monitors but 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. The Institute's budget comes mainly from the Ministry of Culture's general fund, although it has received some grants for its projects from other sources. Other organizations not funded by the Government, such as the Center for the Study of Sects, engage in similar work.

Some Scientologists complain of harassment by the Slovak Information Service (SIS). In 2002 stories appeared in the media that were critical of companies that have ties to Scientology, including reports that the SIS director was concerned that a company with an indirect connection to the Church of Scientology had won a contract to provide the Government with a new computer system. The award was eventually cancelled, and a new one had not been announced by the end of the period covered by this report.

Law 282/93 on Restitution of Communal Property enabled all religious groups 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 existing condition, and the Government did not provide any compensation for the damage done to it during the previous regime. The property was returned by the Government, municipalities, state legal entities, and under certain conditions, by private persons. In some cases, the property was returned legally by the Government but was not 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. 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. The Reformed Christian Church has been vocal regarding its unfulfilled restitution claims. The Church exists primarily in poorer areas of the country where there is little money for restoration; it is seeking funds from abroad.

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 Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in the Slovak Republic (UZZNO) 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.

UZZNO 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 UZZNO 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.

Following 2 years of negotiations, the Deputy Prime Minister's office drafted a proposal of compensation for heirless property owned by Jewish families before the Holocaust. In September 2002, the Cabinet agreed to $18,747,253 (SKK 850 million) in compensation for this property. The entire amount has been placed into an account at the Slovak National Bank, and one-third of it has been made available immediately as needed due to the advancing age of Holocaust survivors. The Jewish community will draw interest on the account for 10 years before receiving the remaining principal. The community intends to use the funds for compensation to some community members as well as to fund social, educational, and cultural programs.

In February 2002, Parliament passed an amendment to Law 206, which allows compensation to Jewish Holocaust victims who lived in the country's territory when it was occupied by Hungary. Law 305 compensates the victims or direct heirs of victims of Nazi persecution during World War II in the wartime State. The deadline for applications under the amendment was November 2002. UZZNO filed a lawsuit against Germany to reclaim compensation of $425,000 (SKK 19,269,500) that the wartime Government paid to Germany to cover the cost to deport 57,000 Jews. The lawsuit was postponed until 2003.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

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 refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom. Few communication problems exist among the major faiths, and there are several ecumenical organizations that foster closer relationships. The Ecumenical Council of Churches operates and comprises several religions. Some of the recognized religious groups formed a working group on religion and sects, which functions as the authority on new religious movements. President Schuster brought together the heads of all the registered faiths for a meeting on New Year's Day to highlight previous issues successfully resolved, such as pastoral services in the military and the completion of governmental treaties with all the major faiths in the country.

Anti-Semitism continues to persist among some elements of society, manifested occasionally in incidences of violence and vandalism. According to estimates, 500 to 800 neo-Nazis and 3,000 to 5,000 sympathizers operate in the country and commit serious offenses; however, only a small number of these abuses are prosecuted. The Penal Code stipulates that anyone who publicly demonstrates sympathy towards fascism or movements oppressing human rights and freedoms can be sentenced to jail for up to 3 years. Legislation is similar to that of neighboring countries, but court delays and insufficient legal remedies have prevented comparable improvements in the situation.

The low number of prosecutions for racially motivated crime generally improved over the past year due to the creation of a specialized police unit and an advisor in the Bratislava Regional Police. Their successes included the arrest of 24 skinheads, including one of the major neo-Nazi organizers, at a large meeting in 2003. In another success, the Bratislava Police checked 158 suspected meeting places of extremist groups in an overnight raid, which resulted in 14 arrests. Due to this monitoring unit and its NGO advisory board, the police are better trained in identifying neo-Nazi members and more informed about their activities. However, activists expressed the need for more resources to be devoted to raise the number of specialists to at least two officers in each of the country's eight regions.

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 police have not completed this investigation, and the group's record "Arbeit macht frei" still remains popular among skinheads.

Some organizations, such as the official cultural organization Matica Slovenska, and the Slovak National Party (SNS), continue to seek the rehabilitation of former leaders of the Nazi-collaborationist State under Josef Tiso. Meetings and demonstrations to commemorate the anniversary of the first Slovak State from World War II occurred throughout the country. Despite protests by UZZNO, Matica Slovenska gave Jozef Mikus, a top official in the Tiso regime, an award for the protection of human rights. President Schuster also was criticized for awarding the Pribina Cross, 1st Class to Mikus for his contributions to the country. Jozef Mikus was employed with the Foreign Ministry during the Tiso regime and fled the country after the war to escape imprisonment.

In January a Jewish cemetery in Banovce nad Bebravou was desecrated and 35 tombs were destroyed. This was the fourth such attack on the Jewish Cemetery located in the birthplace of the wartime President Jozef Tiso. Some of the vandals were immediately taken into custody but received suspended sentences of 4 to 7 months in prison and a fine of up to $3,439 (SKK 135,000) in view of the fact that they were minors.

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

The Catholic Church's plans to canonize Bishop Vojtasak were stalled by repeated protests worldwide from Jewish and civic organizations, particularly UZZNO. Vojtasak was a member of Parliament in the wartime pro-Nazi State and was aware of the deportations of Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

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 and official visitors 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 Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission actively lobbied members of the Government to expedite the work of the Joint Commission on resolving the questions of heirless property taken from Holocaust victims. This work was successfully concluded during the reporting period.

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. The Public Affairs Section has continued to be active in perpetuating this successful project.