Slovakia (03/04)

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.

Slovakia flag is three equal horizontal bands of white (top), blue, and red superimposed with the Slovak cross in a shield centered on the hoist side; the cross is white centered on a background of red and blue. 2003.


The Slovak Republic

Area: 48, 845 sq. km. (about twice the size of New Hampshire).
Land boundaries (total): 1,355 km. Austria 91 km.; Czech Republic 215 km.; Hungary 515 km.; Poland 444 km.; Ukraine 0 km.
Cities: Capital--Bratislava.
Terrain: Landlocked with high mountains in the north, low mountains in the center, hills to the west, Danube River basin in the south.
Climate: Temperate; average temperature in January 26.5�F; in July 68�F. Annual precipitation 24"-40."
Elevation: Lowest point, Bodrok River 94 m. Highest point, Gerlachovsky Stit 2,655 m.

Nationality: Noun and adjective--Slovak(s).
Population (May 2001 census*): 5,379,455. Bratislava (428,672), Kosice (236,093), Zilina (156,361), Nitra (163,540), Presov (161,782), Banska Bystrica (111,984).

Annual population growth rate (2001 est.): 0.13%.
Ethnic groups (2001): Slovaks 85.8%, Hungarians 9.7%, Roma 1.7%, Czechs 0.8%, Ruthenians 0.4%, Ukranians 0.2%, other 1.4%. Unofficial estimates place the Roma population between 6%-10%.
Religions (2001): Roman Catholic 69%, Protestant 9%, Greek Catholic 4%, Orthodox 0.9%, other 0.6%, unknown 3.5%, 13% report no affiliation. Languages: Slovak (official), Hungarian, Ruthenian, and Ukrainian. Education: Literacy--99%.
Health: Life expectancy (2001)--78 yrs. females; 70 yrs. males Work force (2.1 million in 2001): Industry, construction, commerce --61%; financial, commercial, health services--18%; government and education--15%; agriculture--6%.

Type: Parliamentary republic.
Independence: The Slovak Republic was established January l, 1993 (former Czechoslovak Republic established 1918).
Constitution: Signed September 3, 1992.
Branches: Executive--president (head of state), prime minister (head of government), cabinet. Legislative--National Council of the Slovak Republic (150 seats). Judicial--Supreme Court, Constitutional Court.
Political parties: 150 parliamentary seats: Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) 28 seats; Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) 25 seats; SMER (Direction) 25 seats; Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) 20 seats; Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) 15 seats; Alliance of New Citizens (ANO) 12 seats; Communist Party of Slovakia (KSS) 11 seats; People's Union (LU) 11 seats; three independent deputies.
Suffrage: Universal at 18 years.
Administrative divisions: Eight administrative regions, 79 districts.

GDP (2003 est.): $32.5 billion.
GDP growth rate (2003 est.): 3.9%.
Nominal per capita income (2003 est.): $5,234.
Unemployment (Sept. 2003): 13.9%.
Natural resources: Antimony, mercury, iron, copper, lead, zinc, magnesite, limestone, lignite.
Agriculture: Products--milk, eggs, poultry, cattle, hogs, potatoes, oils, grains, vegetables.
Industry: Types--iron and steel, chemicals, automobiles, light industry, food processing, engineering, building materials.
Trade (2003 Jan.-Sept.): Exports--$14.1 billion: vehicles, iron and steel, machinery and energy equipment, plastics, fiber optics.
Imports--$14.3 billion: mineral fuels and oils, machinery, audio/video equipment, vehicles. Partners--Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Russia, Hungary, Italy, Poland.
Foreign investment (1989-2003 est.): Cumulative $10 billion. Sources of direct foreign investment--Germany 24%; Netherlands 16%; Austria 14%; Italy 9%, United States 4%.** Sectors of direct foreign investment (through June 2003)--industry 37.3%; banking and insurance 23.4%; transportation and telecommunications 10.6%; wholesale and retail trade 11.3%; production of electricity, gas and water 12.1%.

*Figures are based on immediate city's (not region) Permanent Resident Population.
**Government of Slovakia official statistic. A recent U.S. Embassy survey found that, taking into account investments of U.S. subsidiaries in Europe, U.S. investment is more than 15% of the total.

The majority of the 5.3 million inhabitants of the Slovak Republic are Slovak (85.8%). Hungarians are the largest ethnic minority (9.7%) 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 (69%) practice Roman Catholicism; the second-largest group is Protestants (9%). About 2,300 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.

From the 11th until the early 20th century, present-day Slovakia was under Hungarian rule, either directly or as a part of the Habsburg Empire. Intellectuals seeking to revive the Slovak language and culture began the Slovak national revival in the 19th century. 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 that 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. 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 United States and their European neighbors.

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 after a vote of no-confidence, during which Slovakia was ruled by a reformist government under Prime Minister Jozef Moravcik. Meciar's semi-authoritarian government seriously breached democratic norms and the rule of law until being ousted in the parliamentary elections of 1998 by a coalition led by Mikulas Dzurinda. The first Dzurinda government made numerous political and economic reforms that enabled Slovakia to enter the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), close virtually all chapters in European Union (EU) negotiations, and make itself a strong candidate for NATO accession. However, the popularity of the governing parties declined sharply, and several new parties that earned relatively high levels of support in public opinion polls appeared on the political scene. Meciar remained the leader in opposition of the HZDS, which continued to receive the support of 20% or more of the population during the first Dzurinda government.

In the September 2002 parliamentary election, a last minute surge in support for Prime Minister Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) gave him a mandate for a second term. He formed a government with three other center-right parties: the Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK), Christian Democrats (KDH) and Alliance of New Citizens (ANO). Following a summer 2003 parliamentary shake-up, the government lost its narrow parliamentary majority and now has exactly half of the 150 seats; however, the coalition is relatively stable because of the parties' similar political philosophies.  Slovakia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. The government strongly supports Slovakia's May 2004 EU accession and will continue the democratic and free market-oriented reforms begun by the first Dzurinda government. The main priorities of the new coalition are smooth NATO and EU accession, fighting corruption, attracting foreign investment, and reforming social services such as the health care system. Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, which received about 27% of the vote in 1998 (almost 900,000 votes) received only 19.5% (about 560,000 votes) in 2002 and again went into opposition, unable to find coalition partners. The HZDS is joined in opposition by Smer, the party of young populist politician Robert Fico, and by the communists, who obtained about 6% of the popular vote.

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, including several social democratic parties and the nationalistic Slovak National Party (SNS) that is not represented in parliament, but the influence of leftist and nationalist parties has declined in the past several years.

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 Prime Minister Meciar and took office on June 15, 1999. Virtually all executive powers of government belong to the prime minister, but the president does serve as commander in chief of the armed forces, can grant pardons, and has the right to return legislation to Parliament. Parliament, however, can override this veto with a simple majority of all 150 members of Parliament.

The country's highest appellate forum is the Supreme Court; below that are regional, district, and military courts. In certain cases the law provides for decisions of tribunals of judges to be attended by lay judges from the citizenry. Slovakia also has a special Constitutional Court, which rules on constitutional issues. The 13 members of this court are appointed by the president from a slate of candidates nominated by Parliament.

In 2002 Parliament passed legislation which created a Judicial Council. This 18-member council, composed of judges, law professors, and other legal experts, is now responsible for the nomination of judges. All judges except those of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the president from a list proposed by the Judicial Council. The Council also is responsible for appointing Disciplinary Senates in cases of judicial misconduct.

Principal Government Officials
President--Rudolf Schuster
Prime Minister--Mikulas Dzurinda
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Eduard Kukan
Ambassador to the United States-- Rastislav Kacer
Ambassador to the United Nations-- Klara Novotna, acting
Ambassador to NATO-- Igor Slobodnik
Ambassador to the European Union-Miroslav Adamis

The Slovak Republic has an embassy in the United States, located at 3523 International Court, NW, Washington, DC, 20008.

Slovakia maintains a permanent mission to the United Nations in New York and 10 honorary consulates in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. Slovakia opened a consulate general in New York in September 2003 and plans to open another in Los Angeles in late 2004.

The armed forces of the Slovak Republic number about 28,000 uniformed personnel and are made up of Land Forces-- two mechanized infantry brigades, one artillery brigade, and an immediate reaction battalion; Air and Air Defense Forces--comprised of one wing of fighters, one wing of attack and utility helicopters, and two SAM brigades; and miscellaneous General Staff-commanded forces--e.g., a special forces regiment. The armed forces are the most respected national institutions according to national opinion polls.

Slovakia's ambitious roadmap for defense reform is the well-regarded Force 2010 Long-Term Plan, which strikes a well-reasoned balance between requirements and resources and which envisions a professionalized, combat-capable force of 19,300 uniformed personnel by 2006. Slovakia has about 850 personnel deployed worldwide on NATO- and UN-led peace support operations (PSOs), as well as military engineering units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Slovakia markedly increased its commitment to KFOR and SFOR in Kosovo and Bosnia in 2002. Defense spending, which rose to 1.89% of GDP in calendar years 2001 and 2002, is slated to increase to 2% of GDP in 2003. Slovakia used the MAP process to good effect in securing an invitation to join NATO at the Prague Summit in November 2002.

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 reform slowed in the 1994-98 period due to the crony capitalism and irresponsible fiscal policies of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's government. While economic growth and other fundamentals improved steadily during Meciar's term, public and private debt and trade deficits soared, and privatization, often tarnished by corrupt insider deals, progressed only in fits and starts. Real annual GDP growth peaked at 6.5% in 1995 but declined to 1.3% in 1999. Much of the growth in the Meciar era, however, was attributable to high government spending and over-borrowing rather than productive economic activity. For all of 2002, real GDP rose 4.4%.

Economic growth was expected to accelerate to 3.9% in 2003 and over 4% in 2004. Headline consumer price inflation dropped from 26% in 1993 to an average rate of 3.3% in 2002, but rose again to an estimated 8.5% in 2003, driven by liberalization of subsidized prices of utilities. The inflation trend in 2002 was largely affected by the government's reluctance to continue its multi-year program of price deregulation due to election year pressures. Then in 2003, the government reduced subsidies by a larger than normal amount to offset its inaction in 2002. This trend will likely reverse itself by 2005, with inflation dropping to approximately 5%.

After economic stabilization in 1999 and 2000, Slovakia's current account balance recorded a deficit of 8.2% of GDP in 2002, the second largest number in the country's history (2001 was 8.8%), compared with 3.7% in 2000. However, for the first 10 months of 2003, the country's trade deficit has dropped by more than 80% compared to 2002, and it has recorded several monthly trade surpluses for the first time in years. Slovakia had a $2.1 million trade deficit in 2001, and gross foreign debt was about $13.2 billion at the end of 2002, roughly 53% of GDP. Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Slovakia has increased dramatically. The Dzurinda government has opened doors for foreign investors and introduced competitive incentives schemes, including a flat income tax for corporations and individuals. Cumulative FDI has quintupled since the beginning of 2000, and was boosted by large privatization receipts. As of 2002, Slovakia has enjoyed per capita FDI of approximately $1,800.

Germany is Slovakia's largest trading partner, purchasing almost 31% of Slovakia's exports and supplying 25% of its imports in the first nine months of 2003. Other major partners include the Czech Republic (14.4% imports; 13.1% exports), Italy (6.2%; 7.5%), Russia (11.2%; 1%), and Austria (4.4%; 7.2%). Slovakia imports nearly all of its oil and gas from Russia. The country's export markets are primarily Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and EU countries. In 2000, Slovakia received an invitation to join the OECD as its 30th member. More than 50% of its trade is with EU members. The United States accounts for about 4% of total trade with Slovakia. The Slovak Republic has most-favored-nation status and receives duty free (GSP) benefits for many of its products.

Slovakia officially became a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on March 29, 2004 after depositing its instruments of treaty ratification in Washington, DC. Slovakia will join the European Union in May 2004. Slovakia has been an active participant in U.S.- and NATO-led military actions. There is a joint Czech-Slovak peacekeeping force in Kosovo. After the September 11 attacks on the United States, the government opened its airspace to coalition planes. Slovakia currently has military engineering brigades on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the OECD. It also is part of the Visegrad Four (Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and Poland), a forum for discussing areas of common concern. Slovakia and the Czech Republic entered into a Customs Union upon the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, which facilitates a relatively free flow of goods and services. Slovakia maintains diplomatic relations with 134 countries. There are 35 embassies and 26 honorary consulates in Bratislava.

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 United States and Slovakia. The election of a pro-Western, reformist government in late 1998 further boosted close ties between the countries. The United States delivered more than $200 million after 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 United States retain strong diplomatic ties and cooperate in the military and law enforcement areas. The U.S. Department of Defense programs have contributed significantly to Slovak military reforms.

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.

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Ronald Weiser
Deputy Chief of Mission--Scott Thayer
Political Officer--Debra Hevia
Economic Officer--David Nobles
Commercial Officer--Sanford Owens
Consul--Daria Darnell
Management Officer--Robert Hurlbert
Public Affairs Officer--Barbara Zigli
General Services Officer--Samuel Dykema
Defense Attach�--Lt. Col. Karen Kindler, Acting
Office of Defense Cooperation--Lt. Col. Carolyn Washington

The U.S. Embassy in Slovakia is located at Hviezdoslavovo namestie 4, 811 02 Bratislava (tel: 421-2-5443-0861 or 421-2-5443-3338; fax: 421-2-5443-0096). 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.

For the most current version of this Note, see Background Notes A-Z.