IRI's Lindsay Lloyd discusses Slovakia's Role in Human Rights and Democracy Promotion
New Slovak Government to Focus on Human Rights and Democracy
By Lindsay Lloyd
Slovakia’s June elections brought a change in government, as voters gave a narrow edge to a four-party center-right coalition, led by the country’s first woman prime minister, Iveta Radicova. While defeated Prime Minister Robert Fico’s leftist-populist Smer party won the largest share of the vote, his two nationalist coalition partners fared poorly, with one losing about half its support and the other failing to make it into parliament altogether, leaving Fico unable to assemble a parliamentary majority.
Democracy and human rights activists can be heartened by a quick shift in foreign policy resulting from the Slovak elections. From 1998 to 2006, Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda led his country out of diplomatic isolation and into the European Union and NATO. Under his leadership, Slovakia became a strong advocate for democracy and human rights and Slovak nongovernmental organizations (NGO) worked in partnership with their government to support dissidents in places like Belarus, Burma and Cuba. Like many of the new democracies in Europe, Slovakia pushed the European Union to adopt tougher stands against autocratic regimes and provide greater support to democracy and human rights activists.
Between 1996 and 2010, however, Slovakia’s voice was muted under the Fico government, which put economic ties ahead of other concerns. Prime Minister Fico was strongly criticized by Slovak civil society for his uncritical stance toward repressive governments, particularly Cuba.
But on July 30, Mikulas Dzurinda, now serving as Slovakia’s new foreign minister, announced that human rights will once again form a key pillar of Slovak foreign policy. Unveiling the new government’s international agenda, Dzurinda stated that Slovakia’s foreign policy will be grounded in European values such as personal freedom and protecting human dignity. Dzurinda said Slovakia would limit its cooperation with countries that do not respect human rights, specifically naming Belarus and Cuba in remarks to the media.
“It’s well known which countries have problems in protecting human rights. On one hand, we understand economic interests, but on the other, we cannot lose sight of actions that are against humanity, against human rights,” Dzurinda said.
For Slovak NGOs, the shift in policy is welcome news. Balazs Jarabik, a longtime civil society activist and coauthor of a new book on Slovak foreign policy, reacted to the changes saying, “There is hope that this government not only understands that Slovakia is in Europe but also acts as though Slovakia is in Europe. We need to pursue a foreign policy that we finally are the west.”
Lindsay Lloyd is the Director for the Europe programs at the International Republican Institute.