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U.S. Department of State Background Note

Slovakia

PEOPLE

The majority of the 5.4 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 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.

HISTORY

Slovak history can find its roots in the Great Moravian Empire, founded in the early ninth century. The territory of Great Moravia included all of present western and central Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and parts of neighboring Poland, Hungary, and Germany. Saint Cyril and Methodius, known for the creation of a Cyrillic alphabet, came to Great Moravia in the early tenth century as missionaries to spread Christianity upon the invitation of the king. The empire collapsed after only eighty years as a result of the political intrigues and external pressures from invading forces. Slovaks then became part of the Hungarian Kingdom, where they remained for the next 1,000 years. Bratislava became the Hungarian capital for nearly two and a half centuries when the Turks overran Hungary in the early 16th century.

Revolutions inspired by nationalism swept through Central Europe in 1848, which led to the codification of the Slovak language by Ludovit Stur in 1846 and later the formation of the dual Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1867. As language and education policies favoring the use of Hungarian, which came to be known as Magyarization, grew stricter, Slovak nationalism grew stronger. Slovak intellectuals cultivated closer cultural ties with the Czechs, who were themselves ruled by the Austrians. After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian State after WWI, the concept of a single Czecho-Slovakian unified state came to fruition. Tomas Masaryk signed the Pittsburgh Agreement, declaring the intent of the Czech and Slovaks to found a new state in May 1918, and a year later become Czechoslovakia's first president.

After the 1938 Munich agreement that forced Czechoslovakia to cede territory to Germany, Slovakia declared its autonomy. Slovakia became a Nazi puppet state led by the Catholic priest Jozef Tiso. During this period, approximately 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to concentration camps to perish in the Holocaust. Roma, while persecuted under the Tiso regime, were not deported by the Slovak Hlinka guards. An undetermined number of Roma were deported from the southern part of Slovakia when it was occupied by Hungary in 1944. The Slovak National Uprising, a resistance movement against the fascist Slovak state, occurred in 1944 with the participation of Slovaks, Russians, Jews, and some allied forces but was put down by Nazi forces.

At the conclusion of WWII, the reunified Czechoslovakia was considered within the sphere of influence of the Soviet Union. The communist party, supported by the U.S.S.R., took over political power in February 1948 and began to centralize power. The next four decades were characterized by strict communist rule, interrupted only briefly during the Prague Spring of 1968. The Slovak born Communist leader Alexander Dubcek presided over a thawing of communist power and 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 prompted an invasion and Dubcek's removal from his position.

The 1970s were characterized by the development of a dissident movement. On January 1, 1977 more than 250 human rights activists signed a manifesto called Charter 77, which criticized the government for failing to meet its human rights obligation. The so-called "Candle Demonstration," which took place in Bratislava in March 1988, was the first mass demonstration of the 1980s against the communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The Demonstration, organized by Roman Catholic groups asking for religious freedom in Czechoslovakia, was brutally suppressed by the police.

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. Dissident groups, such as Charter 77 in the Czech Republic and Public Against Violence in Slovakia, united to form a transitional government and assist with the first democratic elections since 1948. Several new parties emerged to fill the political spectrum.

After the 1992 elections, Vladimir Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), based on its appeal on fairness to Slovak demands for autonomy, emerged as the leading party in Slovakia. In June 1992, the Slovak parliament voted to declare sovereignty and the federation dissolved peacefully on January 1, 1993. Meciar's party--the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)-- ruled Slovakia the first 5 years as an independent state. His authoritarian style as Prime Minister created international concerns about the democratic development of Slovakia. In the 1998 elections, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) received about 27% of the vote, but went into the opposition, unable to find coalition partners.

A reform-oriented coalition formed a government led by Mikulas Dzurinda, the chairman of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU). The first Dzurinda government made 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 the country a strong candidate for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) accession. However, the popularity of the governing parties declined sharply, and several new parties gained relatively high levels of support in public opinion polls.

In the September 2002 parliamentary election, a last-minute surge in support for the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKU) gave Dzurinda 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). The main priorities of the coalition were ensuring a strong Slovak performance within NATO and the EU, fighting corruption, attracting foreign investment, and reforming social services, such as the health care system. Following a summer 2003 parliamentary shake-up, the government lost its narrow parliamentary majority and controlled only 69 of the 150 seats; however, the coalition was relatively stable because of the parties' similar political philosophies and conflicts between opposition parties.

Slovakia officially became a member of NATO on March 29, 2004 and joined the EU on May 1, 2004. The government strongly supported Slovakia's NATO and EU accession and continued the democratic and free market-oriented reforms begun by the first Dzurinda government.

Parliamentary elections were held June 17, 2006. Robert Fico became Prime Minister, leading a coalition of SMER (Direction), the Slovak National Party (SNS), and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS).

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS

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.

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. On April 17, 2004, Ivan Gasparovic, a former Meciar deputy, was elected president; he was inaugurated on June 15, 2004. 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 the 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 that 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--Ivan Gasparovic
Prime Minister--Robert Fico
Minister of Foreign Affairs--Jan Kubis
Ambassador to the United States--Rastislav Kacer
Ambassador to the United Nations--Peter Burian
Ambassador to NATO--Igor Slobodnik
Ambassador to the European Union--Maros Sefcovic

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 11 honorary consulates in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Miami, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco. Slovakia opened consulates general in New York in September 2003 and in Los Angeles in April 2005.

ECONOMY

Since the establishment of the Slovak Republic in January 1993, Slovakia has continued the difficult transformation from a centrally-planned 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.

The pace of economic reforms picked up during the second administration of Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, which oversaw the simplification of the tax system, reforms of the labor code and pension systems, and a large number of privatizations. The economy grew 8.3% in 2006 (the highest economic growth among OECD members and third highest growth in Central Europe), more than 9% in the first six months of 2007, and is predicted to continue at this pace through the remainder of 2007.

Slovakia entered into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism in November, 2005, and is currently on target to join the Euro Zone on January 1, 2009 by meeting or coming close to meeting the Maastricht Criteria. Headline consumer price inflation dropped from 26% in 1993 to 4.5% in 2006, and fell below 2.4% in the first months of 2007, supported by falling world energy prices and exchange rate appreciation. .The current account deficit, including the cost of the second pension pillar, reached 3.3% in 2006, but the general government deficit for 2007 is forecast at 2.9%.

Government debt was 33% of GDP in 2006.

The exchange rate has remained within the 15% fluctuation bands around the central ERM2 rate, but the central parity rate of the Slovak koruna against the Euro was revalued by 8.5% to SKK 35.4424 in March 2007 in view of significant inflows of foreign direct investment followed by the progressive acceleration of economic growth and substantial appreciation of the estimated equilibrium real exchange rate.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Slovakia has increased dramatically. Cheap and skilled labor force, low taxes, a 19% flat tax for corporations and individuals, no dividend taxes, a relatively liberal labor code and a favorable geographical location are Slovakia's main advantages for foreign investors. Major pillars of sound economic reforms remain untouched even after the 2006 elections. FDI inflow grew more than 600% from 2000 and cumulatively reached an all-time high of,$17.3 billion USD in 2006., or around $18,000 per capita by the end of 2006. The total inflow of FDI in 2006 was $1.31 billion.

Germany is Slovakia's largest trading partner, purchasing 23.52% of Slovakia's exports and supplying 20.48% of its imports in 2006. Other major partners include the Czech Republic (13.9% imports and 12.3% exports), Italy (6.48% and 4.52%), Russia (1.64% and 11.24%), and Austria (5.98% and 3.37%). Slovakia imports nearly all of its oil and gas from Russia and its export markets are primarily OECD and EU countries. More than 85.1% of its trade is with EU members and with OECD countries (89.7%). Slovakia's exports to the United States made up 3.16% of its overall exports in 2006 (1 319.2 mil USD), while imports from the U.S. account for 1.25% of its total purchases abroad (559.1 mil USD).

NATIONAL SECURITY

The armed forces of the Slovak Republic number about 18,000 uniformed personnel and are made up of Land Forces, Air Forces (which includes air defense forces) and a Joint Training and Doctrine Command. Land forces consist of two mechanized infantry brigades, one with two mech battalions (BMP-1), a tank battalion (T-72), and a combined artillery battalion. The other brigade has three mech battalions (BMP-2).. Each maneuver brigade is or is planned to be task organized with combat support units, such as an artillery battalion, an engineer battalion, a logistics support battalion, and an air defense battery. Other land forces include a separate NBC battalion, engineer battalion, ISTAR company, signal battalion and command support battalion. Air and Air Defense Forces are comprised of a fighter wing of MiG-29s, a wing of Mi-24 attack and Mi-17 utility helicopters, and a SAM brigade. Military police are under the command of the Ministry of Defense and a special operations regiment falls under the Land Forces Command. The armed forces are among the most respected national institutions according to national opinion polls.

Slovakia's ambitious roadmap for defense reform is the Force 2015 Long-Term Plan, which strikes a well-reasoned balance between requirements and resources and envisions a professionalized, combat-capable force of 18,000 uniformed personnel. Slovakia has about 530 personnel deployed to coalition and NATO-led operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, as well as UN-led peace support operations (PSOs) worldwide. Defense spending was 1.6% of GDP in 2006.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

Slovakia officially became a member of the NATO on March 29, 2004 and joined the EU in May 2004. Slovakia has been an active participant in U.S. and NATO-led military actions and a partner in the war on terrorism. A military engineering brigade on the ground in Iraq from August 2003 departed in February 2007. A 57-man military engineering brigade is present at Kadahar airbase in Afghanistan. Slovakia participates in a joint Czech-Slovak peacekeeping force in Kosovo.

Slovakia is a member of the United Nations (it currently holds a temporary Security Council seat) 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. Upon the division of Czechoslovakia in 1993, Slovakia and the Czech Republic entered into a Customs Union, 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.

U.S.-SLOVAKIA RELATIONS

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-- Rodolphe "Skip" M. Vallee
Deputy Chief of Mission--Larry Silverman
Political/Economic Chief -- Susan Ball
Economic Officer--William Laitinen
Commercial Officer--David Ponsar
Consul--Robin Haase
Management Officer--Charles Eaton
Public Affairs Officer--Edward Kemp
General Services Officer-Andrew P. Hogenboom
Defense Attaché--Lt. Col. David Galles

Office of Defense Cooperation--Major Brad Hocevar

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.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad. Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.

STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.

Revised: Aug. 2007

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