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U.S. Department of State
Annual Report on International Religious Freedom for 1999

Released by the Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Washington, DC, September 9, 1999


Section I. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution provides for the right to change religion or faith, as well as the right to refrain from any religious affiliation.

Registration 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. Only those religions that register receive state benefits, including subsidies for clergy 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 partially exempt from paying taxes and import custom fees. A religion may elect not to accept the subsidies.

Relations between church and state are administered by the Church Department of the Ministry of Culture. 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. Since 1989 the State has promoted interfaith dialog and understanding by supporting events organized by various churches. The Ministry administers a cultural state fund "Pro Slovakia" which, among other things, also allocates money to cover the repair of religious monuments. There is a government institute for relations between church and state.

To register a new religion, it is necessary 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 exempted from the membership requirement.

There are 15 officially registered religions in the country. There are approximately 3.2 million Roman Catholics, who make up 60.4 percent of the population. There are 180,000 Greek Catholics, who constitute roughly 3.4 percent of the population. There are 35,000 Russian Orthodox believers, who make up 0.7 percent of the population. The Augsburg Lutheran Church has 330,000 members, who constitute 6.2 percent of the population. The Reformed Christian Church has 80,000 members and constitutes 1.7 percent of the population. Jehovah's Witnesses have 22,000 members. The Baptist Church has 2,500 members. The Brethren Church has 2,000 members. There are 1,700 Seventh-Day Adventists. The Apostolic Church has 1,200 members. The Evangelical Methodist Church has 1,100 members. Jewish congregations have 1,000 members. The Old Catholic Church has 900 members. The Christian Corps in Slovakia has 700 members. The Czechoslovak Husite Church has 700 members.

Law 308/91 provides for freedom of religion and defines the status of churches and religious groups, including those groups that are not registered with the Government. It does not prohibit the existence of nontraditional religions. There are about 30 such groups, including Ananda Marga, Hare Krishna, Yoga in Daily Life, Osho, Sahadza Yoga, Shambaola Slovakia, Shri Chinmoy, Zazen International Slovakia, Zen Center-myo Sahn Sah, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, Movement of the Holy Grail, Baha'is, the Church of Christ, Manna Church, the International Association of Full Evangelium Traders, Christian Communities, Nazarenes, New Revelation, New Apostolic Church, the Word of Life, Society of the Friends of Jesus Christ, the Sword of Spirit, Disciples of Jesus Christ, Universal Life, and Free Peoples' Mission.

According to the 1991 census 27.2 percent of the population had no religious affiliation. 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, according to the 1991 census.

Law 308/91 enables all churches and religious communities to send out their representatives as well as to receive foreign missionaries without limitation. Missionaries do not need special permission to stay in the country, nor are their activities regulated in any way. According to the Ministry of Culture, there are missionaries from the Roman Catholic, Augsburg Lutheran, and Methodist faiths working in the country. From among the nonregistered churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has missionaries working in the country.

While there was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, the relationship between the Government and various churches improved after the September 1998 parliamentary elections when Mikulas Dzurinda replaced Vladimir Meciar as Prime Minister. For example, in December 1998 Deputy Prime Minister Pal Csaky apologized to the chairman of the Slovak Bishops' Conference, Bishop Rudolf Balaz, for the behavior of the previous government toward the Catholic Church. Balaz had been the victim of what was being investigated as a Slovak Information Service (SIS) frame-up for selling religious art. On February 1, 1999, police arrested two former high officials in the SIS for involvement in the effort to discredit Balaz, among other things. If convicted, former Chief of the SIS Counterintelligence Unit Jaroslav Svechota and Deputy Director of the Surveillance Unit Robert Beno would face sentences of between 5 and 12 years in jail.

Despite an order by former Prime Minister Meciar in 1997 to withdraw a controversial history book entitled the "History of Slovakia and the Slovaks" by Milan Durica, it remains available in schools. The book has been widely criticized by religious groups and the Slovak Academy of Sciences for gross inaccuracies and distortions, particularly in its portrayal of wartime Slovakia and the deportation of Jews and Roma.

Despite protests by the Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC), Slovak National Party members and the official Slovak cultural organization Matica Slovenska continued their efforts to revise the history of the pro-Nazi wartime Slovak state and to rehabilitate its leader Jozef Tiso (see Section II). On the 59th anniversary of the wartime Slovak state in 1998, Archbishop Jan Sokol held a commemorative Mass in the western Slovak town of Sastin. The Mass was attended by several government coalition officials including deputy chair of the then-ruling party, Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) and of the Parliament Augustin Marian Huska, HZDS M.P. Jan Cuper, and deputy chair of the Slovak National Party Anna Malikova. After the Mass the Slovak National Party held a reception at which the same officials were present and spoke about the importance of the first Slovak state's legacy.

On March 14, 1999, the Dzurinda Government released a statement in which it underlined that the current republic is not a successor of the wartime Slovak state, which was totalitarian and antidemocratic. The statement added that the Government considers the 1944 Slovak National Uprising against the wartime Tiso state one of the most significant events putting the country back on the democratic track, and that the Government is committed to fight against any expression of intolerance, racism, nationalism, and xenophobia. However, the Slovak National Party also issued a statement in which it said that the anniversary of the wartime Slovak state marked "the most important step in the modern history of the Slovak nation."

The official Slovak cultural organization Matica Slovenska and the Confederation of Political Prisoners commemorated the 1939-1945 Slovak state at a meeting in which they emphasized the significance of March 14 as a symbol of Slovak statehood. Unlike previous years, prominent government officials did not attend the event.

There is anti-Semitism among some elements of the population (see Section II). The national and local governments investigate hate crimes and have had success in one 1997 case and one 1998 case in which Jewish cemeteries were desecrated by vandals (see Section II). In April 1998, the district court in Novy Zamky sentenced two juveniles responsible for vandalism of the Jewish cemetery there to 1 year in prison for rioting and damage to private property and sentenced a third to 4 months. The mayor of Novy Zamky contributed $1,575 (50,000 Sk) for the reconstruction of the cemetery.

Law 282/93 on restitution of communal property enabled all churches and religious societies to apply for the return of their property that had been confiscated by the Communist government. The deadline for these claims was December 31, 1994. Some of the property was returned in its current condition, and the State did not provide any compensation for damage to it during the previous regime. The property was returned by the State, by municipalities, by state legal entities, and under certain conditions even 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 that had difficulty relocating to another site--rendering no gain to the religious entity involved. 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 almost all in poor condition. The churches and religious groups often lack the funds to repair 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 almost 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 is also not eligible to reacquire lands that were originally registered to Church foundations that no longer exist or no longer operate in the country, like the Benedictines. The Federation of Jewish Communities 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, in which the property still is occupied by previous tenants, and lands upon which buildings had been constructed after the seizure of the property. In February 1998, the Government returned approximately $315,000 (Sk 10 million) to the Jewish community as settlement for the gold, diamonds, and jewelry that were confiscated by pro-Nazi officials from the wartime Slovak state's Jewish citizens.

There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.

There were no reports of forced religious conversion 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.

Section II. Societal Attitudes

Relations among churches and religious societies are amicable, and there are no major problems in communication between churches. The Churches established an interconfessional tradition called the week of prayers for the unity of Christians in 1994. The state-supported Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia promotes communication within the religious community. All Christian churches have the status of members of, or observers in, the Council. The Jewish community also was invited to join the Council but chose only to participate in some events.

The Slovak Bishop's Conference and the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia declared 1999 the year of Christian culture and invited the Ministry of Culture to join in their activities. On January 11, 1999, an agreement on cooperation in the project was signed between the Ministry and the two religious organizations. The Slovak Bible Society has prepared an ecumenical translation of the New Testament. On the local level, a number of ecumenical activities and events have been organized in the country. According to the Ministry of Culture, there were no reports of intolerance among churches or religious societies in the country.

There is anti-Semitism among some elements of the population. On January 30, 1998, a bronze memorial plaque commemorating the 1,800 Jewish citizens of Komarno who were killed in World War II concentration camps was stolen from the synagogue in Komarno. The crime remained unsolved at the end of the period covered by this report. In October 1998, police arrested four teenage skinheads who allegedly painted swastikas and pro-Fascist slogans on a business run by a Jewish manager in Zvolen. In November 1998, about 40 gravestones in the Jewish cemetery in Nitra were overturned. The Ministry of Interior arrested four high school students from Nitra and one apprentice from Bratislava for the incident.

In May 1998, the Supreme Court upheld a prior verdict that the publisher of Zmena weekly had to publish an apology to the honorary chairman of the FJC for abusing his person and offending his religious feelings. The apology was not published by the end of the period covered by this report.

On the 59th anniversary of the wartime Slovak state in March 1998, a small group of Tiso Society members and approximately 100 skinheads met in front of the presidential palace (see Section I). A group of Young Democrats held a counterdemonstration in the main square to protest the legacy of the Tiso regime. Unlike in 1997, the event did not develop into an organized march of skinheads. The 200 police on hand confiscated a number of weapons from the skinheads.

On March 14, 1999, a marginal nationalist party, Slovak National Unity (SNU), held a rally to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the wartime Slovak state. The rally was attended by approximately 300 persons, including a number of skinheads. The police had the event under tight control to prevent any violence. Chairman of the SNU Stanislav Panis in his tribute to Tiso appealed to the Government to make March 14 an official national holiday. Anti-Fascist and anti-Tiso protesters concurrently held a counterdemonstration on another Bratislava square. The Young Democratic Left organizers criticized Tiso's regime, racism, and extremism.

Section III. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy maintains contact with a broad spectrum of religious groups. The Embassy assists U.S. religious groups that wish to make contacts in the country and also encourages tolerance for minority religions.

The U.S. Ambassador gave a speech to members of the Government and Deputy Prime Minister Csaky on human rights and tolerance, including religious tolerance, in January 1999. He also has met often with religious leaders in the capital and during his travels throughout the country. Embassy officers often meet with religious representatives and leaders to discuss property restitution issues as well as human rights conditions. Embassy officers visited the two vandalized Jewish cemeteries in Kosice and Novy Zamky in 1997 and made public statements when anti-Semitic incidents occurred. The State Department's Senior Advisor for Restitution Issues visited the country in January 1999 to urge successful completion of property restitution to individuals and to religious organizations.

The Embassy maintains contact 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, namely the preservation of historic religious sites and cemeteries, restitution of religious property, and negotiation of bilateral agreements on these issues.

[End of Document]

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Revised last: 11-09-1999