|2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom:
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
U.S. Department of State, September 5, 2000
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. Both government policy and the generally amicable relationship among religions in society contribute to the free practice of religion. However, anti-Semitism persists 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. Government Policies on Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.
The Constitution also 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. Those that register receive state benefits including subsidies for clergymen 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 partly exempt from paying taxes and import custom fees. A religion may elect not to accept the subsidies. There are 15 officially registered religions.
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 exempt from the minimum membership requirement.
The Church Department at the Ministry of Culture administers relations between church and state. 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. The Ministry administers a cultural state fund--Pro Slovakia--which, among other things, allocates money to cover the repair of religious monuments. There is a government institute for relations between church and state.
Religious officials report that due to cuts in subsidies their ability to pay salaries of clergy was hindered.
Law 308/91 provides for freedom of religion and defines the status of churches and religious groups, including those groups not registered with the Government. It does not prohibit the existence of nontraditional religions.
In April 2000, the Parliament passed legislation establishing a private Catholic university in the town of Ruzomberok. The university is to be launched by the Roman Catholic Church and managed by the Conference of Bishops. It is to receive a state subsidy amounting to $200,000 (Sk 8.6 million) in 2000; this amount is scheduled to be increased to $445,000 (Sk 20 million) in 2001. Initially, the university is to consist of two faculties, pedagogical and philosophical, and a theological institute. In the future the Conference of Bishops plans to open a faculty for mass media.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is negotiating a treaty with the Vatican to define the framework of church-state relations and mutual commitments. It is expected to be signed in a few months.
There are approximately 3.2 million Roman Catholics who make up 60.4 percent of the population. There are 180,000 Byzantine Catholics, who constitute roughly 3.4 percent of the population. There are 35,000 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. 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.
There are three categories of nonregistered religions that comprise about 30 groups: nontraditional religions (Ananda Marga, Hare Krishna, Yoga in Daily Life, Osho, Sahadza Yoga, Shambaola Slovakia, Shri Chinmoy, Zazen International Slovakia, and Zen Center-myo Sahn Sah); the syncretic religious societies (Moonist, the Church of Scientology, Movement of the Holy Grail, and Baha'i); and the Christian religious societies (the Church of Christ, Manna Church, International Association of Full Evangelium Traders, Christian Communities, Nazarens, New Revelation, New Apostolic Church, Word of International Life, Society of the Friends of Jesus Christ, Sword of Spirit, Disciples of Jesus Christ, Universal Life, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon), Unification Church, and Free Peoples' Mission).
The law allows all churches and religious communities and enables them 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 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.
Since 1989 the State has promoted interfaith dialog and understanding by supporting events organized by various churches.
The state-supported Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia promotes communication within the religious community. All Christian churches have the status of members or observers in the Council. The Jewish community was invited, but chose not to participate.
Law 282/93 on restitution of communal property enabled all churches and religious societies 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 current condition and the State did not provide any compensation for the 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 with nowhere else to go--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 mostly 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 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. The Federation of Jewish Communities (FJC) 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 the FJC 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.
There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report. However, the Government took several steps that contributed to religious tolerance. In February 2000, the Ministry of Education and the Institute of Judaism undertook an educational project on Jewish history and culture that is targeted to elementary and high school teachers of history, civic education, and ethics. This project is intended to assist in broadening the education of the public about Jewish themes, which were absent in the past, and increase tolerance toward minorities.
On May 18, 2000, the Government sponsored a national conference on racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and intolerance. At the conference the President announced that he would dedicate September 10 as a memorial day to victims of the Holocaust.
When the city council of the town of Zilina announced in March 2000 its decision to install a plaque honoring the Nazi-collaborationist wartime Slovak president, Jozef Tiso, on the city's Catholic community center, high-level politicians including President Rudolf Schuster and Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda made public statements condemning the proposal. The council reversed its decision (see Section I).
On November 3, 1999, Parliament passed legislation compensating citizens who were deported to German-controlled concentration camps during World War II on the basis of their nationality, race or religion. For each month of deportation, those eligible are to receive a cash sum of $75 (Sk 3,000) plus a $0.75 (Sk 30) addition to their monthly pension. Direct heirs of deceased victims, who were minors at the time of deportation, are entitled to a lump sum of up to approximately $2,500 (Sk 100,000). The legislation disqualifies nearly 700 Slovak Jewish survivors from southern Slovakia, which was under Hungarian control during World War II, because they received compensation from the Hungarian Government. Of the 450 applications submitted to date, 200 were refused and only 50 applications have been processed completely. The Federation of Jewish Communities has asked the Justice Ministry to expedite its procedures in order to compensate the aging survivors.
In February 1999, police arrested two former high officials in the Slovak Secret Information Service (SIS) for involvement in the 1995 effort to discredit the chairman of the Slovak Bishops Conference. The SIS allegedly framed the bishop for selling religious art for personal gain. 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.
There were no reports of religious detainees or prisoners.
Forced Religious Conversion of Minor U.S. Citizens
There were no reports of the 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. However, anti-Semitism persists among some elements of the population.
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, but released them because they were juveniles. In November 1998, approximately 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. Because they were juveniles, they were given only community service work as punishment.
Despite protests by the Federation of Jewish Communities, Slovak National Party members and the official Slovak cultural organization Matica Slovenska continued their efforts to rehabilitate the historical reputation of Jozef Tiso, the leader of the Nazi-collaborationist wartime Slovak state. On March 14, 2000, a marginal nationalist party, Slovak National Unity (SNU), held a rally to commemorate the 61st anniversary of the founding of the wartime Slovak State. The rally was attended by approximately 300 persons, including a number of skinheads. The police kept the event under tight control to prevent any violence. The chairman of the SNU, Stanislav Panis, in his tribute to Tiso appealed to the Government to make March 14 an official national holiday.
In March 2000, 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 Lutheran Church, Jewish community, government officials, and NGO leaders and activists criticized the Zilina city council's decision to install a memorial plaque to commemorate the wartime Slovak president Jozef Tiso (see Section I.). The overwhelmingly negative public reaction led to the council to reverse its decision in March 2000.
In early 1999, the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Slovakia and the Ecumenical Council of Churches in Slovakia had declared 1999 the year of Christian culture and invited the Ministry of Culture to join this project. These activities have been continued under the title "Great Anniversary of 2000."
An interconfessional tradition called the Week of Prayers for the Unity of Christians was established in 1994.
Section III. U.S. Government Policy
The U.S. Embassy maintains contacts with a broad spectrum of religious groups. The Embassy assists U.S. groups in making contacts in the country and also encourages tolerance for minority religions.
Embassy officers 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, 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 U.S. Embassy issued a press release criticizing the local initiative to install a plaque commemorating Josef Tiso. Embassy officers met with the head of Catholic Church, Cardinal Jan Korec, and the director of the local branch of Amnesty International to discuss human rights concerns, including those of a religious nature. The Embassy organized meetings between the First Lady and several officials of the Jewish community during her visit to the country in October 1999. 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.
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