1. Unsuccessful proposal to separate State and Church
On 6 October, opposition deputies Daniel Krajcer, Martin Chren, Juraj Miškov and Jozef Kollár (all without party affiliation) proposed an amendment to the income tax act that aimed to bring financial separation of State and Church and change financing mechanism valid since 1949. Their proposal was not supported by the Parliament. The deputies proposed to change the indirect financing mechanism to a direct one through a tax assignment, which would lead to establishing a direct relationship between citizens, churches and charity organizations. Money unassigned to a particular church would be remitted to a new founded Cultural Heritage Reconstruction Fund. Fund would use the acquired financial means to reconstruct national cultural monuments, both Church and secular while sharing the means fifty-fifty. The parliamentary majority decided not to change the financing mechanism of Churches, meaning that these will remain financed from the state budget.
2. Alliance for Family influences politicians
Organizers of the National March for Life approached the political parties on 8 October, and asked them to include their proposals into their election programmes. Thirty specific proposals focus on three areas : improvement of legal status of the protection of life, improvement of the help for unborn children and pregnant women at risk of abortion, and improvement of family policy and status of families with children. March organizers plan to analyse election programmes after their release and prepare recommendations for voters based on the analysis. Representatives of marchers asked the President, the Prime Ministers and the Head of the Parliament for a meeting.
3. Survey on tolerance to registered partnership
On 8 October, the results of survey conducted by the Focus polling agency on accepting the registered homosexual partnership from August 2015 were published. The majority of citizens indicated that they support "life partnerships" which would be officially approved by the state for people who cannot or do not want to marry. The question was : “Do you agree that couples who don’t want to, or cannot, be married could have the possibility of having a life partnership approved by the state which would regulate the practical questions of their coexistence (particularly their shared rights and responsibilities) as several other European countries offer ?” with 50.4 percent of respondents saying yes. The survey was ordered by the Life Partnership Platform consisting of 39 NGOs who promote this idea.
4. Protest against registered partnership
On 14 October, the civic association The Alliance for Family (AZR) expressed concern regarding the gradual steps of the ruling Smer party that are leading to the introduction of registered same-sex partnerships generally connected with adoptions by same-sex couples. The Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) also asked the Minister of Justice Tomáš Borec to stop the Action Plan for LGBTI people for the years 2016-19 that is now in the phase of being open for discussion by various ministries. The Justice Ministry reacted by stating that the LGBTI Action Plan does not contain any proposal to introduce the institute of registered partnerships and no changes to the way children are adopted. The Conservatives also argue that the Leftists are planning to make “hate speech” punishable. It concerns statements that the Court may describe as homophobic. Opposition KDH took the same stand to the issue and claimed that the Action Plan violates the rights of parents. They disagree with school informing children about the so-called gender identity. The head of the KDH Ján Figeľ also sent a letter to the Minister of Justice with an appeal to halt any further steps in the preparation of the document. The leader of the Christians writes in his letter, “The paper keeps on creating further special, privileged, and extra rights for a narrow group of people based on sexual orientation and the so-called gender identity”.
5. Archbishop Imrich abdicated
The Conference of Bishops of Slovakia confirmed on 15 October that the bishop Andrej Imrich had abdicated.
This is the most serious personnel event in the Slovak Church since Robert Bezák’s removal from the position of Trnava archbishop in summer 2012. The 67-year old Imrich did not abdicate for reasons of great age, because the age limit for compulsory abdication of bishops is 75 years. Even though it may include health reasons, various sources claim that he decided to abdicate due to his disagreement with the management of the diocese.
6. Death of Cardinal Korec
Bishop Emeritus of Nitra and Cardinal Ján Chryzostom Korec passed away in Nitra on 24 October, at the age of 91. He was the first Slovak representative to be a member of the College of Cardinals. The communist regime sentenced him to 12 years in prison for treason because of his religious activities. Following his release, he worked as a lift repairman. After the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the communist regime in 1989, he became rector of the Priests’ Seminary in Bratislava. He was appointed later bishop of the Nitra diocese by Pope John Paul II on February 6, 1990. Korec was appointed cardinal by the same Pope on June 28, 1991. He was in the position of the head of the Nitra diocese until 2005.
The burial service, held on October 31, was attended by the President of the Slovak Republic Andrej Kiska, the Prime Minister Robert Fico, Speaker of the National Council of the Slovak republic Peter Pellegrini, and other representatives of the government and political life.
7. Abortion only for mothers in danger
On 28 October, deputies Štefan Kuffa, Marián Kvasnička and Jozef Mikloško proposed an amendment to the Constitution, which aims to ban any deliberate abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide, any induced intervention resulting in the division of human eggs, artificial insemination, assisted reproduction as well as registered partnerships.
They submitted 68 amendments to the Constitution at the National Council session. In a related proposal, they demand the abolishment of the current act on induced abortion. Opposition deputies admit abortion only in cases of the mother’s life being imminently endangered. Furthermore, deputies demand banning postmaturity, eugenic practices to people and unborn children, third party assisted reproductive technologies, or any cloning of people and unborn children. In connection with the proposed ban of registered partnerships, they demand including the following sentence into the Constitution : “Legal order of the Slovak Republic cannot confer special protection, special rights and special duties, which the legal order of the Slovak Republic grants to marriage and husband and wife to any other cohabitation of persons besides marriage and any other persons besides husbands and wives. Registered partnership is forbidden.”
1. Salvation Army in Slovakia
On 5 September, the Christian movement Salvation Army started to perform officially in Slovakia. It is supposed to provide social and religious services. It had provided services in Slovakia up to that date through a civic organization. Salvation Army works in three localities – in Bratislava, Plavecký Štvrtok and in Galanta. It acted in Slovakia already in 1921 after founding its first congregation. In 1950, the Communist regime brought end to its activities. Following the attempts to restore its activities during the Czechoslovak Federal Republic in 1990, it began negotiating with Slovak state representatives to make its activities legal. However, their attempts were halted by the separation of the republic.
In 2013, two Salvation Army volunteers laid the foundations of its contemporary work in Slovakia. During the same period, Salvation Army was approached by a civic organization The Word of Life with a request to take over the services and work carried out by the Salvation Army in Roma settlements. Slovak legislation does not make it possible for Salvation Army to register as a Church, because it has not reached an adequate number of members. Therefore, it was registered as a civic organization in August 2014.
2. Unofficial support for refugees from the Catholic Church
On the occasion of the Our Lady of Seven Sorrows celebration, on 15 September, archbishop Cyril Vasiľ called on believers who attended the traditional pilgrimage to Šaštín not to allow heartlessness to hide behind false patriotism, pseudo-Christian labels or fear. In the homily delivered during mass in Šaštín, Vasiľ stressed, “When looking at the state of our society in recent months we watch with surprise how easily and quickly we can suppress in our hearts sympathy, generosity, solidarity,” as quoted by SITA agency. “It is enough to look at how in a few weeks the influx of heartless fear has changed the general human feeling in a nation which has always been considered generous.” He stressed that in the past few months, our hearts have hardened with fear over who is knocking on our door, over every refugee regardless of whether they are terrorists and speculators or not. According to his own words, we forgot that we had also migrated because of poverty and political pressure and that also in these days Slovaks were looking for a better life abroad.
3. Prime Minister Fico refused the separation of State and Church
On 17 September, the online newspaper Aktualne.sk informed about the declaration of the Prime Minister, who refused the separation of the State and the Church. Prime Minister Robert Fico declared his decisions at the occasion of a theological conference “Reformation and politics” held by the Evangelical Church of Augsburg Confession in Trnava. According to Fico, it is mostly opposition politicians, in search of some kind of a scheme or an issue, who voice the separation of Church. He said, “In our state, we need peace and stability, and a well-balanced relationship between the state and individual churches and religious societies” adding that there is a first-rate dialogue between his government and the religious community. He believes it is natural, since the ruling Smer party adheres to social and democratic values. He expressed thanks for the large amount of activities executed in Slovakia by individual churches – from education to charity and assistance. “This symbiosis must continue”, said Fico. Prime Minister highlighted the approach of religious communities to the issue of immigration clarifying that “they provide certain capacities in voluntary integration of immigrants”. In the end, Fico reminded that people with similar way of life and traditions adapt themselves with the most ease. “I stand by my opinion that a Syrian Christian is much closer to us than a Syrian Muslim, who maintains completely different tradition” (more on Aktuality).
4. National March for Life
In spite of actual discussion and protests against corruption or immigration, thousands of people participated on the second National March for Life that took place in Bratislava on 20 September. An event, with a declared purpose to push for amending legislation covering the protection of life and to help pregnant women in a crisis situation and need, according to organisers drew about 70,000-80, 000 people from Slovakia, Austria and the Czech Republic. Organised by the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (KBS) and supported by dozens of Christian organisations, including the Alliance for Family (which organised the failed February referendum on family issues) the March included a host of events taking place in the capital’s downtown area. The organisers also called on public officials, particularly parliament deputies, the government, the President and other state institutions to create legislative conditions to protect human life ; to protect the bond of a man and a woman ; to create mechanisms and economic and social conditions, in which families may give birth and raise children ; and to support institutions to help families in need and pregnant women.
5. New Old Metropolitan of the Slovak Catholic Church
On 20 and 21 September, the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia held a meeting attended by fifteen Catholic bishops, who selected in their midst new functionaries into the Conference of Bishops. Mons. Stanislav Zvolenský was again elected the chairman of the Conference of Bishops. The mandate is for the period of three years. The office of the deputy chairman will be performed by Košice archbishop metropolitan Mons. Bernard Bober also for the following three years.
6. The Rainbow pride in Košice
The Rainbow Pride took place on 26 September with the slogan “The Rainbow Connects Us” in Košice. About 200 participants, mainly young people, attended the march, which took place in the same town as the Christian National March for Life organized only two years before. A group of opponents was awaiting the protest, but the event passed off without incidents. The parade’s aim was to show support for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersexual (LGBTI) community and make them more visible to the public.
1. Slovakia opens to Christian refugees only
On 20 August, the government of the Slovak Republic declared it will take in struggling migrants from Syria and other countries under the European Union scheme to share the burden of 40,000 new arrivals to the continent, but stipulated it will only be taking Christians, and not Muslims.
1. Proposition of new Bank Holiday
Deputies in Parliament Ľudovít Kaník of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and Peter Osuský of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) proposed an amendment to an act on commemorative days. According to their proposition the now commemorative day marking the creation of Czechoslovakia on 28 October (1918) should have been turned into a bank holiday paying tribute to Milan Rastislav Štefánik, a Slovak who played an important role in the creation of a joint state of Czechs and Slovaks in 1918. The new bank holiday was to be called ‘Day of Tribute to the Work of Milan Rastislav Štefánik – the Founding of Czechoslovakia’. The deputies did not want to increase the number of bank holidays, but only to relegate The Constitution Day celebrated on 1 September to a mere commemorative day, thereby making it a working day. This proposition was not accepted by the Parliament.
1. Audit at Catholic University in Ružomberok
The KPMG company declared in its report many serious managerial failures, ineffective running and immoral behaviour in the running of Catholic University in Ružomberok during 2010-2013 period. The Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (KBS), which founded the confessional public university (financed by the state), ordered the audit after six university employees received bonuses amounting to €114,028 in 2013. The bonuses were ranging from €10,000 to €30,000 (the average salary at universities in Slovakia is about 1000 euros per month). Previous internal inspections and audit of external firm revealed several instances of possible fraud. Police have also investigated. There was also an inappropriately high number of post-doctoral degrees awarded in a short period, with many of the recipients hailing from Poland. Polish media reported on the case pointing to fees at the university violating the law and to forging of official documents about their payments.
2. Decision of dispute on Archbishop Sokol
The senate of the Slovak Constitutional Court decided that in the dispute between Trnava Archbishop Ján Sokol and the publisher of the Týždeň weekly, rights of Ján Sokol were breached. Sokol, who was registered as an agent of the Communist era secret service (ŠtB), transferred half a billion Slovak Crowns (about 15 million euros) from the sale of church assets to the account of ex-ŠtB agent Štefan Náhlik. Sokol, who sued the publisher of Týždeň, demanded €50,000 in non-material damage. Štefan Hríb, chief Editor of Týždeň, wrote in May 2009 that the money came from sale of church’s assets, the land under Tesco supermarket at Zlaté piesky in Bratislava. Sokol denied the amount from the very beginning and claimed that nobody got any kickback for the sale.
1. Decision on freedom of expression
The decision of the district prosecutor’s office in Prešov (regional capital in eastern Slovakia) considered the homily of Greek Catholic priest Rastislav Baka which he served on 14 January, before the February 2015 referendum on family, as not hateful and not violating any laws of Slovak Republic. The regional Radio Regina, which is part of the public service RTVS, refused to broadcast the homily before the referendum, as it, in its opinion, violated the broadcast rules. The Radio Regina refused to broadcast his homily because it was considered to be using hate speech against homosexuals. The Greek Catholic Church is now asking RTVS for an apology. The decision of prosecutor also allows Baka to ask for compensation of the caused damages. However, the priest already said he would not do it. By his own account, with his homily he only responded to the events in the society adding that he was forgiving those who harmed him with their statements. The RTVS stressed that the prosecutor’s office inspected the actions of the specific person, rather than RTVS violating some rights. Though the homily did not violate any rules, it does not mean that by broadcasting it, no laws RTVS has to observe would have been breached.
2. Bishops on the visit of their ex-colleague in the Vatican
The press department of the Conference of Slovak Bishops (KBS) stressed on 17 May 2015 that the meeting of Trnava Archbishop Róbert Bezák, accompanied by Prague Cardinal Miroslav Vlk on 10 April in the Vatican City was of a private nature.
3. Protest for limitation of freedom
Just a few months after the unsuccessful referendum on family, the Alliance for Family (AZR) published their statement on the decision of parliament, which refused to grant the right to parents and children to refuse to attend the lessons that focus on sexual behaviour. Such a proposal was part of two draft amendments submitted to the parliament by the political opposition. Alliance for Family (AZR) called it as a closing of the door to parents’ freedoms.
The deputies for the Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), who submitted one of the bills, wanted to make the attendance at reading where euthanasia was discussed voluntary. They proposed not to sanction the absence or compensate it by presence on another subject. The latter bill, submitted by ex-OĽaNO deputy Alojz Hlina, suggested that the school has to inform parents about its intention to increase the number of sexual education lessons. The Alliance (AZR) responded that refusal of the two amendments means that the parliament decision ignored the requirement of nearly 900,000 people who agreed in the February referendum on family with the claim that the schools cannot demand pupils to attend the lessons on sexual behaviour and euthanasia.
- April :
1. President´s visit to Vatican
The President of the Slovak Republic Andrej Kiska has payed a visit to Vatican on 9 April 2015. Just a few days before the 25th anniversary of the diplomatic restoration of relations between the Holy See and the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic, on 19 April 1990, following the first visit of St. John Paul II’s of the country he was received in audience by the Pope Francis. Subsequently he met with Msgr. Antoine Camilleri, Under-Secretary for the Relations with States, in the Secretariat of State. During the discussions a satisfaction was expressed for the good bilateral relations sealed by the Agreements in force, and by the fruitful dialogue between the Church and the civil authorities (more on News.Va). According the President Office’s press release : “Official visit of Andrej Kiska to the Vatican confirms the high level of relations between Slovak Republic and the Vatican as well as [relationship between] the state and the Catholic Church in Slovakia,”. The aim of the visit is to evaluate the current state of mutual cooperation and point to new possibilities on how to improve it (more on the Slovak Spectator).
2. Meeting of a Slovak dismissed archbishop with the Pope
Pope Francis received dismissed Slovak archibishop Robert Bezák on 10th April 2015. The information about the reception was carried by the Vatican press center and the Vatican Insider server. They did not say what the Pope and Bezák spoke about. The popular archibishop of Trnava Robert Bezák was dissmissed from his post by Pope Franci´s predecessor Benedict XVI in 2012. The church in unofficial statement criticized the presence of homosexual priests in his surroundings and his stance on certain church issues. The Vatican had also objections to Bezák often wearing civilian clothing, saying this discredited the church attire. But The Vatican were no given any official reasons for Bezák´s dismissal.
Slovak President Andrej Kiska also spoke about Bezák with Pope Francis during his first visit to the Vatican a day before this meeting. Kiska did not elaborate on the contents of his talks with the Pope on the issue (more on Prague Post).
- February :
1. Referendum on same-sex marriage and parenthood
On 7 February 2015 a referendum on same-sex marriage, adoption of children by homosexual couples, and sexual education was held. The decision was made by the President of the Slovak Republic on 27 November 2014, after the Constitutional Court had stated that three out of four questions proposed by the initiators were not incompatible with the Constitution of the Slovak Republic. In response to the constitutional challenge, the American Evangelical group Alliance Defending Freedom filed a brief in the Slovak court.
Critics claim that the referendum was pushed by religious and conservative organisations, aiming at preventing gay couples from gaining more rights. The referendum was initiated in 2014 after the mostly Catholic church-backed group Alliance for Family gathered 400,000 signatures calling for a vote on the law. The Conference of Bishops of Slovakia organised anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia rallies (the last one on September 2014) that overwhelmingly supported the move.
Despite conservative groups receiving the support of Pope Francis and spending €110,000 on the campaign, the referendum failed : only 21.4% of citizens cast a vote, therefore was deemed invalid (voter turnout must be at least 50%).
Supporters of the referendum campaigned predominantly in churches, with the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia raising funds for the campaign. The vote cost more than €6.3 million to run, and has led conservative groups to spend around €110,000 on advertisements. The Christian conservative activism platform CitizenGo, run by Brian S. Brown, the American founder of the National Organisation for Marriage has supported the referendum.
In June 2014, the Slovakia National Council amended the country’s constitution to specifically deny same sex couples the legal protections associated with marriage.
Voters were asked questions on three issues :
Do you agree that only a bond between one man and one woman can be called marriage ?
Do you agree that same-sex couples or groups should not be allowed to adopt and raise children ?
Do you agree that schools cannot require children to participate in education pertaining to sexual behaviour or euthanasia, if the children or their parents don’t agree ?
Slovakia’s LGBT groups, which are smaller and less organised than their opponents, encouraged people not to vote at all, for fear that "no" voters might push turnout over 50%.
Results of referendum (from 21,4% votes) :
|Question 1 – marriage||892,719||94.50||39,088||4.13||12,867||944,674||4,411,529||21.41|
|Question 2 – adoption||873,224||92.43||52,389||5.54||19,061|
|Question 3 – sex education||853,241||90.32||69,349||7.34||22,084|
|Source : Statistical Office of the Slovak Republic|
More on the referendum and discourse before and after it on see Wikipedia.
2. Discussions on the separation of the State and the churches
Just after this referendum, in February 2015, civic initiatives and public discussion on the separation of the State and the churches, or at least on their financial separation, has started in Slovakia.