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Slovakia - Infrastructure

Slovakia's head of state, the president, is elected by the Slovak National Council, which has 150 members directly elected by universal suffrage using secret ballots. The prime minister is head of government. Court judges are chosen by the National Council. The voting age is 18. Slovakia has 8 regions and is subdivided into 72 districts.

When the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled in 1918 after World War I, Slovaks joined with Czechs, under the leadership of Tomáš Masaryk and Milan Štefánik, in founding the Czecho-Slovak republic.

Czechoslovakia (the name by which the country was known after 1920) became the most democratic of the Habsburg successor states, although some Slovaks wished for more autonomy within the union. In 1938, however, in order to appease the Nazis, the Czech region of Sudetenland was ceded to Germany. On 14 March 1939 Slovakia declared independence and allied itself with Germany. The following day, German forces invaded the Czech lands. In 1944 central and eastern anti-Nazi Slovaks staged a revolt, but this was quickly crushed by German armed forces. At the end of World War II, Slovakia rejoined Czechoslovakia, and a new national government was formed. In the 1946 elections the Communist party emerged as the strongest political group in a coalition government. By early 1948 the Communists had seized complete control of government.

During the early 1950s there were extensive political purges. In 1960 a new constitution, modelled on that of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was introduced that restricted Slovak autonomy. Pressure for reform was resisted by Antonin Novotný's regime, but in 1967 considerable economic liberalization was conceded. In early 1968 Alexander Dubąek, a reformist, took over leadership from Novotný. He set about creating “ socialism with a human face”, and during the next eight months, known as the “Prague Spring”, radical reforms were introduced, including the abolition of censorship, and autonomy for Slovakia. In August, however, troops from the USSR and four other Warsaw Pact countries invaded, putting an end to the democratic reforms. Dubąek was replaced by another Slovak, Gustáv Husák, who became president of Czechoslovakia in 1975.

The only reform from the Prague Spring that survived was the creation of a federal system with autonomous Czech and Slovak republics.

Resistance to Communist rule developed during the 1970s, and declared itself in 1977 in the Charter 77 movement (of which Václav Havel was one of the founders). The Charter 77 movement charged the Husák government with violations of human rights. The movement was stifled, however, by Husák's regime, and its leaders were imprisoned. In November 1989, after increasing demonstrations and political dissent, Civic Forum (a Czech coalition led by Václav Havel) and the Slovak group, Public Against Violence, forced the end of Communist rule. Not long after the 1990 elections, nationalism re-emerged as a major issue, with Slovaks pressing for even greater autonomy. Nationalists triumphed in the 1992 elections in Slovakia and, when the newly elected Czech and Slovak governments could not agree on the division of federal powers, Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meąiar, and Czech Prime Minister, Václav Klaus, decided that a peaceful split of the Czechoslovak state was the only solution.

After Slovakia became independent on 1 January 1993, Meąiar continued market reforms, but slowed the pace of privatization of large enterprises to avoid exacerbating rising unemployment. However, economic stagnation and Meąiar's confrontational leadership style led parliament to remove him from office on a vote of no confidence in March 1994. Jozef Moravąík became the new prime minister, but, in elections held in September 1994, Meąiar was returned to power when his party won 35 per cent of the vote, against 10 per cent for his nearest rival.

The transition following the collapse of communism and the attainment of independence is proving difficult for the people of Slovakia, not least because the economy is much weaker than the Czech Republic. Independence is a sensitive subject among some Slovaks, while most are anxious to foster a positive image abroad.

After World War II, the Communist government initiated a programme of rapid industrialization in Slovakia. The emphasis was on heavy industries such as steel, chemicals, cement, and machinery, but these operations became increasingly inefficient and environmentally unsound. The collapse of Communism was followed by a decrease in output and sharp rises in inflation and unemployment. Slovakia's economy is weaker than that of the Czech Republic, and progress towards market reforms and privatization has accordingly been much slower. This, combined with political instability, in turn has inhibited the foreign investment that the country desperately needs. Potential development sectors include tourism, but the overall economic outlook is bleak.

The currency is the Slovenska koruna.

Some grocers open before 8 AM and most other businesses and government offices open at 8 AM and close by 3 or 4 PM. Shops are open until 6 PM on weekdays and until 2 PM on Saturdays. Except for a few restaurants and shops, nearly all businesses close on Sundays. Small urban shops and most rural businesses close for lunch. Many people grow their own fruit and vegetables in addition to buying them from markets, and a large number of urban residents have gardens in the countryside for this purpose.

Most employees have four weeks of holiday each year. It is common for business associates to socialize with each other away from work.

Although most Slovak families have a car, high fuel prices discourage regular use. Public transport is mainly by bus, tram, and train. Main roads are paved; there are only a few good motorways, but more are being planned. Railways link the major cities.

Slovakia's press expanded rapidly with the freedom that was introduced in 1989. More than 120 newspapers are published, as well as numerous magazines. There are several television and radio stations, and people with satellite dishes can access international broadcasts.

Education, which is free at public institutions, begins at the age of six and is compulsory for nine years. Education and research have a high priority. Although state universities charge no tuition fees, admission is limited and highly competitive. The oldest of Slovakia's 13 universities is Comenius University in Bratislava. Those who do not attend university can obtain skills through vocational schools.

Slovakia's national health-care system, anchored by state-run hospitals, is undergoing change. Nearly all people have access to doctors, and medical advances have lowered the infant mortality rate. Health spas cater to patients from all over the world. Pollution poses serious health hazards in both rural and urban environments, and the nation's ability to clean the water and air, and to restore the decimated forests, is limited because of the lack of funds.

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