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SLOVAKIA: Government move risks polarising the civil society sector

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Article written by Ivana Kohutková from VIA IURIS.

Despite the Slovak Government stating its support to civil society in its Governmental Manifesto a year ago, the civic sector is not viewed as a serious partner of the state institutions and its voice is omitted from several significant debates. The Slovak government is composed of four diverse political parties, is unstable and the majority of its members are strongly conservative.  Therefore, harmful narratives, such as antipathy towards human rights CSOs, especially CSOs targeted at women’s and LQBTI rights have gained significant ground. Additionally, these narratives are fueled by far-right extremist and populistic party opposition.

While open verbal attacks are episodic, civil society and its organizations are often “silently” attacked and sidelined, for example, by excluding civil society experts from significant discussions or processes, and adopting decisions related to civil society without broader discussions with its representatives.

The latest example involves the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of the Slovak Republic, which generally refuses the concept of gender equality. Several civic organizations and the media drew attention to the non-transparent process of allocation of subsidies and the overall situation at the Ministry.

Based on these facts, the Voice of Civic Organizations platform requested the Ministry to publish expert assessment sheets for the award of subsidies. After several unsuccessful attempts, the Ministry finally made the assessment sheets available to the coalition. In 2020, the Ministry redistributed the subsidy to support only 3 of the 15 gender equality organizations. There was a significant discrepancy between the experts’ evaluation of individual applicants and the actual redistribution of subsidies. As a result, gender equality organizations were unsupported, despite the high ratings from professional evaluators. Ultimately, the reality is that the funding scheme set up to support organizations working in the field of gender equality has been used to support conservative “pro-life” organisations, which do not generally focus on gender equality. The result is that the Ministry is suspected to have intentionally favoured pro-life organizations.

As a reaction to the critical voices of feminist CSOs and other civil society actors on the non-transparent process of redistribution of subsidies, the Minister posted a critical  statement on Facebook, in which he defended the whole process. He supported the decision of the responsible committee, which favoured “conservative” organizations, and argued that the Ministry supported particular organizations as they really help women in need and tortured women. At the same time, the Minister accused the former director of the gender equality unite (Oľga Prietruchová) of a non-transparent redistribution funding scheme while she was in charge of the department. He pointed out her alleged conflict of interest and favouring feminist organizations in the previous years. Whilst he did not attack feminist organizations directly, his statement was manipulative and incorporated false information, such as alleged deliberate discrimination in favour particular feminist organization in the past.

 

The Platform “The voice of civil society organizations” represents a wide range of organizations from human rights to environmental, watchdog, dealing with education, volunteering, minorities or culture. Our members include gender equality organizations, but also organizations that profess Christian values. Although, we see that the whole situation is the result of Ministry´s general refusal of gender equality concept, we are concerned that the Minister divides the civic sector and ideologizes a topic that requires a professional approach.

We also perceive the fact that the Ministry decided on subsidies in a non-transparent manner and ignored expert evaluations. The conduct and defense of the Ministry of Labor in this way polarizes and divides the civic sector. With its activities, it complements the activities of the state where it alone is not enough. We would welcome clear and well-arranged processes and clear communication from the Ministry.