8 Analyzing Civil Society Assistance in Slovakia


The following chapter focuses on the case of Slovakia. For the purpose of this study, Slovakia can be regarded as a divergent case, because the emergence of civil society in Slovakia is an unlikely phenomenon according to a sociological understanding of civil society as put forward above. History has not provided Slovakia with the cultural assets commonly regarded as favorable for civil society. The prospects for a vibrant civil society based on active citizens and moral qualities such as tolerance and trust are dim. The reasons lie in both the repressive nature of the previous regime and the identified legacy of communism (chap. 2.3.) as well as ins late independence and belated modernization. The times when Slovakia was a state are scarce; Slovakia was mostly under the influence of other states such as Bohemia, Hungary, or the Habsburg Empire. National elites that act as carriers of civil society did not exist. Instead the Slovak lands were characterized by a poor, peasant, and catholic population that believed in the merits of rural life and in the superiority of Hungarian nobility. The communist regime in Czechoslovakia maintained a repressive policy that left little room for public dissent and “circles of freedom” outside of state control. As a result, analysts describe the political culture of Slovakia as one shaped by state paternalism, an apathetic and passive citizenry, and “civic impotence” (Fialová 2002).

Keeping this pessimistic analysis in mind, it is not that surprising that Slovakia was the only country of the Visegrad-Four to experience a democratic reverse wave of authoritarian rule between 1994 and 1998. With a short interlude in 1994, Slovakia was ruled by Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar and his party “Movement for a Democratic Slovakia” (HZDS) between 1993 and 1998. After the elections in 1994, the HZDS entered a coalition with the nationalistic “Slovak National Party” and the radical left-wing “Association of Workers of Slovakia”. The regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar and his ruling nationalist-communist coalition was based on populist and nationalist rhetoric and on undemocratic means of suppressing the opposition. Events provoked by the government such as the illegal ousting of a Slovak parliamentarian in 1996, the refusal of the government to protect minority languages, attempts to control the media and to restrict the freedom of NGOs, and not least the harassment of the president’s son resulted in harsh international criticism and a poor international image of Slovakia.184 


Despite everything mentioned above Slovakia has a lively NGO-Sector, which is characterized by a high degree of organization and cooperation. One may even argue that it is due to the work of NGOs that the Mečiar government was succeeded in 1998 by the coalition under Mikulas Dzurinda, which facilitated the democratic and economic transition of the country and laid the path into the European Union. The NGO sector has created its own infrastructure including regional associations and national umbrella organizations, and a democratically elected body, the “Gremium for the Third Sector” (G3S), which advocates the interests of NGOs and coordinates joint actions of NGOs. The “Gremium” has been successful in mobilizing NGO support for large initiatives. In 1996, in response of the Government’s Bill on Foundations, the “Gremium” carried out a nationwide media campaign and mobilized NGOs to join the “SOS Third Sector Campaign” in order to prevent the law. The “OK ‘98” campaign before the parliamentary elections in 1998 proved to be more important from a political standpoint, Several activities and events organized by NGOs such as “get out the vote” concerts, cultural activities or discussion forums aimed to convince especially disillusioned young people to vote and to ensure free and fair elections. The high voter turnout at the 1998 elections (84%)185 is widely assumed to have benefited the democratic oppositional coalition of Miklas Dzurinda that finally succeeded in breaking Mečiar’s rule.186 

In both campaigns and especially before the elections in 1998 Slovak NGOs received massive Western support in financial as well as technical terms. Without this support one may doubt whether the NGOs would have ever had the means to conduct the campaigns and various activities briefly sketched out above. Moreover, the question of Euroatlantic integration came to play a key role in the election campaign. Both western politicians and domestic opposition leaders and NGOs continuously stressed the point that the Slovak prime minister himself was the major obstacle to Slovakia’s membership in EU and NATO and that Mečiar was the reason why Slovakia fell from being one of the most promising candidate countries to one with the weakest prospects of membership. In view of the high public support for Slovak membership in these organizations, the alignment of Slovak opposition leaders and NGOs with foreign actors was a valuable asset of the democratic opposition.187

The key question of this chapter is to what extent did the NGO sector in Slovakia benefit from Western civil society assistance. Can we attribute the development of NGOs, the high organizational and technical capacity of NGOs as well as the tense cooperation among NGOs to external civil society assistance? Did Western involvement tip the internal power-balance in Slovakia and thus contribute to the outcome of the 1998 elections? And if this is the case, are the elections a victory of civil society? Or did Western funds simply support and install a counter-elite, a non-governmental shadow government consisting of future politicians that “survived” under Western auspices in non-governmental organizations, but who leave their organizations without a mission, goal and human resources once they enter the new government? Or did external assistance support the rise of civil society in a country whose historic legacies left little hope for democracy and civil society? Did the West give Slovakia a “history”?


In order to answer these questions the analysis proceeds in the following steps. The first section briefly outlines the communist and pre-communist legacies impacting upon civil society development. The second section portrays civil society in Slovakia after 1989 in structural and cultural terms. In doing so, focus will be placed on the Mečiar and the post-Mečiar era. Thirdly, the chapter portrays the external assistance granted to non-governmental organizations and civil society in Slovakia. Special emphasis will be placed on the quantity, the timing and the strategy of external civil society assistance. Subsequently, the chapter focuses on the recipients of assistance and investigates their sustainability, legitimacy and effectiveness in building civil society (see chapter 5.3.). It will be evident that Western assistance played a key role for NGOs in Slovakia. However, several conditions that ensured the beneficial character of external assistance will also be identified. The final section summarizes the major results and is guided by the question whether civil society assistance in Slovakia was nothing more than a subtle form of external intervention from below or a genuine effort to trigger civil society development.

8.1 The Domestic Context - Historical and Cultural Legacies

As pointed out in chapter two, civil society requires a “cultural basis” of civic attitudes and values shaped and formed in historic processes and by cultural legacies. The following thus focuses briefly on the communist and pre-communist history of the Slovak state in order to pinpoint the cultural foundations on which civil society in Slovakia is built. As the communist legacies hampering civil society development are already discussed thoroughly in chapter 2.3., it is left to this section to pinpoint free spheres of societal life outside state control and dissident activities in the Czech and Slovak lands. Moreover, I will briefly point to Slovakia’s pre-communist history and political traditions in order to highlight a number of important factors specific to the Slovak case: the belated modernization of Slovakia, the interrelationship between Slovak, Hungarian as well as Czech culture, and the striking lack of a national history and consciousness. It will be clear that those who believe in historical explanations will be left with little hope with respect to the rise of civil society in Slovakia. Karen Buerkle makes the point that whenever the territory of Slovakia was democratic, i.e. as part of Czechoslovakia from 1918 until the rise of the Fascist Slovak state in 1939 and after the velvet revolution in 1989, democracy was brought to Slovakia as the result of events outside Slovakia’s borders. In neither case was democracy the result of the public involvement of a large part of the Slovak population. In both periods democracy came to Slovakia before it had a well-developed civil society (Buerkle 2002a: 1).

8.1.1 Pre-Communist Legacies

Slovakia’s history has been determined more than anything else by its lack of experience with independent statehood, an identity that formed in opposition to Hungarian and Czech supremacy, its belated modernization and lack of experience with associational life. All three factors are major legacies still impacting civil society today.


For nearly 1000 years the territory of present-day Slovakia was part of the Hungarian Kingdom and known as Upper Hungary. The Hungarian supremacy only ended with the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918. The Slovaks voluntarily joined the common state, but the cultural and social differences between the industrialized and urbanized Czech lands and the rural and peasant Slovaks quickly created resentment and “… fed the growth of Slovak nationalism, as many Slovaks felt that Hungarian rule had merely been exchanged for rule from Prague” (Wolchik: 1997: 199). Despite the fact that they could participate in liberal elections, Slovaks identified little with the political system. In 1939 they euphorically celebrated the creation of their own state, ignoring the fact that this first Slovak state was based on a fascist regime protected and controlled by Hitler Germany. Until the velvet revolution of 1993 Slovakia thus hardly had any experience with independent statehood. Along with that, Slovakia had no experience with democratic rules and regulations.

“Slovak citizens do not have the experience … of creating state institutions, administrating the state, or deciding about important political issues affecting their everyday life. This results in naiveté and a political illiteracy, or what is even worse, it leads to apathy and passivity … that is the ideal ground for authoritarianism” (Fialová 2002b: 11).


A further factor hampering civil society is a late national awakening that in turn was based on an ethno-centric and romantic image of the nation. Gellner (1995) convincingly argued, “the modular man is a nationalist”. From this view, the development of civil society necessitates national identity. However, in the Slovak case the evolution of national identity is overshadowed by the supremacy of Hungarian and Czech high culture. The multi-ethnic region of Upper Hungary was strongly dominated by the Hungarian culture. Members of the nobility of the region considered themselves as Hungarians regardless of their ethnic affiliation. The same holds true for educated Slovaks or even Slovak-speaking yeoman of the 17th or 18th century whose predominant identity was Hungarian (Fialová 2002b: 1). In the 19th century a brief and feeble Slovak nationalist movement developed. It was, however, severely hampered by the absence of a historic precedent of land autonomy or statehood on the one hand and the supremacy of the Hungarian culture on the other hand. In their search for Slovak images and models, Slovak intellectuals had to turn to the rural, peasant, catholic and largely conservative population as the main carriers of the language and folklore of ethnic Slovaks. This even more so, as the national movement largely failed to win over the Slovak speaking urban population and Slovak yeoman who were highly influenced by Hungarianism. Slovak emancipation thus had to distinguish itself from Hungarianism and from Hungarian liberalism that significantly shaped Hungarian national emancipation in the 19th century. Pan-Slavism was the only embracing ideal available. Fialová concludes that Slovak emancipation was thus largely based on conservative ideals, anti-liberal tendencies and an ethno-centric and largely romantic image of the nation (ibid: 4). This image was consolidated during the pre-war period when Slovaks aimed to preserve their newly gained cultural identity against “Czechoslovakism” a notion connected to multi-ethnic Bohemism that was largely perceived by Slovaks as purely “Czechism”.

Finally the pre-communist history of the Slovak lands was marked by the lack of associational life. Unlike in Poland, where Polish non-governmental structures and associational life developed during the partitions in response to external intervention (Kurczewska 1995: 44pp), this was not the case in Slovakia. In her analysis of associational life in Slovakia, Buerkle points out that a feeble Slovak civil society developed only at the beginning of the 19th century. It was, however, largely determined by a Hungarian – German middle class with only a few Slovak charitable associations and self-help societies inspired by a brief Slovak national movement. On the territory of present-day Slovakia self-organized activity remained far below the degree of associational life in other parts of the Habsburg Empire (Buerkle 2002b: 2p). In a society that was largely shaped by an underdeveloped middle class, a low percentage of Protestants and a large majority coming from a mostly poor, rural, peasant, catholic background where liberal values had never been introduced, the development of individualism and self-responsibility was associated with great difficulties.188 The chief exception was Bratislava, where during the 19th century and at the turn of the century a strong associational life developed that also was ethnically tolerant and of a mixed German –Magyar nature. Although associations sprang up during the first Czechoslovak Republic, Buerkle (ibid: 7) makes the point that the associations mainly formed along ethnical, religious or political lines and were hardly inspired by values such as tolerance and trust. Although some degree of pluralism developed in the cities, in the countryside non-state organized activity remained low and was restricted to fire brigades and agricultural based associations. There were not only fewer associations in Slovakia than in the Czech Lands during the Czechoslovak Republic, but they were also more geographically dispersed (Buerkle 2002a: 6p). The authoritarian regime ruling between 1939 and 1945 marked a major decrease in civic activity. Many associations were dissolved, others controlled and redirected (ibid: 8).

8.1.2 Communist Legacies

Chapter 7.1.1 points to the various legacies of communist societies that are widely considered to obstruct civil society development and even to lead to “civilizational incompetence” (Sztompka 1993: 89). In particular, the image of social homogeneity and a resulting lack of interest differentiation and representation, a thoroughly discredited image of associations, citizens’ passivity tied with exceeding claims toward the state as a protector and care-taker, and a deep state-society divide have been identified as the major factors deterring civil society. This section argues that the legacies of communist rule have a more profound effect in Slovakia than in Poland. The repressive character of the Czechoslovak communist regime, the small oppositional circle, and the lacking popularity of the opposition in the Slovak lands are factors that inhibited the development of free spheres of civic activity as we saw in the Polish case (chapter 7.1.).


In comparison with other socialist regimes in CEE such as Poland or Hungary, the communist regime in Czechoslovakia took a hard-line until its demise in 1989.189 The liberalization tendencies cumulating in the Prague spring in 1969 were crushed violently. The subsequent period of “normalization” was based on a policy of repression of public dissent that manifested itself in the party purges following 1968, the emergence of conservative party leaders, a harsh response to signatories of the “Charter 77”, and violent crackdowns on demonstrations at the end of the 1980s. The regime took an orthodox and dogmatic stance in economic terms as well. It was strongly against private farming, small-scale industry or small privatization, which was common in other CEE countries.190 

Nonetheless, a small circle of dissidents existed despite the outright repression. Their activities were largely limited to petitions such as the Charter 77, a petition requesting the government to respect the Helsinki treaty on Human Rights it signed in 1975. The number of signatories remained below 2000, an indicator of the small number of open opponents (Glenn 2001: 48). The reasons for the small circle of dissidents lie mainly in the repressive nature of the regime, but also in its economic effectiveness. Czechoslovakia hardly faced an economic crisis: inflation was low, hard currency debt remained in an acceptable range and basic consumer goods were on hand. Nor did the population suffer from food shortage or the government face the burden of large Western debt (see e.g. Glenn 2001: 46). Unlike in Poland where the economic crisis of the 1970s severely damaged the legitimacy of the regime, the patronage state in Czechoslovakia seemed to keep its promises. Only at the end of the 1980s did stagnation prevail and economic analyses affirmed the need for radical economic reform, but did not catch the ear of the conservative ruling elite, though.191 Due to the repressive and conservative regime, the small circles of independent civic activity, and its economic performance, one may well argue that Czechoslovakia was one of the countries where ideology significantly influenced most spheres of social life (Fialová 2002c).

This holds especially true for the Slovak lands. The small dissident circles described above hardly had any appeal in the Slovak part of the country. During the Prague Spring liberalization tendencies were also largely dominated by Czechs (Mansfeldová 1998: 14).192 In the communist period, the traditionally agricultural Slovak lands experienced a belated economic modernization based on heavy industry. This was additionally accompanied by social achievements. As a result, the communist regime quickly gained prominence:


“This modernization of industrial type was marked by a period of social engineering; it was followed by social rights, applied before and separately from political rights, and it was broadly perceived as successful” … “Slovakia, as a more traditional society originally (after World War II) did not desire socialism; later it was intrigued by it because of its state paternalism, collectivism, closeness, egalitarianism, redistributiveness, authoritarianism, and anti-intellectualism (Krivý, Feglová, Balko 1996: 40p cit. in Fialová 2002c: 5pp).

Not until the end of the 1980s did Slovakia experience some oppositional tendencies and signs of civil society development. Whereas demonstrations in the Czech lands took place on the anniversary of the Warsaw Pact invasion (on August 21st in 1988 and 1989) or on the anniversary of the suicide of Jan Palach (in January 1989), demonstrations in the Slovak part of the country were largely influenced by Catholicism. The first mass demonstration against the regime that took place in March 1988 was the “candle demonstration” on the feast day of Lord’s Annunciation in Bratislava. More than 10,000 people protested against the violation of the rights of believers (Glenn 2001: 228). In all of Czechoslovakia several smaller civic initiatives and organizations sprang up.193 However civic activity remained much stronger in the Czech in comparison to the Slovak lands (Mansfeldová 1998: 16).


Unlike the “Civic Forum”, the Czech oppositional movement formed in the velvet revolution of November 1989, its Slovak counterpart “Public Against Violence” (Verejnost’ Proti Nasili; VPN) included not only anti-communists but also further reform communists and even communists holding top positions in the state apparatus (Samson 2001: 368). In this manner, the movement did not have the capacity to bring to power a democratic elite. Instead, one successor of the VPN, the ruling party of Vladimir Mečiar, the “Movement for a democratic Slovakia” (Hnuti za Demokraticke Slovensko, HZDS) consisted of former communists that quickly took on a nationalist and populist rhetoric (ibid). Vladimir Mečiar ruled the country from 1993-1998 with a nine-month interruption by the government of Jozef Moravčík in 1994. After the 1994 elections Mečiar’s HZDS entered a coalition with the far-right, nationalist “Slovak National Party” (SNS) and a populist leftist movement, the “Association of Workers of Slovakia” (ZRS). The nationalist-left wing coalition clearly showed authoritarian political tendencies, including “disrespect for the rule of law, favoritism, corruption, the intertwining of crime with politics and a confrontational nationalist policy” (Bútora / Bútorová 1999: 80). With its combination of populism and nationalism it appealed to the elderly and the rural population who largely feared economic and political reforms.

8.1.3 Summary: Cultural Preconditions of Civil Society in Slovakia

Due to the historic developments described above, the late independence, nominal democratic and associational experiences, the traditional and rural character of Slovak society, the lacking middle class and intelligentsia, and the belated modernization, most analysts describe the pre-conditions for civil society in Slovakia as rather unfavorable.194 According to Fialová (2002c), political culture in Slovakia is characterized by a passive attitude towards the state and politics in general. The culture of self-help is poorly developed and strong dependency on the state has a long tradition. The Slovak emancipation, which focused on traditional rural life patterns and aimed to counterweight liberal Hungarianism resulted in anti-liberal attitudes and did not prove capable of breaking patterns of traditional collectivist life. Societal ties are not characterized by trust in Putman’s sense, nor can they be described as associative. Instead they remain collectivist and gemeinschaftlich. Distrust prevails and distrust in politics and politicians is particularly regarded as part of Slovak cultural heritage. Additionally, equalitarianism is highly valued among Slovak citizens. However, ‘equal’ is not understood in terms of ‘equal rights’ of equal citizens, but in economic terms. Social justice and social rights prevail over civil rights. In sum, Slovak history is marked by little experience with free civic activity. The goal of the next section is to determine the extent to which this history challenges the development of civil society in Slovakia after the demise of authoritarian rule.

8.2 The belated Liberalization – The Rise of Civil Society in Slovakia

The following section investigates civil society development in Slovakia throughout the 1990s. The analysis is guided by indicators of the structural and cultural dimension of civil society identified in chapter two. It focuses on (1) the rise of NGOs in quantitative terms; (2) the main areas of organized civic activity outside state and market; (3) regional dispersion of associational life; (4) civic participation; (5) the relationship between state authorities and civil society organizations; and (6) the type of relationship between civil society organizations.195 


In doing so, the section will focus on three time periods: the period from the demise of communist rule until the partition of Czechoslovakia (1989-1992), Slovakia under Mečiar’s rule (1993-1998), and the period following the elections of 1998 (1998-2002). It will be demonstrated that despite the previously outlined cultural preconditions effecting civil society development and the authoritarian tendencies under Vladimir Mečiar’s rule civil society in Slovakia advanced on the structural and cultural dimension in the period under investigation. Moreover, instead of hampering civil society development, the period of repression triggered it.

8.2.1 Quantity of Non-Governmental Organizations

Focusing on the size of organized civic activity in Slovakia, it can be stated that – like in other Central European states – the number of non-governmental organizations has risen rapidly since the breakdown of communist rule in 1989. Whereas in 1992 7,000 NGOs were registered, the number cumulated to 17,844 registered non-governmental organizations by April 2000 (Demeś 2001: 471), including approximately 3,000 church organizations (ibid: 483).196 According to the John Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, which measures the size of the nonprofit sector with economic indicators, the Slovak NGO sector in 1996 is slightly less developed than its counterparts in the other Visegrad countries. With 0.9% of total non-agricultural employment, Slovakia ranges below the CEE average of 1.1% of total employment (Poland 1%) (Woleková et al 1999: 360). However, if volunteers are included, the share increase to 1.2% - the same share as in Poland (Leś et al 1999: 328).

Table 8 illustrates that the major rise of NGOs took place in the years 1990 and 1992-93, when the largest number of NGOs registered with the Interior Ministry.197 The DPP survey, which is based on the SAIA-SCTS database, indicates a second “wave” of NGO formations between 1993 and 1996. Only 20% of the surveyed NGOs report having been founded between 1989 and 1992. The largest share (44%) started to operate between 1993 and 1996, a period Michal Vašečka refers to as the phase of “emancipation of civil society” which was followed in 1997 by a period of “(political) mobilization”.198 


Table 8: New Registrations of NGOs per Year 

8.2.2 Composition

If we turn to the composition of non-state, non-economic civic activity, the picture again looks different, when the analysis is based on absolute numbers or on paid employment (see similar observations in the Polish case, chap. 7.2.1). According to the DPP survey in Slovakia, most NGOs focus on issues concerning the youth, culture and education (32%; Poland: 24%), followed by social services (19%; Poland: 30%). Further important issues are ecology with 11% of NGOs (Poland 1%), and human rights issues (8%; Poland: 3%). Decentralization also ranks high on the agenda of Slovak NGOs (9% of NGOs are active in this area). However, this is much lower than in Poland (17%). Moreover, little attention is given to economic development (4%; Poland: 10%). 4% of NGOs aim to support the NGO sector and 15% regard it as a further important area of activity (Poland: 3% / 19%).199 According to the Johns Hopkins data, the majority of non-profit seeking organizations (37%) focus on culture and recreation, just like in other CEE countries. Education comes seconds with 29% of paid employment, followed by professional organizations (including unions) (10%), and environment and advocacy (10%). Social services, health care and development rank low with 5%, 2%, and 1% of paid employment respectively (Woleková et al 1999: 361).

These figures are particularly interesting in comparison with the CEE and the West European average. In the case of Poland, it has already been argued that the Johns Hopkins data reveal the old and the new faces of civic activities in CEE that organize outside the state and market (see chap. 7.2.1). In comparison with Western Europe, we witness in CEE on the one hand an oversized sector in the following areas: sports / recreation, professional organizations / unions, and environment/advocacy. On the other hand, the areas social services, health and education are markedly under-developed. These findings are even more striking in the Slovak case. Although the figures for recreation and professional organizations roughly correspond with the CEE average200, the share of paid employment in the field of environment/advocacy at 10% is higher in Slovakia than the CEE average (6%) and by far higher than in Western Europe (3%). The same holds true for private education (Slovakia: 29%; CEE-average: 18%; Western Europe: 28%) (Anheier/Salamon 1999: 17). In the same vein, the field of social services and health care are distinctly underdeveloped, compared even to other CEE countries (ibid).


The findings of the two studies suggest that the new face of organized non-state, nonprofit-seeking civic activity in Slovakia is marked by highly professional organizations active in environmental protection and advocacy, private education, and a feeble but evolving social sector that lacks financial resources and paid labor. In contrast to Poland, like Slovakia a catholic country with a strong charity tradition, fewer organizations deliver social services and the ones who do possess fewer material means to employ labor. Woleková (1999: 363) attributes both the underdeveloped social service and health sector as well as the highly developed environment/advocacy sector to the peculiarities of the Mečiar regime. The small share of employment in health and social services “... very likely reflects the determination of the post-1989 governments to keep firm control over these two crucial welfare fields“. Hospitals remain state-owned. Moreover, private health care providers are legally defined as commercial organizations. Besides that, the state maintained social services established during communist times. The organizational strength of new initiatives in the area of education, advocacy, and environment are in her opinion a direct result of “the crucial role that civic organizations have played in the post communist development of this country“ (ibid: 364). The authoritarian tendencies of the Mečiar government triggered opposition inside NGOs, and also pushed oppositional leaders into NGOs. The operational effectiveness and unity of NGOs and not least the Western attention and support they received is thus widely regarded as a result of Mečiar’s rule. I will come back to this point later.

8.2.3 Regional Distribution

A further striking feature of the NGO sector in Slovakia is its unequal regional distribution. The majority of NGOs, namely 35%, are located in the capital Bratislava (SAIA-SCTS 2000b). The urban centers Košice, Banská Bystrica and Prešov are further strongholds of NGO activity with 12%, 10% and 10% of NGOs respectively (ibid). The concentration of NGOs in urban centers is further visible if one focuses on the number of inhabitants per NGO. In Bratislava there are 716 inhabitants per NGO, Košice has only 2487 inhabitants per NGO. In Trencin, the city with least inhabitants per NGO, the ratio is 3547 to 1.201 The unequal regional distribution of NGOs corresponds with regional socioeconomic disparities between Eastern and Western Slovakia and urbanized and rural areas. In 2001 the share of GDP per capita in Eastern Slovakia equals 39% of the EU average (Slovak average: 49% of the EU GDP average). In contrast, the GDP per capita in Bratislava amounts to 99% of EU average. The unemployment in Bratislava reaches roughly 7% whereas it amounts to 26% in the rural areas (ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 1).202 

8.2.4 Civic Participation and Volunteerism 

The next indicator I turn to is civic participation. Organisational membership in Slovakia is low as is the case in other CEE countries. According to the 1995-97 World Values Survey organizational membership in Slovakia reached 12,6% (Howard 2003:65p).203 According to a public opinion survey of the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO, Inštitút pre verejné otázky) conducted in 1999, Slovakia experienced an increase in political mobilization in 1998, which manifested itself in a high voter turnout to parliamentary elections. Other forms of civic participation were in 1998 frequently used. 49% of respondents reported that they signed a petition at least once; 24% joined a group or organization pursuing their interest; 17% attended protest demonstrations (Bútorová / Gyárfášova / Velšic 1999: 151). Volunteerism continued to rise. According to the Volunteer Center of SAIA-SCTS, interest in volunteer work grew during 1997, and approximately 19% of the population was involved in some volunteer activity (Demeš 1999: 350). However, the optimistic expectations of large parts of the population towards the future quickly dwindled in view of political struggles and conflicts within the ruling coalition and a growing unemployment rate.204 The ratio of dissatisfied people grew from 34% in January 1999 to 59% in March 2000 (Bútorová / Gyárfášova / Velšic 2001: 199). The disappointment of citizens with politics translated in less participation in public life. In 2002 the organizations ETP Slovakia and Ekopolis Foundation remarked “… the participation of citizens in NGO activities has dropped from 25 to 16% in the last five years” (ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 2).

8.2.5 Ties Between Non-Governmental Organizations and Within Civil Society


The following section will demonstrate that the ties between Slovak NGOs are marked by cooperation and good working relations as well as by a striking degree of unity and cohesion. Many groups of NGOs joined coalitions or umbrella organizations.205 Moreover, the Third Sector in Slovakia is very well organized. This is firstly the result of the Stupava Conference, an annual gathering of NGOs. Seconldy, in Slovakia an effective body representing NGO interests exists called, “Gremium of the Third Sector” (G3S). This committee, which is regularly elected at the Stupava Conference, is widely accepted as the voice of NGOs in Slovakia. The following will briefly portray the Stupava Conferences and the G3S. Moreover, the questions will be raised as to the extent to which the strong cohesion among NGOs is likely to persist after the downfall of the “common enemy” Vladimir Mečiar and whether the NGO sector is more likely to unite the fragmented Slovak society or deepen existing cleavages.

The Stupava Conference

The Stupava Conference is an annual gathering of NGOs and their representatives. It is the largest annual meeting of NGOs in Slovakia. The first conference took place in 1991 in former Czechoslovakia. It was initiated by Slovak and foreign charity foundations whose aim was the advancement of civil society in Czechoslovakia (Charta 77 Foundation, Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA), Jan Hus Foundation Brno, European Cultural Foundation).206 After the split-up of the country, Slovak participants of the first conference created the “Gremium of the Stupava conference of Slovak NGOs” in March 1993 and founded the “Service Center for the Third Sector”, a subsection of SAIA, as a permanent organizer of the Stupava conferences (see chapter 8.4.1). The Stupava conference provides a platform of debate for main issues of concern for NGOs. It evaluates the development of the Third Sector and determines goals for the following year. Moreover, the Stupava conferences, which are open to all NGOs, democratically elect the so-called “Gremium of the Third Sector”, thus establishing an effective organ of NGOs. Since 1997 the Stupava conference is supplemented by regional gatherings of NGOs, which elect Regional Gremia of the Third Sector (RG3S). Table 9 provides an overview of the Stupava conferences from 1991 to the year 2000. It is clear that the early conferences mainly focus on operational issues relevant for NGOs such as a respective NGO and tax law or questions of funding or volunteerism. This focus shifted in 1997 when the Stupava conference actively discussed the political role of NGOs and debated the participation of NGOs in political and pre-election activities. This debate resulted in an encompassing pre-election campaign of Slovak NGOs called “OK ‘98” that aimed to motivate especially the young to vote (see chapter 8.4.4).


The Gremium of the Third Sector (G3S)

The Gremium of the Third Sector was firstly elected at the second Stupava Conference in 1994 as an organ representing different types of NGOs. Since then the annually elected 14-16 members of the G3S represent the following areas of NGO activity: humanity and charity, environment, education, youth, culture, human rights and minority issues, and community initiatives. The G3S consists of volunteering representatives of NGOs. According to the SAIA webpage the G3S pursues the following tasks: (1) to develop partner relations with representatives of the state, local governments, the business sector and unions as well as with international non-governmental organizations; (2) to defend and pursue the interests of NGOs, (3) to develop cooperation and solidarity within the Third Sector; and (4) to explain and publicize the task of the Third Sector at home and abroad.207 In fulfilling these tasks the G3S receives administrative support from SAIA-SCTS, which functions as the secretariat of the G3S. The G3S played a leading role in the negotiations about legislation concerning non-governmental organizations with the government and acted as a coordinating body for the major campaigns of the NGO sector such as the SOS campaign and the election campaign “OK ‘98" (see below). The G3S further cooperates closely with various umbrella organizations and the Donor forum (Vašečka 2002c: 14).

Table 9: Topics and Participation on the Stupava Conferences



Title, Location

Major Topics




“The Conference of Foundations in the Czechoslovak Federal Republic”, Stupava

Available information on NGOs; tax and legislative conditions for NGOs

24 participants from Slovakia, 34 from the Czech Republic, 20 from abroad



“Present and Future Perspectives of the Third Sector in Slovakia, Stupava

Legislative context; cooperation within the sector; transparency of public grant policy; professionalism of NGO activists; first election of a 16 member G3S

150 domestic participants, 20 foreign guests



“The Third Sector and the Civil Society”, Bratislava

Role of NGOs in civil society; legal and tax context of NGOs

250 domestic participants, 20 foreign guests



“The Third Sector - We Serve the Citizens”, Banská Bystrica

Community initiatives; cross-sectoral cooperation; legal assistance; media and public relations; organization of independent pre-conferences of five sections; meeting of donors

190 domestic, 20 foreign participants



“The Third Sector – Actively Working for Democracy”, Košice

Creation of a network of regional gremia; funding opportunities; “Donors’ Forum”; legislative issues; upcoming elections

250 domestic, 30 foreign participants


Extraordinary Conference: “Slovakia After Elections”, Bratislava

Analysis of NGO activities in the civic campaign for free and fair elections „OK ‘98“.

400 NGO representatives, plus politicians and foreign guests



“Third Sector for Decentralization and Transparency”, Bratislava

Modification of election of G3S; strengthening of regional gremia



“Let People Cooperate”, Poprad

Cooperation between government and civil society; regional development; decentralization; Slovak EU integration; definition of the Third Sector; transparency; ethics within the Third Sector

405 participants

Source: Own summary based on: www.saia.sk/stupavska_konferencia/indexe.htm, Bútora / Demeš (1998: 4, 15p, 21), Demeš (2001: 488)


The common aim of the G3S elected in 1999 read as follows:

“Our common aim is to build a civil society in Slovakia, a society of free and active citizens who do not wait but act for the public benefit. Our basic aim is to achieve an equal status of NGOs in providing of public-benefit services and activities for citizens and their equal access to public resources” (www.saia.sk/g3s/declaration.htm).


Thanks to the G3S and the Stupava Conference, the Third Sector in Slovakia is marked by intense cooperation structures as well as strong unity and cohesion. One has to note, however, that this cohesion is largely the result of the confrontation with a repressive government. One may doubt whether the united front of NGOs will be maintained after the downfall of the “common enemy”, the Mečiar administration. As Pavol Demeš (1999: 355) points out:

“Under the Mečiar government, the Third Sector developed for several years under state pressure, which considerably helped to increase its cohesion. In the future it will probably be more difficult to maintain the spirit of sector-wide cooperation, and a certain fragmentation and the creation of new types of groups can be expected”.


It thus comes as no surprise that fragmentation tendencies are visible. Since 1997 regional G3S offices that exist in all of the seven Slovak regions have supplemented the G3S. Since then a process of decentralization took place which strengthens the increasingly active regional offices of the G3S. This process cumulated in 1999 in a modified format of the G3S. Like that, the regional gremia had been strengthend and the domination of capital based NGOs came to end (Demeš 1999: 355). Along with that, certain issue-oriented NGOs choose to create their own platform of debate. For example, in 1997 environmental groups created their own representative body known as Ekoforum (interview Koštálová).

A process of fragmentation is, however, not necessarily negative for civil society development. On the contrary, the fragmentation of different organizations that represent different constituencies and interests has to be regarded as a way towards civil society based on plural interests and different wants. The question remains, however, to what extent are divergent interests capable of cooperating and/or applying civil conflict-resolution mechanisms. One can state that in Slovakia the fragmentation tendency is unlikely to hinder peaceful relationships among NGOs. This expectation is grounded in the fact that even the Mečiar-friendly “Union of Civic Associations and Foundations” attended the Stupava Conference in 1999 and that environmental NGOs who left the G3S, declared their interest in future cooperation. Moreover, NGOs that perceive themselves as part of the Third Sector hold cooperative and friendly contact to other non-state organizations. The G3S for example established cooperative ties with the “Confederation of Trade Unions” (KOZ) and the “Associations of Employers Unions and Associations” (AZZZ) already in 1996. Both organizations declared their support of NGOs in legislative and other issues. Several common conferences cemented cooperation and information exchange (Vaśečka 2002: 16p).

Having said this, one should bear in mind that the NGOs described above and the Third Sector may not fully represent the heterogeneous Slovak society. Slovakia is an ethnically divided state with a large Hungarian minority (10.7%) and a growing Roma and Sinti minority (2.5%).208 Furthermore, socio-economic disparities between Eastern and Western Slovakia and especially between urbanized and rural areas prevail.209 The differences in unemployment, GDP and real wages translate into different political attitudes and party affinity:


“Support for democratic principles is not evenly distributed in the population … More advocates of democratic principles are among people with higher education, the young and middle-aged generations, members of the Hungarian ethnic minority, and residents of large cities. … These political cleavages have been visible during the whole period of Slovakia’s independence” (Bútorová / Gyárfášová / Velšic 2001: 216).

The rural-urban divide further manifests itself in electoral results. Whereas the HZDS-SNS coalition was mainly supported in rural areas, the SDK, SDL and SOP have stronger roots in urban centers (Krivý 1999: 65).210 An exception to the rule is Southern Slovakia, which is predominantly rural. Nonetheless, the oppositional parties, namely the Hungarian SMK received broad support due to the predominantly Hungarian population. As shown above, the regional and urban-rural divide in Slovakia also manifests itself in the development of NGOs who are still predominant in urban areas.


NGO leaders are aware of this problem and aim to address it. Pavol Demeš (2001: 490) comes to the conclusion:

“Leaders of the Third Sector rightly feel that a lack of cooperation and excessive fragmentation within society may seriously hinder the development and modernization of Slovakia. It will be interesting to observe how representatives of the public sector react to this challenge, and whether NGOs will be able to communicate that message to the wider public”.

8.2.6 Relations Between Non-Governmental Organizations and State Authorities


In Slovakia the relationship between civil society organizations and state authorities in the period of investigation depended highly on the government in office. Roughly three relevant time periods can be distinguished: 1990 – 1992, 1993 - 1998 and from 1998 through 2000.

During the early years of the new Czechoslovak state (1989-1993) the relationship between NGOs and government in the Slovak lands were “promising” (Vašečka 2002a: 2). A number of NGOs sprang up that were largely characterized by amateurism and a lack of financial resources. The government of the Slovak federation slowly started to approach the issue of civil society and NGOs. Single ministries established cooperative bonds with NGOs and provided financial support (Woleková 1999: 367).

Already after the elections of 1992 and even more so after the establishment of the nationalist-populist left-right coalition under Vladimir Mečiar in 1994, the feeble bonds of cooperation between NGOs and government authorities broke, and the relationship was marked by a growing tension. In the words of Michal Vaśečka (2002a: 1):


“… almost all post-communist European governments were suspicious and distrustful of NGOS and were reluctant to support them. Still, in the Slovak case it became clear during the Mečiar years that the government and the non-governmental sector could not only not cooperate but they could hardly coexist…”.

The fierce relationship was partly due to the fact that the NGO sector in Slovakia manifested itself as a major oppositional force during the Mečiar years. Mansfeldová (1998: 15) points out, that oppositional Slovak intellectuals drew back from the political scene into civil society. In face of lacking political opportunities, political opponents did not enter or found political parties, as was the case in other post-communist countries, but instead created non-governmental organizations. This was compounded by the fact the HZDS government closely controlled state administration and scientific institutions, thus leaving intellectuals with few prospects to make their living. As a result, there was a mushrooming of private schools, foundations, independent institutes and associations after 1992 and especially in 1993 (Fialová 2002c: 15).211 Fialová argues that in contrast to other Central-European post-communist states, where the Intelligentsia played a major role in opposing the communist regime, intellectuals in Slovakia only took up that role after 1992/93. In previous years, Slovak intellectuals were hardly visible in the public scene and if so rather as part of Czech-dominant dissident circles. Moreover, Slovak intellectuals gained little esteem among the Slovak population with its belief in equalitarianism and its distrust towards any kind of elite (ibid: 13). Only with the establishment of several oppositional NGOs and the transformation of Slovak intellectuals into civil society leaders, the Slovak intelligentsia started to play a major role in the restructuring of the country. By these means, an oppositional movement formed in Slovakia under the label “Third Sector”.


The Mečiar government answered the burgeoning oppositional stance of the NGO sector with containment, attacks and repression. The government denied the largely oppositional oriented NGOs any right to a say in a matter.

“…the struggle by NGO leaders to gain the attention of policy makers has been particularly difficult since the Slovak elections in 1994 that resulted in the … coalition government headed by Prime Minister Mečiar” (Bútora / Demeš 1998: 2).


The conflict came to a climax when the government passed three laws on NGOs which were highly criticized by leading NGOs: the law on foundations in 1996, the law on non-investment funds, i.e., charity organizations that do not have an endowment (1997), and the law on Nonprofit Organizations Providing Beneficial Public Services (1997). In particular the law on foundations, which required the re-registration of all existing foundations under conditions most foundations could not fulfill, was regarded as a major attack on the NGO sector. Leading NGOs launched in response a campaign called “Third Sector SOS Campaign”. The campaign, which involved intensive media coverage, aimed to inform the public about NGOs and the negative consequences of the law. Despite several lobbying activities the law nonetheless passed (see in greater detail chapter 8.4.4).

The hostile attitude of the government was further visible in various attacks by governmental representatives and politicians towards single NGOs or the NGO sector. One parliamentarian declared


“There is a burning need to introduce order into the non-transparent jungle of the 10000 clubs, civil associations and foundations in Slovakia whose activities are in conflict with the interests of the citizens of this country” (Hofbauer 1995 cit. in Bútova / Demeš 1998: 9).

Especially the international financial support to civil society organizations raised criticism of HZDS politicians as the following quote depicts:


“... foundations represent the most generous flow of uncontrolled and uncontrollable finances of a controversial nature and unknown usage ... also for purposes discordant with state interests and the interests of our citizens … it seems that in the name of plurality, democracy and freedom has grown something (that is, NGOs) that has almost nothing in common with these noble concepts “ (cited in Vašečka 2002b: 6).

A further attempt of the government to contain NGO activities comprised various activities that aimed to install a “parallel structure” of government-friendly NGOs. For example, at the beginning of 1997 a new umbrella organization named “the Union of Civic Associations and Foundations” was founded. It was clearly an attempt of the government to install an alternative to the Gremium of the Third Sector and thus to undermine its legitimacy (Bútora / Demeš 1998: 19). The Union publicly condemned the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98”. However, the success of the “OK ‘98” campaign and the positive public opinion of NGOs in Slovakia demonstrate that this attempt largely failed (see chapter 8.4.4). Its chairman abandoned the Union of Civic Associations and Foundations at the beginning of 1999. Afterwards it showed its willingness to cooperate with the G3S and participated in the sixth Stupava conference (Demeš 1999: 356). However, in 2000 it reduced its activities (Demeš 2001: 472).

Relations between NGO and governmental representatives improved clearly after the 1998 elections. The new government expressed its desire to “fully develop civil society” as the seventh main goal of its governmental program, and several ministries invited representatives of NGOs to join advisory bodies (Richterová 2000: 49).212 Prime Minister Mikláś Dzurinda met in 1999 with representatives of the G3S and offered partnership between government and NGOs. Several meetings between NGOs and parliamentarians organized by the Slovak Humanity Council (SHR) followed. The Environment Ministry created a liaison officer for relations with NGOs in 1999. A Cabinet Council for NGOs consisting of representatives of the state administration and NGOs was established with the aim of supporting NGOs. Moreover, state authorities started to contract out services to NGOs (Demeš 2001: 480), and governmental funding for NGOs rose from 864 million crowns in 1999 to 978 million crowns in the year 2000 (ibid: 478).


One has to note, however, that the cooperation with the government did not completely fulfill the expectations of NGOs that were convinced that they ensured the electoral victory of the government. NGO activists perceive the progress on NGO legislation as slow and unsatisfactory. The foundation law was reformed only in 2002. The required start-up endowment is perceived by parts of the NGO sector as far too high. The Law on Non-Investment Funds adopted in 1997 will not be re-defined, and the public benefit status of NGOs is still not clearly defined (ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 6). The limited public funds are criticized, as well as the non-transparent and unclear grant policies (Vašečka 2002a: 12). Nonetheless, in comparison with the relationship between NGOs and the previous government, and even in comparison with other CEE countries, one can state that the government accepts NGOs in Slovakia as useful and welcome partners, whose voice is heard in policy making. As Katarína Koštálová from SAIA pointed out:

“The government understands that a partnership between NGOs and the government is important. And this is already a big step forward” (interview with the author).


The development of organized civic activity in Slovakia during 1994-1998 demonstrates how governmental repression may be answered by increasing cooperation and public involvement. The question arises, however, whether civic involvement continues once the threat of governmental interferences is lifted. Evidence suggest that the Third Sector in Slovakia was by the time of government change consolidated enough to continue its activities despite the fact that the major objective of a change in government has been achieved:

“Intense Third Sector development and cooperation continued following 1998 elections …, which proved false the notion that cooperation and solidarity in Slovakia’s Third Sector was a reaction to the previous administration’s aversion to the Third Sector” (Demeš 2001: 471).


The various activities of NGOs in the area of NGO training, counseling and public awareness-raising continued. Along with that, Slovak NGOs sustained their public policy orientation and uphold their willingness to play a role in the political and social development of the country. Several new topics and objectives arose on the agenda. A major theme was the advancement of NGO law, but also other legislative initiatives in certain issue areas, such as social assistance, waste recycling, or the freedom of information, were put forward. Further issues at the beginning of the new millennium were decentralization and public administration reform, anti-corruption and transparency, minority problems especially Romany initiatives, and the integration of Slovakia into the European Union.213 

8.2.7 Summary: The Belated Rise of Civil Society in Slovakia 

Ten years after the demise of communist rule in the Slovak lands and seven years after independence civil society in Slovakia is visible, despite a pronounced lack of historical and cultural preconditions. Numerous associations and organizations sprang up that aim to represent citizen’s interests and that provide social and other services. In addition to trade unions and sport clubs already in existence during communism, newly founded NGOs mainly focused on education, human rights, the environment, children and youth, and social services. The NGO sector is firstly characterized by relatively strong NGOs focusing on advocacy, the environment and human rights issues. Secondly, NGOs dominate in urban areas. Besides these “structural” features of civil society in Slovakia, progress is also visible in what has been called the “cultural dimension” of civil society. The relationship between NGOs is characterized by a strong cohesion and cooperation especially during the Mečiar years. The fragmentation of the sector along regional and issue-oriented cleavages, which started in 1998, is less the result of a growing animosity inside the sector but the outcome of NGOs representing various interests. In opposition to the Mečiar regime a small but highly active group of about 2000 NGOs developed that strives for an active citizenry, for public participation in political decision-making, and for the respect of civic and human rights and democratic principles. With campaigns such as the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” in 1996 and the pre-election campaign “OK’ 98” in 1998 this active group of NGOs raised public awareness and succeeded in overcoming a prevailing political hopelessness mainly among the youth and oppositional voters. After the electoral victory of the opposition over the nationalist-populist left-right wing coalition of Vladimir Mečiar, NGOs continued to watch democratic principles, consulted and cooperated with the new government in various issue areas, and continued their approach of transparency and openness towards other social groups.

The Slovak case provides an example how authoritarian tendencies in a political system, which allows for a rudimentary degree of free association and free speech at least, may result in the emergence of civil society. One may argue that between 1994 and 1998 Slovak civil society has been catching up with a development that started already in the 1970s in Poland. A dissident and oppositional movement evolved which Slovakia lacked during communist times. Moreover, a dichotomy between state and society evolved, which often proved to be an important element of liberalization and civil society development in Central and Eastern Europe. Unlike other CEE states, Slovakia did not experience this division in the past (Vašečka 2002a: 1; Fialová 2002c).214 Henceforth, Slovakia experienced a belated liberalization in the 1990s.


Having clarified the state of civil society roughly 10 years after transition, the question arises: what are the driving forces behind the rise of civil society in Slovakia described above? It was demonstrated that the authoritarian stand of the Mečiar regime that left enough room for dissident activities triggered opposition and contributed to the unity and cohesion among Slovak NGOs. But to what extent did external civil society assistance enable and shape the belated rise of civic activity in Slovakia? To answer this question the next section illustrates civil society assistance to Slovakia in the 1990s. This description is followed by an analysis of the output and the outcome of external assistance in the form of main recipients, their sustainability, legitimacy and effectiveness as carriers of civil society.

8.3 The External Push – Forms and Types of Civil Society Assistance in Slovakia

The following portrays civil society assistance to Slovakia in the period under investigation. Unlike the illustration chosen in the Polish case, the following does not proceed in a chronological order. Instead the section first pinpoints main donors active in Slovakia and their interests. Secondly, the quantity and timing of assistance to civil society in Slovakia is assessed. Finally, the section highlights donor strategies. It will be evident that civil society in Slovakia resembles civil society assistance in Poland in many respects. However, some important differences can be identified: Civil society assistance in Slovakia started at a later point in time than in Poland, but was more massive in scale. The strategies of donors were more fine-tuned from the beginning, as they were shaped by learning experiences made in other cases. And finally, the assistance was more political in character, leaving little doubt that its major target was a change in political leadership and an integration of Slovakia into Western security structures.

8.3.1 Main Donors and their Interests

As in other countries of CEE, a multitude of state and non-state donors have been providing civil society assistance to Slovakia. The following will give a brief overview of the main donors of civil society assistance in Slovakia with a special emphasis on the four donors mentioned above. This section will end with a brief assessment of donors’ interests and aims.


The most important private foundations in the country have been American philanthropic organizations such as the Open Society Foundation of George Soros, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers fund, and recently the Trust for a Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe, a grant-giving organization funded by five American foundations that was established in 2000 with the aim of easing the withdrawal of foreign funds in the region. Moreover, independent but state financed democracy promotion foundations were prominent, most importantly the US National Endowment for Democracy, the Co-operative Dutch Foundations for Central and Eastern Europe, the British Westminster Foundation, the Japanese Sasakawa Peace Foundation and Nippon Foundation, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. Additionally, Slovak NGOs turn to foreign governments for assistance. Various states established small grant schemes administered by their embassies. Prominent examples are the British “Know How Fund” that earmarked 2.9 million GBP for Slovak NGOs in 1999. The “MATRA KAP Project” of the Dutch Embassy gave 300.000 Dutch Guilders to Slovak NGOs in 1999 and the Canadian Embassy's “Canada Fund for Slovakia” distributed 80,000 Canadian Dollars to Slovak NGOs between April 1999 and March 2000 (Demeš 2001: 476). The four donors illustrated in this work have been active in Slovakia too, although their programs and projects are largely the same than in Poland with slight administrative differences due to local needs.

European Union

Similar to Poland, the Phare national program includes a program scheme supporting NGOs labeled “Civil Society Development Program” (CSD). This program together with the micro grants of Phare democracy, Phare Lien and Phare Partnership are administered by the independent non-governmental organization “Civil Society Development Foundation” (NPOA), specially founded in 1993 with the aim to administer the Phare CSD program and to support civil society development (see appendix 3, portray 7). NPOA is highly active in strengthening NGOs and the Third Sector. Following the major discussions on the Stupava Conference in 1997, NPOA included a democracy component in the CSD program. In consequence it was able to finance 50% of the projects supporting the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98”. Furthermore, NPOA is a founding member of the Donors’ Forum, an informal group of donor organizations that regularly meet with the aim of improving the effectiveness of assistance. They coordinate grant-giving, identify recipient needs and demands, exchange information on supported projects, and communicate with other donor organizations.


United States Agency of International Development (USAID)

USAID started its operation in former Czechoslovakia in 1990.215 Slovak NGOs benefited from USAID financing in various issue areas.216 Moreover, like in Poland the NGO support program “DemNet Project” operated in Slovakia from 1996 to 1999. It has been implemented by the NGO “Foundation for a Civil Society”. To smoothen the process of donor withdrawal for NGOs, USAID launched a successor program called “Your Land” administered jointly by Ekopolis Foundation and ETP Slovakia.217 

National Endowment of Democracy (NED)


The NED spent approximately 4.7 million US$ in direct project grants in Slovakia between 1990 and 1999.218 If one focuses on the areas of NED assistance, a remarkable difference to the Polish case is visible. The largest share of grants was spent in favor of Third Sector development (25%), followed by electoral assistance (20%) and assistance to economic think tanks and economic assistance (12%). In comparison to Poland, support for trade unions ranks rather low with 9% of grants. However, comparatively great attention was dedicated to projects for civic education and awareness-raising as well as media assistance, which received 7% and 6% of grants respectively. Activities that directly aim to sustain democracy received a remarkable 8% of the funds available (see appendix 5, table 14).

German Political Foundations

The German political foundations started their operations in 1990 in the former Czechoslovakia with local offices in Prague. The FES additionally opened an office with local staff in Bratislava in 1992. Both foundations stated that the democratization of Slovakia is their major goal. Until 1998 this goal implied the unification of the opposition and a re-democratization. After the electoral defeat of Vladimir Mečiar, the consolidation of democracy as well as integration in EU and NATO were major objectives (see appendix 6, portray 13).


Open Society Foundation (OSF)

The Open Society foundation (OSF) was established in Bratislava by George Soros in November 1992 under the name ”Open Society Fund“.219 In line with other foundations founded by Soros, the main objective of the OSF is the creation of an open society. Educational activities comprise the core of OSF activities and receive approximately one fourth of the funds. Civil society assistance mainly includes the “Community Program” launched in 1996 that supports community foundations and funds. OSF additionally provides technical assistance to local organizations in cooperation with the organization Partners for Democratic Change. Finally, the “Development of Democracy Program”, supports initiatives that foster the cooperation and dialogue among NGOs and between NGOs and local administration and that contribute to the sustainability of NGOs. Despite recent initiatives to support civil society, one can state that the OSF in Slovakia does not have the political weight of the Stefan Batory foundation in Poland in this area. It largely remains a foundation focused on education and research and only recently took steps in advancing a civil society infrastructure (see appendix 4, portray 9).

Interest of Donors


The main interest of donors in civil society assistance becomes obvious in the following quote of the British ambassador to Slovakia:

“Organizations of the Third Sector are the replaceable guarantee of the supervision of decisions of the executive powers and the tyranny of the parliamentary majority, not only in Slovakia, but in all parliamentary democracies of the world. The British government is interested in assisting the Third Sector, not because you are wonderful people, but because we want to see Slovakia in NATO and the European Union” (Peter Harborne cit in: Bútova / Demeš 1998: 16).


The same interest was expressed by a representative of the KAS explaining their support of the monthly economic newsletter of the think tank MESA 10.

“... our major priority was not only the monthly economic newsletter, although we regard professional reports on the state of the economy as valuable and important. However, a further aim was to guarantee persons of the opposition a (material) existence and provide them with a way to make their living” (Reinhardt Stuth, interview with the author, own translation).


We can conclude that until 1998 the common interest of donors in Slovakia was the democratization of Slovakia and the integration of Slovakia into NATO and the European Union. This interest translated into a more precise political goal: the electoral defeat of Vladimir Mečiar and his coalition and thus the election of the opposition. In consequence, civil society assistance was a tool to build up and empower a counter-elite and subsequently to achieve regime change. And the electoral victory of the opposition in 1998 demonstrated that it was a successful tool. Nonetheless, most donors continued their assistance after this major goal was achieved, as will be shown in the next section.

8.3.2  The Quantity and Timing of Assistance 

It has already been pointed out that the support to civil society in Slovakia received over-proportionally more foreign attention than other states in Central and Eastern Europe (chapter 7.3.1.). Whereas in average foreign donors spent 30% of their DPP funds on civil society in CEE, this share is much higher in Slovakia with 42% of all DPP funds. The foreign attention and assistance Slovak civil society received is even more evident if one focuses on the sum per capita: between 1990 and 2000 donors spent 10.3 US $ per capita with the aim of supporting civil society (Poland: 1.9 US$) (see table 5, chapter 7.3.1). This special emphasis on civil society assistance in the Slovak case is also confirmed with regard to single donors. USAID for example spent a higher share of its SEED funds on the stabilization of democracy in Slovakia than in Poland (17% of the SEED funds earmarked for Slovakia in contrast to 8% of the Polish SEED funds). Additionally, 20% of US Democracy assistance was used in support of NGOs (in Poland: 16%) (see appendix 5, table 11+12).

The question arises whether the great emphasis on civil society was equally high throughout the period under investigation. The political interest of donors pointed out in the previous section raises suspicions that donors were most supportive to civil society (and the opposition) in the period of Mečiar’s radical right-left coalition between 1994-1998 and shortly before the elections in 1998. In this case one could well argue that civil society assistance was nothing more than a subtle form of external intervention, and that it is the key intention of foreign involvement to “make decisions” rather than “rules” (Abele/Offe unpublished manuscript). In order to confirm or falsify this suspicion, the following will focus on the timing of donor support to civil society.


International political assistance to Slovakia was in comparison to the Polish case rather low until 1993, partly as a result of the special status of the Slovak lands in former Czechoslovakia. According to Glenn (1999: 20) international assistance to Slovakia was “a fraction of the sum provided to the federation as a whole”. The majority of aid benefited Prague and the Czech lands. None of the donors had offices in Slovakia until after the breakup in 1993 (Glenn 1999: 24). Only USAID had opened its office in Bratislava by January 1992, a whole year before other donors settled in the Slovak Federation (USAID 2000b: 5). The situation changed tremendously with the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993. Afterwards donors were eager to equally benefit both new countries and not to raise doubt that one may be preferred (interview Mansfeldová).

Nonetheless, civil society assistance only gained momentum in 1995. If one focuses on USAID annual contributions to Slovak NGOs the following tendency is visible: Until 1995 USAID invested approximately 150,000 US$ per year in NGO development. Moreover, NGO development investments primarily benefited the civic movements Civic Forum and VPN (Verejnost’ Proti Nasili, Public Against Violence) and can therefore be regarded as a mixture between civil society and political party assistance. Not until in 1996 when the DemNet project was launched, did support for NGOs reach a high of nearly one million US$ per year. After DemNet came to end in 1999, USAID assistance to civil society remained higher than in the years 1990-1995. Until 2002 USAID benefited NGOs in the country with half a million US$ annually via its Your Land program.220 

With 1.2 million US $ NED assistance was the highest in 1990 when it fully administered the SEED sums in favor of democracy (Glenn 1999: 29, see appendix 5, table 16).221 Until 1996 the funds steadily decreased, a trend that was also visible in Poland (see appendix 5, table 15). In 1997, however, they increased again and reached a new high of 760 thousand US $. Moreover, from 1995 onwards all grants benefited exclusively NGOs active in different issue areas (Third Sector development, human rights, business), except for one grant to the trade union KOZ in 1998. In 1998 half of the funds were used for electoral assistance, however, unlike in other cases this does not imply party assistance but solely voter education, monitoring or surveys conducted by NGOs. Also in 1999 the majority of funds (64%) goes to NGO projects in various issue areas. Firstly, these figures demonstrate that the NED increased its commitment in 1997/1998 in preparation for the elections. Secondly, we can note that the NED predominantly focused on NGO development and civil society assistance in Slovakia, quite in contrast to its activities in other CEE countries where it largely focuses on political party, labor and business assistance.


The EU Phare democracy micro-grants have been distributed rather equally over the years (appendix 3, table 7). The Civil Society Development Program, in contrast, is marked by a tremendous increase in financial resources in the year 1997. From 1993 when the program started to operate until 1996, it supported civil society with an average of 0.45 million ECU per year. In the years 1997 and 1998, however, 1.5 million ECU were earmarked for the same objective (see appendix 3, portray 7). Since 1999 Slovak NGOs have additionally had the possibility of drawing on EU structural funds (Demeš 2001: 481). We thus witness a shift from horizontal programs to pre-accession funds similar to the Polish case.

In summary, we can identify three periods of foreign assistance to civil society. Until 1995 Slovak civil society only received little foreign attention, in particular with regard to governmental support. In contrast, Slovak civil society organizations immensely benefited from international financial support between 1995/96 and 1999. This peak is followed by a decrease and slow withdrawal of funds by 2002. Can we thus confirm our suspicion that civil society assistance in Slovakia was nothing more than political intervention with the sole goal of “making decisions”? Two observations contradict this argumentation. Firstly, one has to note that this “attention curve” corresponds with the sequencing of civil society assistance in the Polish case where no similar single event can be pointed out that donors aimed to influence. Civil society assistance simply did not become “en vogue” until the middle of the 1990s. Secondly, although the intensive financial support diminished after 1999, donors did not withdraw from the scene after this objective has been achieved. On the contrary, donors were aware of the fact that democratic procedures in Slovakia required time and practice to consolidate and that the non-governmental organizations in existence were not able to sustain themselves. Foreign donors continued to support Slovak NGOs especially via the provision of grants. Support to civil society in this third period still remains on a higher level than in the first period and is longer than e.g. in the Polish case.222 The Phare CSD program for example launched a further round in 1999. USAID continued its support to NGOs after DemNet came to end with an additional program (Your Land Program).

8.3.3 Strategy of Assistance

As already pointed out in the previous section, civil society assistance to Slovakia did not start until the middle of the 1990s, and thus at a later point in time than e.g. in Poland. This later start largely prevented failures and mistakes. One may argue that civil society assistancein Slovakia benefited from the learning experience of donors in other countries as e.g. Poland. The following will briefly highlight the major strategies applied that partially correspond with civil society assistance to Poland in the second half of the 1990s.


In Slovakia donors generally dedicated great attention to assistance to civil society and thus responded to the situation in the country and to local needs. In this regard, the focus of democracy and civil society assistance was slightly different than the Polish case, as the example of USAID demonstrates. In Poland USAID’s emphasis on democracy assistance was largely placed on institution building. For example democratic governance and public administration projects received 22% of total DPP funds. In contrast, in Slovakia USAID took a more political approach with a higher focus on political and social processes. Democratic governance and public administration ranks low with only 0.4% of DPP funds. In contrast, NGO assistance (21%, Poland: 17%), assistance to political parties and elections (6%, Poland: 1%), media (6%, Poland: 3%) and rule of law (4%, Poland: 1%) received proportionally more assistance than their Polish counterparts (see appendix 5, table 11+12).

Civil Society Assistance drew heavily on local intermediaries and local expertise. Most of the NGO support programs were implemented and administered by local organizations and with involvement of local staff. Examples are the Civil Society Development Foundation founded in 1993 with the aim to implement the Phare Civil Society Development Program, the Foundation for Civil Society in charge of the USAID funded DemNet program or the Ekopolis/ETP Slovakia foundations that implemented the USAID funded Your Land program. Other donors such as the FES run a local office with local staff. The positive effect of the use of intermediaries is an increase in flexibility and a quick responsiveness to local needs, as was the case in 1997 for example when NPOA adjusted the Phare CSD program in order to support democracy projects or in 1996 when NPOA installed legal counseling centers for NGOs to ease the effects of the foundation law (see above).

Civil society assistance programs mostly involve small grant schemes. Several embassies run additional small grant schemes for NGOs (e.g. Great Britain, Canada, Denmark). The negative aspect of this development is that most large grant-giving foundations that play a vital role in the development of Slovak NGOs merely re-distribute funds from abroad. Local foundations with an endowment registered in Slovakia are rather rare (Demeš 2001: 475).


As a consequence, the question of sustainability is high on the agenda of donors and recipients. Most NGO support programs involve “capacity building” measures to raise the professional standard of NGOs. Like in Poland, the establishment of community foundations that support local initiatives is a further objective. The community foundation of Banská Bystrica, for example, started to build an endowment in cooperation with foreign sponsors (OSF, USAID). One has to also note that some donors chose to stay in Slovakia longer than expected in order to ease the shift to local or EU structural funds (see above).

If one focuses on the thematic orientation of the support programs one can ascertain that most programs distributed their grants among thematically different NGOs. In case of the Phare CSD program for example, in the period 1992-1999 the majority of grants went to NGOs providing social services (23%), followed by volunteer development (16%), the environment (13%), health (12%), and education (11%). 9% of the grants were awarded to NGO projects aiming to promote democracy. However, if one focuses on the regional distribution of NGO grants, a major emphasis on NGOs in Bratislava is visible. Between 1997 and 1998 the majority of grants (48%) benefited organizations located in the capital, followed by Košice (13%), Prešov (8%) and Banská Bystica (5%) (own calculations based on Demeš 2001: 477).

A further sign of donor learning experiences is the institutionalized cooperation among some donor organizations. In 1997 grant-giving organizations created an informal association called the Donors’ Forum with the aim of improving the support to Slovak NGOs and further enhancing the funding situation in Slovakia. Members include the OSF, the NPOA, the Ekopolis foundation and ETP Slovakia. While the founding members were mainly intermediaries re-distributing foreign funds, the trend is to increasingly involve local foundations and grant-giving organizations.


In sum we can conclude that civil society assistance in Slovakia was more political, strategic and focused than in Poland. Moreover, it was more massive in quantitative terms at least if the sum per capita is concerned. All this is partly due to the late start of civil society assistance at a time when donors already learned their lesson in other CEE countries. The turn civil society assistance took in Slovakia is, however, also heavily influenced by the political situation in the country and by the anti-democratic setback in Slovakia under Mečiar. This political situation created both the local demand for foreign assistance for the opposition and the political interest of donors in supporting civil society. As a result, civil society assistance in Slovakia was carried by interests on both sides.

8.4 The Output and Outcome of Civil Society Assistance in Slovakia – Recipients in Focus

The following investigates the output and the outcome of civil society assistance in Slovakia by placing a special emphasis on recipients. In this regard, five questions are of major concern. First, what types of non-governmental organizations receive foreign attention? Second, are such “main recipients” self-sustainable in the long run? Third, do their constituencies and the population at large accept them as legitimate domestic actors? Fourth, do main recipients contribute to the advancement of civil society on the structural or cultural dimension in Slovakia? In other words, can they be labeled “carriers of civil society”? And finally and most importantly, to what extent does foreign support assist main recipients in fulfilling their role as carriers of civil society (see for a detailed description of these questions: chapter 5.3.)?

It has been pointed out that the selectivity and lacking legitimacy of foreign assistance may result in negative effects such as envy and resentments among NGOs or lead to the establishment of DONGOs (donor driven NGOs) that lack a domestic constituency and fail to sustain themselves once foreign funding comes to an end (see chapter 3). This problem is even more salient in the Slovak case where the massive inflow of aid ahead of the elections evokes suspicion of external intervention. Is such clearly interest-driven assistance that aims to “make decisions” rather than “rules” (Abele/Offe unpublished manuscript) suitable to transplant democratic and civic values and to trigger a civic culture based on tolerance and trust? Or is it not more likely to deepen already existing cleavages in society, such as the cleavage between the predominantly Mečiar-friendly rural population and the predominantly Western oriented urbanized areas (see chapter 8.2.4.)?


The aim of this section is to clarify whether this has been the case in Slovakia. As in the previous case study, this will be done by concentrating on major beneficiaries of assistance, who are presented in the first sub-section. It will be evident that the typology of “main recipients” given above (chapter 7.4.1) is also applicable in the Slovak case. The section further tackles the questions of recipients’ sustainability, legitimacy, and effectiveness. Thereby, special attention is given to the benefits of foreign assistance in order to answer the key question of research: Did civil society assistance alter the capabilities and orientations of civil society actors and make an impact on social and political change by means of empowerment and learning?223 

8.4.1 Types of Main Recipients 

As in Poland, in Slovakia we also find NGOs that started their activity as implementers of international democracy and civil society development projects, or more specifically civic education projects. The creation of such “democracy promoters” is clearly influenced by international actors; their main statutory objective is the promotion of democracy and civil society.224 One can note, however, that democracy promoters in Slovakia quickly focused on the advancement of civil society and the “Third Sector”, thus shifting closer to the second group of NGOs, the “infrastructural” NGOs. An example of this type of recipients is the NGO “Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia” (PDCS).

Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia (PDCS) is a non-governmental, non-profit educational organization that works within an international network of likeminded organizations in 12 countries called Partners for Democratic Change.225 The mission of PDCS is “to help develop and promote culture of democracy, expand democratic approaches and mechanisms for dialogue and conflict prevention” (website). PDCS stemmed from an international educational program ”Partners for Democratic Change” which was created and developed in the USA, and which developed conflict management curricula within CEE universities. In Slovakia PDCS thus began as the Center for Conflict Prevention and Resolution as one of the projects at Comenius University in Bratislava in 1991. In 1994, following the decision of Partners for Democratic Change International, PDCS was founded as an independent NGO. PDCS offers training courses and consultations to various target groups - mainly to NGOs, but also to public administration institutions, social workers, or secondary school teachers. PDCS additionally offers conflict resolution alternatives and mediation.226 


So called “Infrastructural NGOs”, thus NGOs whose major objective is to support civil society and the NGO sector and who aim to install a favorable framework or “infrastructure” for NGOs, were established relatively early in Slovakia, although the focus on a respective infrastructure was no major objective from the beginning. One has to note, however, that the advancement of the NGO sector is often not the sole operational focus of the organizations. More often than not, they further operate in other issue areas. Prominent examples are the Slovak Academic Information Agency – Service Center for the Third Sector (SAIA-SCTS), and Ekopolis/ETP Slovakia.

The Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA) was established through the initiative of Pavol Demeš, a biologist, who was at that time in charge of the Department of Foreign Relations of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport (now the Ministry of Education and Science). David Daniel, a historian and a Third Sector enthusiast from the U.S., contributed to the creation of the SAIA. SAIA’s stated objective is to assist the development of education in Slovakia and to support civil society in Slovakia.227 From the very beginning a main field of activity concentrated on facilitating international academic exchange. In this area, SAIA for example provides information for Slovaks interested in studying abroad, organizes scholarship competitions, or administers international educational programs. In 1993 SAIA extended its activities with the establishment of the Service Center for the Third Sector; a sub-section of SAIA that provided programs and services to non-governmental organizations. Since then SAIA-SCTS for example organizes the Stupava Conferences, acts as a secretary for the ”Gremium of the Third Sector”, provides information and training for NGOs, publishes a monthly magazine for NGOs in Slovakia called NonProfit, maintains an electronic database of NGOs in Slovakia, and publishes several directories and other publications of concern for NGOs. SAIA-SCTS also operates NGO service centers in various regions in Slovakia. When asked to what extent the establishment of SAIA-SCTS was influenced by international and foreign actors, the executive director of SAIA-SCTS made the following point:


“Certain organizations proved less important than single individuals, mainly Canadian volunteers or American Third Sector activists” (interview with the author).

The Environmental Training Partnership Foundation (ETP Slovakia) is a non-profit seeking, independent training, research and consulting organization. Registered in 1995, ETP Slovakia developed out of the international USAID funded program “Environmental Training Project for Central and Eastern Europe” managed in Slovakia by the University of Minnesota (CEE), which began in 1992 in 6 CEE countries and finished in 1998. Since 1992, ETP has operated offices in Bratislava and Košice, and in July 2001 a new office was opened in Spišká Nová Ves. ETP Slovakia aims to “contribute to sustainable development and civil society in Slovakia” by identifying and implementing “new models of cooperation and integrated management at the regional / local level that lead to sustainable development and to improving the overall quality of life in the community” (website). ETP Slovakia is thus active in two main program areas. Firstly, it focuses on sustainable development and environmental issues. Secondly, it aims to strengthen the non-profit sector in Slovakia. Whereas activities in the first program area include the development of regional development strategies and capacity building in environmental project development, the second area includes lobbying for respective NGO legislation, grant-making to NGOs, and a variety of activities that aim to foster philanthropy in the country.

As in Poland, in Slovakia foreign donors have supported thematically oriented organizations, whose major objective is issue-oriented rather than democracy or Third Sector-oriented. Examples include think tanks and independent research institutions such as the economic think tank MESA 10 - Center for Economic and Social Analyses, the Social Policy Analysis Center (SPACE), or the think tank Institute for Public Affairs (IVO); youth organizations such as the Youth Council of Slovakia an association of more than 40 political, religious, ethnic and other youth organizations; thematically oriented foundations such as the Children of Slovakia Foundation, the largest domestic grant-making foundation in Slovakia whose endowment was built up with the help of a foreign sponsor (Vašečka 2002a: 13), or the Milan Simecka Foundation that promotes education and the extension and establishment of democratic values in society; social organizations such as the Association for the Assistance of People With Mental Handicaps in the Slovak Republic (ZPMP), a national umbrella organization that addresses the needs and rights of the handicapped, which received support from the USAID financed DemNet project; NGOs striving for regional self-administration such as the Association for Supporting Local Democracy, environmental organizations or human rights and minority issue-oriented organizations (see Demeš 2001: 486p). Like in Poland part of these organizations are connected to well-known figures from the opposition or academic circles. For example, Mikulas Dzurinda the oppositional leader who took office as prime minister in 1998 was one of the 10 founding members of MESA 10. One has to note, however, that thematic organizations may also be initiated from abroad. The Children of Slovakia Foundation, for example, was established in 1995 by the International Youth Foundation as part of a worldwide network of national foundations. What is most striking about thematically oriented NGOs in Slovakia is their close affiliation with the “Third Sector”. Much unlike in Poland, NGOs in Slovakia see themselves as Third Sector activists no matter in what field they are active.228 This is demonstrated by the fact that a variety of different NGOs were active in the civic campaign ”OK ‘98“, for example the Council of Slovak Youth, the Institute for Public Affairs, the Association for Supporting Local Democracy, the Association of Organizations for the Handicapped Citizens of Slovakia, but also environmental NGOs such as the Association for Permanently Sustainable Life or Greenpeace and even the Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ) to name just a few (Vašečka 2002c: 4).


We can thus conclude that in Slovakia, like in Poland, the previously identified three types of “main recipients” are visible. However, one has to note, that the distinction is not always so clear-cut. Democracy Promoters quickly embraced the concept of a Third Sector; Infrastructural NGOs such as ETP Slovakia or SAIA-SCTS often fulfill a double objective. ETP Slovakia’s statutory objective stresses both building a respective framework for NGO activities and tackling issues of sustainable development and the environment. The same holds true for SAIA-SCTS. Initially a thematically oriented organization active in the area of international education, it expanded its activity in 1993 and subsequently was one of the most important Third Sector advocacy NGOs in Slovakia. It is worthwhile to note that SAIA ended part of the third-sector support activities in 2003 and since then sees its major area of activity in the advancement of international educational cooperation. Thematically oriented NGOs finally strongly identified themselves with the Third Sector at least until the elections in 1998.

8.4.2 Sustainability of NGOs in Slovakia 

Turning to the question of the self-sustainability of NGOs in Slovakia one limitation is in place. Most donors extended their commitment in Slovakia until the year 2003. The self-sustainability of NGOs and main recipients can therefore be assessed only tentatively. Especially well-positioned organizations that are familiar with international tender procedures still profit from foreign donors. The organization Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia, for example, received institutional support in 2002 from the Trust for a Civil Society in Central and Eastern Europe for three years (PDCS 2002). Only after the full withdrawal of foreign donors can the question of sustainability be answered. This even more so since in Slovakia, like in Poland, NGOs consider the lack of financial resources to be the major problem of NGOs in the country (72% of questioned NGOs see this fact as very problematic: see appendix 8, table 26, question 12). This problem is intensified by a lacking philanthropic culture (ibid). With only limited state funds available and few domestic foundations, foreign funds and externally financed foundations remain the main source of income of NGOs.

Despite this pessimistic background, a positive trend is visible. First of all, it can be stated that all interviewees of the author agreed that the sector of NGOs in Slovakia will survive even after the end of foreign commitment and the stop of foreign funds. Zdenka Mansfeldová points out that people in Slovakia start to organize and that an increased awareness of the possibilities and importance of self-organized action is visible. This is partly the effect of NGOs that built up capacity and act in a professional manner (interview with the author).


Secondly, the problem of NGO financing is addressed from various sides. Public financing is limited but exists. In the year 2000 altogether 978 million Slovak Crowns were allocated to civic associations, foundations, and similar organizations by 10 different ministries and four state funds mainly in the form of direct financial support.229 However, NGO activists criticize that the transparency of the decision-making bodies allocating the funds remains poor. Clear criteria for the distribution of grants are largely lacking (SAIA-SCTS 2000c: 69). Moreover, the practice of contracting out services is only slowly developing (ibid: 9). A positive sign is the introduction of the so-called 1% law. This law provides possibility for citizens to dedicate 1% of their income tax for NGO operations. Finally there are endeavors to build up domestic foundations supporting NGO initiatives. Examples are the Ekopolis foundation and the Foundation for the Children of Slovakia that have an endowment of 13 and 26 million Slovak Crowns respectively and are thus among the largest domestic foundations in the country. Further examples are so-called community foundations, i.e., community philanthropy organizations “formed in order to collect, manage and distribute charitable resources” with the aim “to improve the quality of life in a geographic area” (see Sacks 2003). As the third largest endowment of domestic foundations in Slovakia with an endowment of eight million Crowns, the community foundation “Healthy Town of Banská Bystrica” demonstrates that these endeavors bear fruit (Demeš 2001: 475). Nonetheless, one has to admit that the majority of foundations in Slovakia still function as intermediaries that rely on foreign sources.

Although sustainability remains a pressing problem, it can be stated that the main recipients characterized above have few difficulties ensuring their existence. Firstly, they are best equipped to access existing funds. Secondly, like their Polish counterparts, Slovak NGOs whose major objective has been the advancement of democracy and civil society in Slovakia started to export their experiences. Especially the prominence of the “OK ‘98” campaign provides a model eagerly sought and bought abroad. This happened in Serbia where a group of Slovak NGOs and activists consulted and accompanied a NGO campaign entitled “SOS Serbia” (Demeš 2001: 489). Since 1993 PDCS has been providing training and facilitation services in other countries. According to their annual report in 1997, alone PDCS lecturers and trainers have worked in 22 countries outside Slovakia (PDCS 1997). Some organizations also entered the commercial sphere with part of their activity. PDCS for example established the firm ARK Ltd that provides prevention and conflict resolution seminars to the business sector. MESA 10 became more commercial after the elections of 1998. They provide expertise and political consultancy in the field of economic restructuring, socio-economic reform measures or regional self-administration.

8.4.3 Legitimacy of Main Recipients

According to public opinion surveys the public image of NGOs is prevailingly positive (Bútorová / Gyárfášová, 1997 cit. in: Demeš 1999: 347). In an representative survey conducted in March 2001 NGOs ranked fourth after the church, president, and self-government as most trusted institutions, leaving the police, courts, government and parliament far behind (Focus 2001, cit. in: ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 8). However, the survey further depicts a high level of uncertainty towards NGOs. A substantial share, namely 23%, of Slovaks do not know whether they trust or distrust NGOs (ibid), a figure that reveals that a significant proportion of the population is still uncertain about the basic functioning of NGOs (ibid). NGOs and the Third Sector also gained wide media attention especially during the civic campaign “OK ‘98”. Here the activities of NGOs were prevailingly connected in most newspapers with a vibrant civil society. By contrast, government-friendly newspapers, which described NGOs as intruders under Western influence, had little effect on public opinion (Fialová cit. in Bútora / Demeš 1998: 14p). All in all, we can state that NGOs and major recipients of aid are largely accepted in Slovak society.


Moreover, evidence suggests that international contacts do not undermine the credibility of recipients. Like in Poland, Slovak NGOs regard contacts to international actors, especially to non-governmental international actors, as valuable and positive. A majority of Slovak NGOs (60%) assesses international cooperation as very important (see appendix 8, table 26, question 10). It comes as a surprise that the positive echo towards international contacts is greater among non-recipients: 80% of the NGOs that had no international partner reported that international cooperation would have been very important. We can conclude that, like in the Polish case, international contacts do not undermine but instead boost the reputation of recipients.

8.4.4 Main Recipients as Carriers of Civil Society?

The following investigates the role of main recipients in advancing the structural and cultural dimension of civil society. The question is to what extent do main recipients act as carriers of civil society in Slovakia triggering the rise of civil society in Slovakia described in chapter 8.2. The section briefly summarizes the services main recipients provide for NGOs in Slovakia, thus contributing to their organizational and institutional capacity, but also to their integration and unity. Secondly, the section highlights the role of Western supported Slovak NGOs in raising civic participation, mainly ahead of elections. And finally, the section investigates the extent to which Western-financed NGOs have been contributing to and succeeded in establishing the NGO sector as a countervailing power and major oppositional force during the Mečiar regime.

Service Provision


Just like their Polish counterparts, main recipients in Slovakia provide services to NGOs. As already indicated by the description of their major activities (see chapter 8.4.1.),“democracy promoters” and “infrastructural NGOs”, in particular, regard the provision of services to NGOs as well as capacity building and institution building of Slovak NGOs as a major objective of their work:

Throughout the years, one major program area of “Partners for Democratic Change Slovakia” (PDCS) has been support to the NGO sector. Activities in this area involved training, consultation and mediation offers to various NGOs and individuals, including ETP Slovakia, the Institute for Public Affairs and the G3S. With the provision of several training courses for NGOs in the area of conflict management, strategic planning, strengthening of organizational capacity and moderation, PCDS contributed to the institutional stabilization and the building up of capacity of these NGOs.

In the case of SAIA – SCTS the service orientation is even indicated by the name of the organization – “Slovak Academic Information Agency - Service Center of the Third Sector”. Just like the Polish organizations KLON or BORDO, SAIA-SCTS provides important information to NGOs on legal issues, funding possibilities and recent developments concerning the sector via bulletins, publications and its monthly magazine NonProfit. The Internet plays a major role in the distribution of information. Moreover, SAIA-SCTS informs the public or international actors on the state of the NGO sector via its database on Slovak NGOs and several directories. In doing so, SAIA-SCTS is ready to respond to the needs of NGOs in Slovakia. After the change of the law on foundations in 1996, Slovak NGOs faced the question of re-registration and were in need of legal advice. In response to this demand and the governmental pressure SAIA-SCTS together with the Center for Assistance to Local Activism and the SPACE foundation established a system of information and legal counseling for NGOs. Legal counseling was provided by the journal NonProfit. Moreover, four legal counseling centers were founded (Košice, Banská Bystrica, and two braches in Bratislava) where lawyers assisted NGOs in legal concerns.230 These immediate measures eased the negative effects of the repressive activities of the government. Michal Vašečka (2002a: 10) makes the point that the quick response of what is called here “infrastructural NGOs” to governmental pressure demonstrates “…that the centralized pressure of the government only had the effect of increasing the level of cooperation and professionalism in the Third Sector”.


As already noted, besides its information and counseling services, SAIA-SCTS also organizes the Stupava conferences (see in detail chapter 8.2.6) and acts as a secretary of the G3S. In this function, SAIA-SCTS coordinated the major campaigns of NGOs in Slovakia.231 Due to these functions, one can say that SAIA-SCTS is the most important NGO active in the area of NGO and Third Sector development in Slovakia in the period under investigation. The Stupava conferences proved to be important platforms for contact and debate where major discussions concerning the future of NGOs in Slovakia, their identity and political role took place (see again chapter 8.2.6.). In doing so, SAIA-SCTS facilitated with its actions the integration and unity of NGOs in Slovakia. Furthermore, with its support for the G3S it assisted an institution that acted as and was accepted as a representative body of NGOs in Slovakia. Nonetheless, the organization was cautious not to call itself an umbrella organization of NGOs. It had no membership but acted solely as an advocacy NGO. As Katarina Koštálová, executive director or SAIA-SCTS in 2000, points out:

“People in Slovakia were still afraid of centralized organizations due to the communist past. Therefore no umbrella organization was founded, but instead the G3S as a representative body of individuals” (interview with the author).


It still remains to be said that at least until 1998 before the process of fragmentation took place the NGO sector in Slovakia spoke with one voice that was legitimated by democratic elections conducted at the Stupava conferences. By these means SAIA-SCTS also facilitated lobbying processes that strove for a new NGO-friendly legal environment.

ETP Slovakia also provides services that support Slovak NGOs mainly by administrating and implementating major donor programs (e.g. “Your Land” from USAID) and by grant- making. Moreover, ETP Slovakia is active in ensuring long-term funding opportunities for NGOs in Slovakia. Just like SAIA-SCTS and the G3S, ETP Slovakia and especially its director, Boris Strecansky, have been highly involved in the process leading to the adoption of the 1% law (see 8.4.2) and in lobbying for a new foundation law. ETP Slovakia together with the Ekopolis foundation additionally played a major part in bringing the concept of community foundations to Slovakia. It initiated for example the Community Foundation “Healthy Town of Banská Bystrica”, the largest foundation in Slovakia, and worked on the Community Philanthropy Development Initiative, a joint endeavor of donors and NGOs to promote the concept of community foundations in Slovakia that further assisted the establishment of community foundations in the country (ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 3pp). In doing so, ETP Slovakia acted as an intermediary that passed on and implemented Western funds.

Raising Public Awareness / Mobilizing the Public


Chapter 8.2.4. points out that Slovakia experienced an increase in political mobilization in 1998, which manifested itself in a high voter turnout to parliamentary elections. In addition, starting from 1997 Slovakia experienced a rise in volunteerism and other forms of civic participation (ibid). This rising interest of the public in politics combined with a growing belief that democratic elections and other forms of civic participation can make a difference is widely attributed to the activities of Slovak NGOs during the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98”. The “Third Sector SOS campaign” that responded to the new law on foundations passed in 1996 also proved decisive. In the following both campaigns are briefly portrayed. It will be evident that main recipients were the main driving force behind the campaigns.

The “Third Sector SOS Campaign”

In 1996 the G3S organized the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” in order to oppose the controversial new Law on Foundations, which forced foundations to re-register. This legislative measure was perceived by NGOs as politically motivated with the aim of ending the activity of some oppositional NGOs (see chapter 8.2.6). The campaign, which involved several NGOs among them SAIA-SCTS, ETP Slovakia and IVO, aimed to stop the new law and to stir a public debate on its provisions. Moreover, the campaign aimed to raise public awareness of civic society issues and to stimulate a public debate on the regulative and social context in which NGOs in Slovakia operate. The campaign involved intensive lobbying, the preparation of opposing draft laws, Slovak wide public information meetings and expertise on the proposed law and media coverage.


The G3S as the representation and organ of the Third Sector approached parliamentarians and distributed its critical statement and draft amendments to all deputies in parliament. Additionally, it provided foreign external opinion on the draft law and organized an extensive campaign on the law of foundations that gained Slovak-wide media attention. Despite all these lobbying efforts, none of the proposed amendments found their way into the new legislation and the whole law has been passed in its original version (see Bútova / Demeš 1998: 9p).232 

The campaign was the first extensive and systematic public advocacy action in support of civil society since the establishment of the Slovak Republic. It gained intensive media coverage in Slovakia and abroad and succeeded in raising public awareness of NGO activities and civil society issues. Nearly 500 newspaper articles were published concerning the legislation or the campaign during its one month duration (Bútova / Demeš 1998: 4). During the same period over 6000 articles focused on the Third Sector or individual NGOs (ibid). The campaign did not achieve its main goal of stopping the adoption of the new law. The bill requiring the re-registration of foundations was passed.233 Nonetheless civil society activists assess the campaign predominantly positive. Thanks to the campaign, the issues of NGOs as well as the term “Third Sector” became known in the wider public. A majority of the population (52%) was aware of the campaign (ibid: 3) Moreover, the participating NGOs developed organizational skills and inter-organizational linkages. The various NGOs proved their ability to gain public attention and to unite against governmental action. The campaign also triggered the foundation of NGO coalitions modeled on the G3S on a regional level.234 Katarina Koštálová, executive director or SAIA-SCTS in 2000, describes the importance of the campaign as follows:


“Then we learned how to do this; how to reach compromises inside the sector; how to organize publicly. This experience consolidated the role of the Gremium (of the Third Sector). We further learned how to invite international groups to express solidarity with Slovakia” (interview with the author).

The Civic Campaign “OK ’98”

In March 1998 major NGOs launched the Citizen Campaign “OK’ 98” as an open, non-governmental, non-partisan initiative of NGOs in Slovakia with the main objective of ensuring free and fair parliamentary elections.235 Slovak NGOs thus responded to widespread concerns that the government might manipulate the 1998 elections.236 The campaign had the following goals: (1) to improve voter awareness and information about parliamentary and local elections in 1998; (2) to increase the voter turnout in the 1998 elections; (3) to increase the influence of citizens on the preparation of the election law and to ensure citizen oversight over the fairness of elections. The campaign, which officially ended in December 1998 just after the local elections, combined nearly 60 independent educational and monitoring projects of NGOs. These included e.g. a relay march called “Path for Slovakia” through Slovakia organized by GEMMA 93 during which 300 participants distributed booklets on the importance of citizens’ participation in the elections and on fundamental democratic principles and voting procedures; video clips produced by the association “Hlava 98” entitled “I vote therefore I am” shown at cinemas and broadcasted by the only private TV channel then, TV Markíza; or an initiative of the Foundation for Civil Society targeted at young people which entailed a media campaign and several rock concerts. Several NGOs additionally organized discussion forums with representatives of all relevant political parties which took place in all regions of Slovakia. These forums were a novelty in the country. Policy analysis on the performance of the Mečiar administration in various issue areas such as social security, the environment, public transportation or human rights as well as publications on the democratic state of Slovakia were an additional part of the campaign.237 The campaign also included several monitoring initiatives. The Helsinki Civic Association and the Association for Supporting Local Democracy launched a project called “MEMO ‘98” which monitored the most significant electronic and print media. The Association for Just Elections organized the participation of domestic observers in the elections (project OKO ’98) and the Anton Tunega Foundation trained members of electoral committees.


Main recipients played a major role during the campaign. SAIA-SCTS together with the G3S were among the eleven NGOs that initiated the campaign and coordinated the almost 60 separate activities. PDCS trained moderators of so-called pre-electoral discussion forums to inform citizens, 50 of which took place in Slovakia. Additionally, it provided technical support to the campaign and coordinated the various non-partisan pre-election activities (PDCS 1998). Before the elections of 1998 and as part of its civic campaign “OK ‘98”, the G3S formed a “Democratic Round Table” together with the Confederation of Trade Unions (KOZ), the Union of Cities and Villages, and the Slovak Youth Council. Oppositional political parties joined this informal gathering to prevent electoral fraud and to ensure free and fair elections (Bútova / Bútorová 1999: 89). Several thematically oriented organizations also were active, providing expert analysis on governmental performance, activating the youth or monitoring the media or electoral procedures (see above).

One can state that the campaign reached its major goal: increasing voter turnout. In particular, the high voter turnout of first voters – over 80% compared with 20% in 1994 - is largely attributed to the campaign with its various initiatives targeted at the youth (video clips, rock concerts, marches etc). Olga Gyarfášová makes the point:


“What was exceptional about Slovak parliamentary elections was not only the relatively high overall participation but especially the high election participation on the part of the youngest voters which contributed to the decisive victory of the opposition. The barrier of young people’s apathy was broken by the activities of non-governmental organizations, which did not endorse any political party or candidates, but instead mobilized the young people to take part in the elections by staging very innovative non-partisan campaigns” (cit. in: Vašečka 2002c: 5).

The mobilizing effect of the campaign, which received intensive media coverage, is also evident in the rise of volunteerism to support several initiatives of the campaign. Moreover, the campaign enhanced the unity and cohesion among NGOs. Several NGOs that refused to join the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” were now active (e.g. the Slovak Youth Council).

A Countervailing Power and Major Oppositional Force - The political role of Slovak NGOs


Slovak NGOs developed as a major oppositional force during the Mečiar years (see also chapter 8.2.6). Oppositional Slovak intellectuals drew back from the political scene and took refuge in civil society. While the retreat of dissidents and intellectuals into the NGO sector may be seen as a mere survival strategy in the early years of Mečiar’s rule, in 1997 a process started that can be described as the politicization of Slovak NGOs.238 Slovak NGOs increasingly developed a political consciousness, took on a political role and saw themselves as watchdogs of democratic procedures. This politicization process ended a predominant focus on Third Sector issues and complemented a previously dominant service-orientation of Slovak NGOs. This argumentation is supported by several observations:

Firstly, the differences between the two major NGO campaigns, the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” and the pre-election Campaign “OK ‘98” demonstrate the political awakening of NGOs in Slovakia. Although the SOS Campaign has been criticizing governmental action, it was truly concerned with “Third Sector issues” for the most part. The main objective was a change in the legislation concerning NGOs with the aim of ensuring the free activities of NGOs. Single NGOs were concerned with politics in certain issue areas, but no combined action aimed at society at large. While the SOS campaign asked citizens to sympathize and back up the Third Sector, it did not intend to make citizens objects of its campaign. In contrast, the “OK ’98” campaign had exactly this objective. It aimed to inform citizens, to activate and mobilize citizens. Its major objective was to raise public awareness and to enhance public participation in politics. By doing so, the main objective of the “OK ’98” campaign, quite in contrast of the “SOS” campaign, was not the sector itself and better conditions for its functioning, but society at large. NGOs demonstrated with the “OK ’98” campaign that they increasingly comprehended the defense of democratic procedures and values as one of their main missions. The two campaigns thus mark a change in identity of Slovak NGOs from mere service-deliverers to watch dogs of democratic procedures.

That fact that the “OK ’98” campaign marked a major shift in the identity of Slovak NGOs also became evident in the discussions among NGOs, but also among donors before the campaign. The fourth Stupava Conference in 1996, i.e. the annual gathering of NGOs, was entitled “We serve the citizens”, thus indicating the service-oriented character of NGOs. The fifth Stupava Conference in 1997, on the other hand, was labeled “The Third Sector – Actively Working for Democracy” (see chapter 8.2.5. table 9). At this conference the question whether NGOs should take up a political role or remain non-political stirred intensive debate. Katarína Koštálová, Executive Director of SAIA in 2000 remembered:


“We were aware of the fact that the campaign had to be different than the SOS campaign. It involved the work with citizens and political parties. The question whether NGOs should be involved in such a campaign was discussed heavily. Divergent viewpoints existed on the question whether NGOs should be political or non-political” (interview with the author).

At the end of the Conference, the stand of Slovak NGOs became clear: The final declaration of the conference emphasized the political responsibility of NGOs:


“By increasing the citizens’ participation, we wish to contribute further to the development of democracy in accordance with the principles of a state ruled by law” (cit. in: Bútora / Demeš 1998: 21).

The participants further stated the need to improve citizens’ information about the upcoming elections in 1998 and called for the presence of international observers during both, the campaign and the electoral process (ibid).


The discussion whether NGOs should take up a political role involved not only NGOs but also the donor community. It was clear to all that without the support of international donors the campaign could not be financed. Donors hesitated, however, to support indisputably political actions of NGOs (interview Katarína Koštalová). The founding of the Donors’ Forum at the 1997 Stupava Conference has to be seen in this light. This informal gathering of foreign and domestic granting and re-granting foundations and foreign governmental giving-programs aimed to coordinate and enhance assistance to NGOs as well as provide a sufficient financial basis for the Campaign.

The shift is further manifested by the fact that even typically service-oriented NGOs that regarded their major objective as the provision of services and training took on a more political role, as demonstrated by the example of PDCS. Moreover, Slovak NGOs also continued their watchdog and advocacy role after the 1998 elections.239 

In sum, it can be stated that main recipients in Slovakia acted as carriers of civil society. They provided several services to NGOs in Slovakia, thus strengthening the capacity and institutional integrity of NGOs. After 1998 they were further successful in advancing the so-called infrastructure of the sector, that is, a respective and favorable legal environment as well as an increase in funding opportunities in form of e.g. community foundations. Moreover, main recipients contributed to the advancement of what has been called the “cultural dimension of civil society”. The annual Stupava Conferences provided not only a platform for debate between NGOs and contributed to the unity and cohesion of the sector Main recipients also actively searched for dialogue with other groups (trade unions, church organizations, institutes of education), thus establishing further cooperative ties within civil society. Main recipients also contributed to the rise in civic participation in 1997/98. The “Third Sector SOS Campaign” raised public awareness for NGO issues. The pre-election campaign “OK ‘98” went one step further. It mobilized the public and especially young people to go to vote. The resulting high voter turnout helped the oppositional forces to win the elections. Hence, during the “OK ‘98” campaign Slovak NGOs and especially main recipients actively took up a political role, developing from mere service-providers to watchdogs of democratic procedures and values.


The following section tackles the question to what extent recipients benefited from and were influenced by Western assistance in their various roles described above.

8.4.5 Recipient Benefits – Did Civil Society Assistance Make a Difference?

It will be evident in the following that the Slovak NGO sector, and especially main recipients, greatly benefited from and were shaped by Western assistance. Conversely, Western assistance was, however, also shaped by the peculiarities of the Slovak case, namely the repressive nature of the Mečiar regime. Three main “benefits” proved decisive for reasons outlined below (1) finances; (2) knowledge, i.e., the provision of information, training, techniques and know-how, and (3) moral support.

Financial Support


The provision of foreign funds was an essential pre-condition for the NGO sector in Slovakia to develop. A major part of Slovak NGOs would not have been able to carry out their various activities if it had not been for external financial support. As Bútora/Demeš (1998: 13) point out:

“Foreign funds … represent an invaluable and necessary financial mechanism, without which many projects and NGOs in Slovakia could not continue their existence”.


Still in 2001 Pavol Demeš (2001: 475) jumps to the conclusion that

“(Slovak) NGOs are strongly dependent on funding from abroad”.


Also Michal Vašečka (2002a: 12) makes the point:

“Financial assistance of Western democracies, whether private and public, to NGOs has been instrumental in developing vital civil society in Slovakia.”


The provision of finances thus guaranteed the very existence of NGOs. This point is of special importance in the light of the repressive character of the Mečiar regime. More often than not, foreign financial assistance prevented oppositional NGOs that faced repressive state measures to stop their activities. The experience of SAIA-SCTS is a case in point. In the early years of its existence SAIA-SCTS maintained good relations to the government. In 1994, 22% of the SAIA-SCTS budget was financed by the Slovak government (SAIA-SCTS 1995). In 1996 governmental support ceased due to a growingly hostile attitude of the Slovak government. As a result, SAIA-SCTS had to reduce its activities in 1996. In 1997, SAIA-SCTS’s budget nearly reached its 1995 income thanks to foreign support. By these means, the continuation of the activities of SAIA-SCTS was ensured.240 One can thus conclude that without external financial support, Slovak NGOs would hardly been able to emerge as an oppositional force as described above.

In equal measure, the activities of main recipients would not have taken shape without external financial assistance. All of the training measures provided to NGO leaders, but also counseling and other services granted to NGOs were financed by Western funds. This holds equally true for the two major campaigns the “Third Sector SOS campaign” and the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98”. All of the 60 activities carried out during the OK ’98 campaign were fully financed by foreign resources. Vašečka (2002c: 4) makes the point:


“Despite the great amount of voluntary work the financial support was indeed very important for making these projects (of the ”OK ‘98” campaign) happen. Campaign financing was secured through the so-called Donors’ Forum that amalgamated various grant foundations supporting OK ‘98.”

One may ask whether the dependence of Slovak NGOs will result in a drop in NGO activity once external donors withdraw from the scene. Donors are aware of this risk. Chapter 8.3.3. already pointed out, that the question of sustainability ranks high on the agenda of donors. As a result, donors did not only finance single projects and NGO activities, but additionally aimed to leave behind domestic foundations that may continue their work. These are on the one hand so-called community foundations such as e.g. the community foundation “Healthy Town of Banská Bystrica” but also other large domestic foundations such as the “Foundation for the Children of Slovakia” or the “Ekopolis Foundation”. In all three cases, the endowments were built up with the assistance of foreign sponsors (see also chapter 8.4.2.). Nonetheless, the prospects for the sustainability of Slovak NGOs would look rather dim, if the provision of Western funds had not been accompanied by the provision of information, training and know-how, which donors usually refer to as “capacity building”.

Capacity Building


Besides money, the provision of information, ideas, concepts, techniques and (expert) know-how proved decisive for the development of the NGO sector in Slovakia on the one hand, and the professionalism of single NGOs on the other. This form of assistance primarily came in the form of training and counseling. However, international role models and expert knowledge also proved decisive.

One can argue, that the service orientation of main recipients made evident above is highly influenced and assisted by Western actors. Main recipients learned the methods and techniques they apply from foreign donors. This is especially true in the cases where the establishment of single organizations was highly influenced and shaped by foreign actors (e.g. PDCS, ETP Slovakia, see chapter 8.4.1.). Yet the personnel of other organizations also benefited from Western training. According to Zdenka Mansfeldová the transfer of know-how was very important. People lacked the fundamental knowledge as to how to run a non-governmental organization, how to raise funds or how to approach the government with legislative questions. In all these fields there was a great need to extend knowledge which was met by various ways of training donor organizations (interview with the author).241 This assessment is confirmed by the DPP survey among Slovak NGOs. The majority of NGOs that received training assess it as very important (57%).242 

Experiences with Western experts and the consultancy and counseling they provided have been less positive. According to Mansfeldová, Western experts were often of little use (interview with the author). Again this assessment is confirmed by the DPP survey. Only 36% of NGOs that received counseling and that were consulted by Western experts viewed it as important (see appendix 8, table 26, question 15). However, this does not imply that Western role models were irrelevant. Private contacts to Western NGO activists or volunteers proved more important than official experts, though. Single individuals often functioned as bridgeheads of foreign concepts and ideas and as role models and trainers. According to Katarína Koštálová, Executive Director of SAIA-SCTS, single individuals and especially Canadian and American volunteers were decisive in the early years of SAIA-SCTS’s existence as “mentors and suppliers of ideas and inspiration“ (interview with the author). In this regard, the Stupava Conferences once again played an important role. Each conference had not only domestic but also foreign participants. The conferences thus provided a platform for the transnational exchange between Slovak and foreign like-minded civil society activists that share values or “principled ideas”. It thus acted as a platform for debate between transnational “principled issue-networks”, which according to Kathryn Sikkink (1993) is a pre-condition for the circulation of ideas and transnational learning (see chapter 4.4.2.).


Finally, the provision of expert studies and reports contributed to the development of the NGO sector. In particular, legal expertise provided during the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” is a case in point.

“Representatives of non-governmental organizations, legal experts, and diplomats from the United States and European Union member states not only lent moral support, but also provided essential background information on nonprofit law and, in some cases, even met personally with members of the government and National Council to discuss the role of foundations in their countries” (Vašečka 2002a: 7).


Critiques and expert reports on the controversial Law of Foundations have been provided among others by the Washington-based International Center for Not-for profit Law, and the Brussels-based European Foundation Centre (EFC). A detailed analysis conducted by experts from the EFC identified the law’s most important inconsistencies and recommended several amendments (see Bútora/Demeš 1998: 3). External support also played a role in the legislative process on a new NGO law, the “Law on Nonprofit Organizations Providing Beneficial Public Services”, starting in 1999. Throughout the legislative process the Third Sector worked together with the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law in Washington. While the Slovak Parliament discussed the new law, the G3S distributed to all deputies in parliament its critical statements as well as a statement by the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law in Washington, which had been requested by the ministry of justice (Vašečka 2002a: 9).

Moral Support

Besides money and knowledge Slovak NGOs received a further form of external assistance that has been labeled above as “moral support” (see chapter 5.3). Starting in 1995 and especially during the campaigns in 1996 and 1998 international actors frequently expressed their solidarity with the Slovak Third Sector. Hillary Clinton, for example, conducted a roundtable discussion with Slovak NGO representatives during her July 1996 visit to Bratislava and sent a welcome note to the 1997 Stupava conference. USAID and the German Marshall Fund of the United States honored Juray Mesik, Pavol Demeš and Peter Huncik, each the head of one of the NGOs coordinating the “OK ‘98” campaign for their commitment during the campaign. The European Union and the USA awarded the “Democracy Award” to the G3S (Europäische Kommission (European Commission) 1997a: 19). Starting in 1995 the ambassadors of the European Commission, the United States of America, and Great Britain to Slovakia never missed participating in and greeting the annual Stupava conferences.243 


The various symbolic gestures and expressions of international solidarity made clear that international actors accepted and perceived Slovak NGOs as valuable international partners. This symbolism should not be underestimated. The evaluation of the Phare democracy program to Slovakia comes to the following conclusion:

“… the PTDP (Phare Tacis Democracy Program) plays a very important role in Slovakia today in helping to support and develop … the NGO sector. …It is important for both financial and political reasons… the EU remains a crucial source of financial support. Politically the support is crucial for several reasons – EU grants give NGOs greater prestige and legitimacy vis-à-vis both the public, the government and potential sponsors, EU support exercises a restraining influence on the government, and EU support provides the sector with a vital perception that whatever the government’s standing with the EU they are part of the European project” (European Commission 1997c: 160).


Thus, the legitimacy and credibility of a donor seem to make a difference. The evaluation further makes the point:

“Phare has much greater legitimacy than the Soros Foundation for instance as far as local private sponsors and other foreign foundations are concerned. Phare also has a greater political weight with the government” (European Commission 1997c: 159).


Domestic observers also stress the importance of Western solidarity and Western contacts:

“The fact that the democratic community in Slovakia had maintained communication with Western democracies during the Mečiar years also played a role in the political change …For civic activists in Slovakia, the identification with “global civil society” was no mere phrase. They had their natural partners abroad, and exchanged skills, technical advice, and moral encouragement with them. They also learned how to seek international support, including financial assistance from the United States and the EU countries designed to promote democratization … The West’s open emphasis on the need for democratization was of great importance in shaping public opinion. … a substantial segment of the population considered the criticism from abroad to be justified and saw democratization as a prerequisite for the integration of Slovakia into Euro-Atlantic structures” (Bútora / Demeš 1998: 89p).


The DPP survey confirms this point. More than any other form of assistance, Slovak NGOs appreciated the importance of international networks and contacts. 61% of NGOs that report to have international contacts regard them as very important. In total, 67% of respondents stress the importance of international contacts and networks. Moral support is also viewed positively. 52% of respondents regard this form of assistance as valuable. Moreover, Slovak NGOs greatly appreciate the willingness of Western donors to act “as a partner that strives for the same goals”. 72% of all respondents indicate that this facet of external assistance has been very valuable (see appendix 8, table 26, question 15).

8.4.6 Summary

This section addresses the question of the output and the outcome of civil society assistance in Slovakia. It has been shown that civil society assistance in Slovakia made a difference. Firstly, it provided the financial resources necessary for NGOs to carry out their activities and thus contributed to the rise of NGOs in Slovakia. Secondly, it enabled oppositional NGOs to become a power countervailing the government, stirring civic participation, and acting as watchdog of the repressive Mečiar government. In this way, civil society assistance contributed to the structural and the cultural dimension of civil society in Slovakia.

One has to note, however, that international support and in particular the provision of finances opened the door to harsh critic by governmental officials and government-friendly media that aimed to trigger animosities towards NGOs in the rural HZDS electorate. During the election campaign “OK ‘98” the HZDS friendly daily “Slovenská Republika” continuously attacked single NGOs and the Third Sector and saw them as puppets of Western (and Jewish) capitalists (Vašečka 2002b: 6):


“The ”OK ‘98” project is an example of a coarse interference from abroad in domestic affairs of a sovereign state through Slovak non-governmental organizations. This project embodies the power interest in the elections on the part of the USA, while organizations from Great Britain and the Netherlands also participate in the project” (Article ”How to Assassinate Slovakia”, Slovenská Republika, July 21, 1998 cit. in: Vašečka 2002c: 5).

As the prevailingly positive public image of NGOs depicted by public opinion surveys demonstrate (see chapter 8.4.3.), such attacks did not bear fruit though. The wide media attention NGOs gained during the campaign and the frequent connection of NGO activities and a vibrant civil society prevented a negative image of NGOs in the public. Furthermore, the prospect of EU enlargement, the desire to “return to Europe” on the one hand, and the fear of dropping out of the “Visegrad four” group, on the other hand, ensured a positive image of international and especially European actors.


One can thus conclude that international assistance supported and strengthened Slovak NGOs. The provision of money, knowledge and moral support enabled main recipients to assume their role as carriers of civil society described above. All three forms of assistance translated into political bargaining power in the domestic political struggle. Financial support guaranteed the existence of (oppositional) NGOs and enabled NGOs to provide services for the NGO sector and to act as watchdogs of an increasingly repressive government. Capacity building provided necessary techniques, concepts and role models to teach main recipients how to fulfill their tasks, and moral support and international solidarity enhanced the standing and legitimacy of NGOs in the domestic setting.

8.5 Conclusion: Civil Society Assistance in Slovakia: Western Political Intervention From Below?

The introduction to this chapter stressed the “deviant” character of the Slovak case. This character is grounded in the unfavorable historical pre-conditions of civil society development in Slovakia. The late national awakening and independence, the belated modernization as well as a repressive communist regime that did not leave much room for free spheres of civic activity prevented the evolvement of a respective cultural basis of civic activity, i.e. a “civic culture” or “civic ethos”. Slovak history largely lacks experiences with liberalism and democracy. Neither did the feeble national movement in the 19th century incorporate liberal trends nor did Slovakia experience a vibrant associational life throughout its history. On the contrary, authoritarian regimes prevailed each time Slovakia gained independence, as was the case between 1939 and 1945. Throughout the communist period an opposition was basically non-existent. Even the few liberal trends such as e.g. the Prague Spring or the Charter 77 were dominated by Czechs. The oppositional movement “Public Against Violence” that evolved during the velvet revolution of 1989 also included not only anti-communists, but also reform communists and former party apparatchiks. Keeping this historic development in mind, it hardly comes as a surprise that a populist-nationalistic right-left wing coalition came to power in 1994 in Slovakia. Ruled by the populist Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar, it increasingly embodied repressive and authoritarian tendencies, and found its loyal electorate of a steady 20% among the rural population.

Despite these unfavorable historical pre-conditions the 1990s witnessed a rise in civic activity and associational life in Slovakia. Numerous NGOs sprang up in various issue areas, while civic participation increased and strong and cooperative bonds developed among NGOs. Moreover, a core of approximately 2000 highly committed NGOs evolved that actively strove for the strengthening of civil society and the protection of democratic procedures and values. Campaigns such as the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” and even more so the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98” aimed to raise public awareness, to mobilize the public, and to trigger an understanding of democratic rules and procedures. The NGO sector, commonly referred to in Slovakia as the “Third Sector”, provided a platform for open debate and a refuge for political opponents and thus evolved as a countervailing power and major oppositional force during the Mečiar regime. This is demonstrated among other things by the fact that the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98” is widely perceived as a major contribution to the electoral defeat of Vladimir Mečiar in 1998. For all these reasons the NGO sector in Slovakia has been characterized as a “civil archipelago of positive action” that stands in stark contrast to the “islands of positive deviants” as independent civil activists were called by Slovak sociologists in the late 1980s (Vašečka 2002c: 2).


It became clear that the rise of civil society in Slovakia has been greatly assisted and supported by external actors. Slovak NGOs have been receiving massive international support that augmented civil society assistance in other CEE countries. Whereas in Poland democracy assistance largely involved institution building measures, in the Slovak case donors placed a greater emphasis on the assistance to civil society in their endeavors to assist democracy. Without external financial assistance, a large part of NGOs would not have been able to carry out their various activities. Neither the “Third Sector SOS Campaign” nor the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98” would have been feasible without external funds. Not only the provision of financial resources, but also the provision of ideas, concepts, knowledge and techniques, international solidarity and moral support were important benefits of civil society assistance that enabled recipient organizations to fulfill their roles as public awareness raisers and watchdogs of democratic procedures outlined above.

The question arises, however, whether civil society assistance to Slovakia is actually worthy of the name. Critics may point out that the massive inflow of international funds shortly before the elections of 1998 was aimed less at triggering civic activities than bringing about a change in government widely desired by Western actors. The objective was thus to a lesser extent to transplant long-term structures of civic and associational life but rather to “buy” political decisions. In this measure, civil society assistance deteriorates to a subtle form of (illegitimate) external intervention in the domestic affairs of a country, and the supported NGOs constitute neither a “civic archipelago” nor “islands of positive deviants” from which civil society can develop, but instead a politically motivated counter-elite that will enter the new government and leave NGOs without a mission, objectives and human resources. Empirical evidence outlined above suggests that these fears cannot be confirmed. Firstly, it is correct that donors supported the pre-election campaign “OK ‘98” and other oppositional activities of NGOs. However, they hesitated to do so. The decision to sponsor politically motivated projects was only made after intensive debate between recipients and donors. Furthermore, although civil society assistance experienced a peak in 1997/98, donors continued and even intensified their commitment after the 1998 elections. Finally, and most importantly, the NGO sector in Slovakia did not evaporate after 1998. The sustainability of NGOs is guaranteed in the short run and is also an issue that is addressed from various sides. NGOs are regarded as legitimate domestic actors and are widely trusted by the population. Additionally, NGOs continue their activities and maintain their willingness to play a role in the political and social development of the country. Several new topics arose, spanning from the advancement of the NGO law, the freedom of information, anti-corruption, public administration reform to EU enlargement. Finally, the process of fragmentation and decentralization of the NGO sector is a signal that the dominance of Bratislava-based NGOs has come to an end and that rural NGOs have gained in weight. Secondly, the fragmentation demonstrates that the unity of an oppositional front “against” something (in this case Mečiar) has been replaced by thematically oriented issues and debates “for” something.

Nonetheless one should not fall victim to the fallacy that roughly ten years after transition a vibrant and strong civil society is fully established in Slovakia. The above mentioned historical legacies are still visible in Slovak society: the rise in public participation in 1997/98 quickly dwindled, and the optimistic expectations of the population evident in 1998/99 have been replaced by dissatisfaction and a disappointment of citizens with politics in face of political struggles inside the ruling coalition and a growing unemployment rate. Moreover, the social gap between a pro-democratic urban population and a conservative rural population and the socio-economic disparities between Western and Eastern Slovakia continues to exist. Having said this, we still must stress that NGOs in Slovakia act as carriers of civil society that continue to strive for the social and political development of the country.


“Slovakia’s NGOs now constitute a vibrant and efficient “civil archipelago”, whose potential will be equally important in the near future as the society starts to deal with the problems inherited from Mečiar’s government. They will be a partner that the new government will have to reckon with, both as a prospective collaborator and as a potential opponent” (Bútora / Bútorová 1999: 89).

To sum up, Slovakia is a case that suggests that democracy assistance from below, i.e., direct assistance to civil society, can make a difference. Moreover, civil society assistance seems to be a more successful strategy to support democratization than top-down approaches and a “carrot and stick” diplomacy. At a joint conference of the Munich-based Center for Applied Policy Research and the Institute for Public Affairs, Bratislava on “Early Lessons from the Post-Cold War Era: Western Influences on Central and Eastern European Transitions” Martin Bruncko pointed out that the “erroneous belief (of the Mečiar administration) that the West could not afford to let Slovakia fall into the Russian sphere of influence, rendered Western diplomatic pressure and the enticement of Western integration fruitless.” In contrast, he concludes, the attempt to support transition from the bottom up proved more successful in the Slovak case.244 This case study supports this view.


One must note, however, that the effect of civil society assistance in the Slovak case depended on several factors (see also appendix 6, portray 13):

Firstly, civil society assistance in Slovakia was not successful despite the repressive nature of the Mečiar regime, but instead thanks to the regime’s character. Chapter 8.2.6. points out that the establishment of the Third Sector as a major oppositional force was largely a response to the repressive nature of the Mečiar regime. Without the Mečiar regime, intellectuals and dissidents would not have felt the need to withdraw from politics and seek refuge in the NGO sector. Nor can we expect that the close unity and cohesion of the NGO sector to have developed if it had not been for the need to install a united front against a common enemy. Even the openness and eagerness with which Slovak NGOs sought Western partners was partly a result of their oppositional role. Not only were Slovak NGOs in need of allies against Mečiar, they also quickly learned the importance of international contacts as an effective way of enhancing their standing and applying pressure on the government. Slovak NGOs thus highly demanded civil society assistance. In contrast, the interest of international actors in a political change in Slovakia that enabled Slovakia’s integration in EU and NATO resulted in a massive level of civil society assistance.

Secondly, although top-down measures of democracy assistance such as diplomatic pressure and the prospect of EU integration might have been fruitless in counteracting Mečiar’s policy, it did not fail to reach the population. If it had not been for the prospect of European integration, NGOs and the opposition movement in Slovakia would have been deprived of a major comparative advantage against the Mečiar administration. NGOs convincingly presented themselves as partners accepted by international and European actors, and the opposition parties were widely accepted as the guarantors of European integration. Without a basic consensus among the Slovak public about the desirability of Western integration, this strategy would have failed. The public desire to “re-join Europe” ensured that the several expressions of international solidarity with Slovak NGOs and the international contacts of Slovak NGOs resulted in a boost of legitimacy and ensured that the endeavors of the Mečiar regime to unveil Slovak NGOs as internationally directed intruders failed.


Thirdly, one must note that a large part of the Slovak population may be labeled as democratically oriented ”silent opponents“ that positively assessed NGO activities. It has been pointed out that the electoral victory of Vladimir Mečiar in 1994 was less due to a strong backing in the population but rather to a disunited opposition and a high percentage of uncast votes and invalid ballots. In 1994 over 20% of votes were lost as they represented parties that did not pass the 5% threshold. This implies that the percentage of democratically oriented voters that critically assessed the Mečiar government augmented the number of the HZDS-SNS supporters.245

Finally, the type of relationship between donor and recipient has been decisive. Slovak NGOs widely perceived their donors as “partners that strive for the same goals” (80% of respondents to the DPP survey agree with this point). Much more than their Polish counterparts, Slovak NGOs thus perceive foreign donors as equal partners that are informed about the social and political problems in the country.246 We must note that in the case of Slovakia, donors applied a more fine-tuned and political approach to civil society that relied on local intermediaries, micro-grants, a broad thematic focus, and a long-term commitment (chapter 8.3.3.). Decentralized donor strategies that relied on local organizations and local staff that implemented their programs, and individual personalities that involved in long-term contact with recipient organizations, proved to be of special importance. What evolved was a close network of donors and recipients that perceived each other as partners striving for the same goals. Regular contacts and cooperative ties among “partners” as well as a frequent debate and exchange at the Stupava conferences were important factors that ensured the exchange of ideas and triggered learning. This assessment is confirmed by the interviews of the author. All interviewees stress the point that Slovak NGOs did not see international assistance as indoctrination from above or as illegitimate interference in domestic affairs. On the contrary, Slovak NGOs are internationally oriented.

In sum, Slovakia is a success story of civil society assistance. However, the success depended on both domestic as well as international factors. On the one hand, we have a domestic political constellation that stimulated a demand for external civil society assistance and a pro-European outlook, on the other hand, we observe a symmetric relationship between donors and recipients as well as a favorable international environment and a profound interest of donors resulting in a high level of assistance. Without these facilitating factors external donors may not have been able to call Slovakia their “success story”.

Footnotes and Endnotes

184 For an account of recent developments in Slovakia, see: Wolchik (1997: 233p), Goldmann (1997: 148), Bútora / Bútorová (1999: 84pp), Mihalikova (2004), Human Rights Watch World Report 1998 on Slovakia (www.hrw.org/worldreport/Helsinki-21.htm).

185 At 84% the voter turnout was 9% higher than in the 1994 elections (Bútora/Bútorova 1999: 81). Furthermore, the percentage of first-time voters was raised from around 60% in 1994 to over 80% in 1998. 70% of the first-time voters supported the opposition (Bútova /Bútorová 1999: 82, 88).

186 One has to note that the oppositional coalition that was successful in the elections in 1998 was a right-left coalition itself consisting of moderate parties. The oppositional coalition consisted of four “electoral parties” two of which were coalitions themselves. The main party, the “Slovak Democratic Coalition” (SDK) was an alliance of five oppositional parties that aligned in 1997: the conservative “Christian Democratic Movement” (KDH), the liberal “Democratic Union” (DU), the conservative-liberal “Democratic Party” (DS), the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS), and the Party of Greens in Slovakia (SZS). The second strongest member of the oppositional coalition with 15% of the votes was the SDL, a part of the former communist party. The third strongest was the SMK, a coalition of three Hungarian parties. Finally SOP, a center-left party was part of the coalition against Mečiar (see e.g. Bútora /Bútorová 1999: 81p). The 10 parties have diverse political programs and ideological profiles. They were, however, united in their goal to beat Mečiar, to support Slovakia’s integration into EU and NATO, and to install democratic principles in the country.

187 Especially public support for EU membership reached in Slovakia a constant high of over 70%. Public support for NATO membership is lower, however rising. Between 2000 and 2001 it ranged between 40 to 50% (ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 1).

188 The rural character of Slovakia is still evident today: The majority of towns in present Slovakia (87,3%) have less than 2000 residents, and about one third of the Slovak population lives in these municipalities (Mannová 1998: 12 cit. in: Fialová 2002c: 6).

189 Linz/Stephan (1996: 316pp) classify Czechoslovakia as „frozen post-totalitarianism“ with a dogmatic Stalinism that endured intact after Stalin’s death. After the suppression of the Prague Spring and “the largest purge of Communist Party membership in the history of Eastern Europe” (ibid: 318) reform-minded Communists were few and quiet. Also Elster/Offe (1998: 42) point out that communist governments in CEE exercised their rule in different ways with Poland and Hungary as the most liberal regimes, Romania the most repressive regime and with Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and the GDR ranking somewhere in between.

190 For a more detailed description of communist rule in Czechoslovakia, see:Goldmann (1997: 113pp), Glenn (2001: 45pp; 61pp).

191 This was the case with the “Komarek report” by Valtr Komarek, director of the Forecasting Institute of the Academy of Sciences. The report called for a market-driven economy to prevent Czechoslovakia from sinking to the level of a Third World country by 2010 (see Goldman 1997: 119p).

192 Fialová (2002c: 14) points out: “… the events of 1968 were of Czech origin and the Slovak intelligentsia took only a small part in it. Even those Slovak personalities of 1968 who were on the top of the events (A. Dubček) were not regarded as Slovaks by the domestic or international public”.

193 The major civic initiatives were: the democratic initiative, the independent peace movement, the peace club John Lennon, the movement for civic freedoms (HOS) and the club for social recreation (Mansfeldová 1998: 14, footnote 7).

194 See e.g. Fialová (2002b and 2002c), Buerkle (2002a), Vašečka (2002a), Mihalikova (2004).

195 The analysis profits greatly from the following studies on NGOs in Slovakia: The first source is the annual “Global Report on the State of Society” of the Institute of Public Affairs in Bratislava which regularly contains a section on NGO development (Bútora et al 1997, 1998), (Mesežnikov et al 1999; 2001). Secondly, the analysis draws on the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project conducted by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies. The project analyzes the nonprofit sector in 28 countries on a comparative basis (see Anheier/Salamon 1999). Thirdly, the analysis greatly profits from a SDI project on civil society in Slovakia (Vaśečka (ed.) 2002). The Service Center for the Third Sector, associatied with the Slovak Academic Information Agency (SAIA-SCTS), a non-profit seeking NGO, also maintains a database on NGOs and publish directories of NGOs. One has to note, however, that the SAIA-SCTS database is not a complete list of NGOs active in Slovakia. The database only includes those organizations that chose to register with SAIA which may create a bias. The database thus tends to under-represent certain types of organizations such as sport and hobby clubs (see also Demeš 2001: 472). Unfortunately, alternative data from the Statistical Office is not available. At any rate, one can expect that the SAIA database only consist of active NGOs. Finally, this analysis draws on the findings of the DPP survey conducted among Polish and Slovak NGOs in 2002/03 (see appendix 8). The Slovak sample is based on the SAIA-SCTS database which implies that it may depict the same bias.

196 One has to note, however, that not all registered non-governmental organizations are active and not all consider themselves as part of the “Third Sector”. Demeš (1999: 349) estimates in 1999 that of the then 13.6 thousand registered NGOs, 1300 to 2000 “take an active part in shaping the Third Sector identity”.

197 Vašečka (2002a: 1) attributes the rise of NGOs in these years to the burgeoning demand for social and educational services and a natural response to the freedom of association that was not possible under the previous authoritarian regime. Note that the peak of registrations in 1997 is largely due to a new registration law from 1996 that required foundations to re-register.

198 According to Vašečka (2002a: 2p) the development of civil society in Slovakia occurred in four chronological phases: (1) “diversification”, marking a period of rapid growth of NGOs starting in November 1989; (2) “consolidation”, starting in 1992/93 and marking an increasing professionalisation of the non-governmental sector; (3) “emancipation”, a period starting in 1994 with the incorporation of Mečiar’s rule and initiated by an uneasy cooperation with government; and finally (4) “(political) mobilization” of NGOs, which manifested itself in various campaigns starting in 1997, parallel to the deterioration of political and legislative conditions for NGOs. In Vašečka’s view, the professionalism of NGOs as well as their self-identity, coherence, and self-consciousness as a “community of involved people” rose over these various periods.

199 See appendix 8, table 26. These findings roughly correspond with the SAIA-SCTS database according to which most NGOs in 2000 focused on helping children (32%) and education and science (28%). NGOs are also active in humanity and charity (16%), culture (10%), the environment (7%), human rights (5%) and community initiatives (2%) (Demeš 2001: 472).

200 In the field of recreation work, 37% of paid employment in Slovakia and 35% by the CEE average. 10% of paid employers in Slovakia work in professional unions work, as compared to the CEE average 11% (Woleková 1999: 361).

201 These findings correspond with the DPP survey: The largest share of Slovak NGOs covered by the survey are located in the capital (44%). Moreover, 48% report to mainly operate on the national level. A surprising share of 14% of NGOs sees the international level as their main field of operation (see appendix 8, table 26, question 8).

202 It is worthwhile to note that the regional disparity of NGOs corresponds not only with socio-economic disparities but also with voter orientation (see Krivý 1999: 65, see also section 8.2.5.).

203 Thereby membership varies according to the type of organization: church or religious (29%), sports or recreational (22%), labor union (19%); political party (7%), professional (7%), charitable (5%), environmental (5%), educational/cultural or artistic (6%), other (13%). See Howard (2003:65p).

204 For a detailed account of the internal problems of the coalition see: Mesežnikov (2001: 27pp). For an account of the economic situation of Slovakia after the 1998 elections see: Jakoby et al (2001).

205 Examples are: the Slovak Humanity Council (SHR), an umbrella of charity NGOs that was the largest umbrella organization in Slovakia in 1995 with 115 members; the Slovak Catholic Charity (SKCH), an umbrella organization of Catholic charity NGOs; the Slovak Youth Council (RMS), an umbrella of NGOs focusing on children and youth; Tree of Life, the umbrella organization of environmental NGOs; the Slovak Association of Nature and Country Protectors (SZOPK), a further umbrella organization of environmental NGOs; and finally the Association of Civil Associations in Slovakia.

206 One may note that the Stupava Conferences had a presuccessor. In August 1990 a conference on foundations and the volunteer sector in the Czech and Slovak Federal Republic took place in Bratislava, which was attended by over 50 participants and foreign experts from the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and Central and Eastern Europe. The Department of Education, Youth and Sport in the Slovak Republic, and the Faculty of Law of Comenius University organized the conference in co-operation with the Rockefeller Foundation. See: http://www.saia.sk/stupavska_konferencia/indexe.htm.

207 See: www.saia.sk/g3s/indexe.htm

208 Additionally several small minorities live in Slovakia: Czechs (1%), Ukrainian (0.3%), German (0.1%), Polish (0.1%). See: Goldman (1997: 117).

209 A glance at the high regional disparity of unemployment figures and wages makes this point clear. By the end of 1999, exactly one half of Slovakia’s districts had an unemployment rate higher than 20% (average unemployment rate in 2000: 19,1%); in 10 districts, predominantly rural areas, it exceeded 30%. Similarly, there are clear regional disparities in wages with Bratislava and Košice as areas of high wages, and 12 districts, seven of which are in the eastern Prešov region, with average wages that are more than 25% below the overall average wage (Woleková / Radičová 2001: 369).

210 One may note that this divide is not a recent phenomenon. Karen Buerkle (2002a: 6) demonstrates that the national-populist Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party that dominated the Slovak political scene in the 1930s and the HZDS of Vladimir Mečiar have drawn their strength from the same regions within Slovakia.

211 For example, future prime minister Miklas Dzurinda founded with 9 other dissidents (four of which became ministers after 1998) the economic think tank MESA 10.

212 For example, representatives of G3S and the Slovak Youth Council became members of the newly created Consultation Committee for European Integration of the Slovak Government’s Ministerial Council. The Environment Minister signed an agreement on co-operation with an environmental NGO and the Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Family appointed independent NGO representatives to the ministry’s grant-allocation commission. The Agriculture Minister assigned an NGO representative to the commission for the Rural Development Plan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs created an advisory group consisting of foreign affairs experts from NGOs. The Education Minister invited representatives of the Youth Council to the ministry’s grant-allocating commissions, and the Ministry of Justice included NGO representatives to the foundation law drafting commission (Vašečka 2002a: 18p).

213 See ETP/Ekopolis (2002: 7,11); Demeś (2001: 486).

214  For the importance of a state-society divide as a precondition for democracy, see: Rustow (1970).

215 Between 1990 and 2000 $180 million in SEED Act financing has been provided with the aim of promoting and protecting democracy, facilitating political and social change, and assisting the shift to a market economy based on a strong private sector. In order to enhance democracy, USAID’ activities focused on the establishment of free and fair elections, party formation, local government and public administration, education, labor issues, regional development, rule of law, democratic pluralism and a vital NGO sector (see also appendix 2, table 5, and aooebdux 5, table 12).

216 In several issue areas, projects have been implemented by NGOs, thus strengthening and stabilizing these NGOs. For example, the USAID local government project strengthened the “Association of Towns and Communities”, and founded the “Local Self-government Assistance Center” (USAID 2000b: 12p). Labor related projects implemented by the American Center for International Labor Solidarity largely provided institutional and technical assistance to the “Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions” (KOZ). The Rural Community Capacity Building Program included a small grant scheme to NGOs and led to the establishment of a new NGO called “VOKA” (Vidiecka organizácia pre komunitné aktivity) that continues the work in rural development (ibid: 15). Rule of law projects assisted the “Slovak Judges’ Association”, the “Slovak Lawyers’ Association” and were partly launched by “Transparency International Slovakia” and the “Integra Foundation” (ibid: 16). Finally, media assistance projects supported the “Slovak Syndicate of Journalists” and worked with “Memo ‘98”, an organization specialized in media monitoring (ibid: 17). See also appendix 7, table 24.

217 The “Your Land” program provides project grants to NGOs in the areas of advocacy, rural development, community development, women/minorities/tolerance, and anti-corruption. Your Land is an active member of the Donors’ Forum (ETP/Ekopolis 2002: 3pp).

218 Note that this sum includes 1.2 million US $ support to Czechoslovakia in the years 1990-1992. One also has to note that the financial involvement of the NED in Slovakia is higher due to regional and cross-country programs and projects. The sum above solely refers to the projects reported on the NED homepage.

219 The new name was adopted in 1996 after the foundation law required a re-registration of the foundation.

220 Own calculations based on USAID (2000b: 40p).

221 According to Glenn this early commitment was mainly dedicated to electoral assistance (Glenn 1999: 21pp). After the 1990 elections the assistance declined dramatically (ibid). As a result, we observe comparatively little funding in 1992.

222 This observation holds not only true for the donors mainly covered by this study. The British Department for International Development (DFID) still supports Slovakia in 2002 with 3 million £ (1999: 2.9 million £; 2000: 2.8 million £) (DFID 1999: 12). Moreover, the sums earmarked for NGO and civil society development increased in this period from 0.27 million £ in 1999 to 0.75 million £ in the year 2002. A small grants scheme operating since 1995 further supports NGOs. In its country strategy review from 2000, the DFID names as one of its priorities for the coming year “We will initiate debate on NGO/Government partnership and seek ways of encouraging greater involvement of the Third Sector in policy planning, implementation and monitoring” (DFID 2000: 13).

223 The following is based on the field research of the author in Slovakia. The sample includes examples of large recipient organizations that sometimes even directly evolved from donor programs and that are still visible in the Slovak civil society sector today. What the “main recipients” of each group have in common is that they received assistance from at least three of the main donors covered by this study, i.e., the EU, American donor organizations (NED; USAID), the OSF, and the two largest German political foundations. Additionally, the chosen NGOs are frequently supported by Western funds and their budget relies on foreign sources to at least 30%. The selection was based on a systematic analysis of available material on donor programs and on available recipient lists (see appendix 7) and was the result of a “snowballing process”. One has to note that the described organizations provide no exhaustive list of “main recipients” but are only typical examples. Other examples could also be found.

224 For the distinction of three types of recipients see table 6, chapter 7.4.1.

225 The following is based on information given on the respective websites of each organization, during personal interviews and in annual reports and other materials: PDCS (1997); PDCS (1998); PDCS (1999); PDCS (2000); PCDS (2001), PCDS (2002).

226 In the year 2000 PDCS’s activities focused for example on (1) the support to the nonprofit sector including the preparation of strategic planning and trainings for NGOs, (2) on alternative conflict resolution and human rights education in schools, (3) support to ethnic tolerance and (4) support to cross-sector cooperation and community initiatives as part of its joint program with ETP Slovakia “Support to Local Initiatives” launched in 1997.

227 The following is based on the SAIA website: http://www.saia.sk/; on SAIA-SCTS (1994), SAIA-SCTS (1995), SAIA-SCTS (1996), SAIA-SCTS (1997), SAIA-SCTS (1998), SAIA-SCTS (1999), SAIA-SCTS (2000a), SAIA-SCTS (2001).

228 This fact became evident to the author by the opposing answers of two organizations in Poland and Slovakia when asked whether they regard themselves as a “NGO”. Whereas the Foundation in Support of Local Democracy (FSLD) in Poland answered that they are no real NGO (being too professional, too large and too little “grassroots”), the economic think tank MESA 10 in Slovakia insisted that it is a “real” NGO and nothing else.

229 The following ministries provided direct financial support to civic associations and NGOs in 2000: The General Treasury Administration (3.2 million Slovak Crowns), Ministry of Education (3.2 million Slovak Crowns), the Ministry of Culture, (1.8 million Slovak Crowns), the Office for the Strategy for Development of Society, Science and Technology (0.75 million Slovak Crowns), the Ministry of the Interior (0.5 million Slovak Crowns), the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family (0.4 million Slovak Crowns), the Office of the Government (0.45 million Slovak Crowns), the Ministry of Agriculture ( 0.12 million Slovak Crowns), the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Health Care, The Slovak Academy of Science, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Environment, Regional offices (below 0.05 million Slovak Crowns each) (SAIA-SCTS 2000c).

230 It is worthwhile to note that the set-up of these centers was financed by NPOA with EU funds (see section 8.3.1).

231 The most prominent of them were the “SOS” campaign, the “OK ‘98” campaign, as well as recent campaigns on corruption and volunteerism (Demeš 2001: 484).

232 One has to note, however, that despite the lacking willingness of the government to introduce amendments proposed by the Third Sector into legislation, it could not help to listen. This took place for example at a round-table on tax legislation for NGOs, organized by Europhil Truths, the information center of the Council of Europe and SAIA-SCTS in December 1996, in which lawyers, tax advisors, university experts, representatives of international institutions, NGOs and politicians participated. The government was represented by Katarina Tothova, the Deputy Prime Minister (Bútova / Demeš 1998: 9p).

233 As a result, only 357 of the previous 2634 foundations successfully re-registered as foundations, others transformed themselves into civic associations (259) or became none-investment funds or other legal entities (118) (Bútora / Demeš 1998: 6).

234 During the spring of 1997, the first local gremia (committees) were created in the newly defined administrative regions of Slovakia. By 1998 all eight regions had their regional gremia (see section 8.2.5).

235 For a detailed case study of the campaign see: Vašečka (2002c); see also: (Bútora / Demeš 1998: 4pp, 21p). If not otherwise noted, the following is based on these two sources.

236 Such fears where based e.g. on the experiences with the the May 1997 referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections. The call for direct presidential elections was initiated by opposition parties in December 1996 that launched a petition drive for a referendum, which gained over 500,000 signatures. President Kovač linked this referendum with a referendum on NATO membership called for by the parliament (ignoring the fact that Slovakia had not been invited to join the alliance) on a single ballot. The government opposed this procedure and removed the question on direct presidential elections. In consequence, the opposition successfully boycotted the referendum which was declared invalid due to low voter turnout (less than 10%) (see Bútora / Bútorová 1999: 86p). Moreover, the amendment of election law following the formation of the Slovak Democratic Coalition in Summer 1997 raised public concern. The amendment stated among other things that each party in a coalition must receive 5% of the overall vote in order to qualify for parliamentary seats. This provision highly limited the chances of the SDC and was criticized by national and international experts (ibid: 87).

237 Numerous expert groups and thematically oriented NGOs were active in this regard, e.g. the Confederation of Trade Unions, the Association for Permanently Sustainable Life, Greenpeace, The Center for Supporting Local Activities, the Association of Organizations for the Handicapped Citizens of Slovakia, the Council for Social Counseling, Freedom of Animals, the G3S, the Forum of Student Solidarity of the Slovak Helsinki Committee.

238 Vašečka (2002a: 2p) refers to this period as the “mobilization of NGOs”, as a period when “NGOs became serious partners for democratically oriented political parties” and when “activist potential of NGOs increased”.

239 Examples include the “Civic Initiative for a Respectable Law on Free Access to Information” established by the G3S, ETP Slovakia and others that contributed to the passing of a respective law in May, 2000 (see Demeš 2000: 485). Moreover, NGOs were also active in the elections 2002.

240 The situation changed again after the 1998 elections. In the year 2000 contributions from the state budget comprised 21% of the SAIA-SCTS budget (without stipends that come primarily from the ministry of education) (SAIA-SCTS 2001: 38).

241 Also other interviewees, especially from recipient organizations, report that they had very positive experiences with the training they received.

242 See appendix 8, table 26, question 15. It is worthwhile to note that NGOs who did not receive training regard its importance even higher. 61% of NGOs who did not receive training report that it would have been important. In sum, 67% of Slovak NGOs assess it as very important regardless whether they received training or not.

243 For example, in 1995 the Stupava conference was greeted by the Ambassador of the Delegation of the European Commission in the Slovak Republic, G. Zavvos and the Ambassador of the USA, T.E. Russell. In 1996 the conference was greeted by G. Zavvos, by the Ambassador of Great Britain in Slovakia, P. Harborne, and by P. Lerner, the director of USAID. In 1997 the conference was greeted by two resentatives of the Embassy of the USA and the Delegation of the European Commission. Also in 1998, ambassadors from the USA, Great Britain and the Delegation of the European Commission participated in the conference (see http://www.saia.sk/stupavska_konferencia/indexe.htm).

244 See Miller, Jeffrey, Bücherl, Wolfgang, 1/2001: Conference Summary: www.ivo.sk/sho_print.asp?ld=188

245 One should note that in absolute numbers the HZDS-SNS even improved slightly in 1998 in comparison with 1994. Due to a higher voter turnout and fewer uncasted votes, the HZDS fell from 25.9% in 1994 to 22.5 percent of votes in 1998, whereas the SNS improved from 4% in 1994 to 7.6% in 1998 (see Krivý 1999: 66p).

246 In the DPP survey the majority of NGOs attest donors a good local knowledge (63%), and only 11% of respondents blame donors for their lacking credibility (see appendix 8, table 26, questions 16 and 17).

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