Controversial Issues in the Slovak Presidential Campaign

With the Olympic festivities in Sochi under way, several European political leaders took up the opportunity to raise their concerns over the rights of the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans] community in Russia by boycotting the event. The central European region, however, was rather well represented in Sochi, with the highest political representatives stating that politics do not suit the Olympic games. The Slovak president Gašparovič, along with the presidents of the Czech Republic and Hungary, among others, was not missing at the opening ceremony. Considering the president's term is coming to a close, with the presidential election taking place in less than a month, his stance in this regard raises several questions – including those that touch upon the candidates' positions on the issue of gay rights in Slovakia. A closer look at how the issue is reflected in the campaign discourse tells us a good deal about the extent to which open advocacy of gay rights and other potentially controversial issues is part of mainstream politics.

Slovakia is one of the more religious countries of Europe – according to 2011 data, 62 % of Slovaks identify themselves with the Roman Catholic Church. Atheists and non-religious account for approximately 13 %, while roughly 11 % of population did not specify their religion. While in the neighboring Poland, as much as 90 % of citizens declare to be Roman Catholics, the figure is as low as 10 % for the Czech Republic, with 34 % stating they are non-religious. In light of information from Poland and the Czech Republic, countries which can be considered to be at the respective ends of the religiousness spectrum, it can be said Slovakia is a fairly religious country – with Catholicism being a definite part of Slovaks' identity. This was recognized also by Robert Fico, a top seed of the presidential election, who recently kicked off his campaign by highlighting his Catholic upbringing. While his political party, Smer, follows a relatively tolerant approach to issues such as same-sex partnerships or abortions, Robert Fico has largely avoided answering the more controversial questions regarding ethical matters in general, as well as the question of whether he would support the bill on registered partnership of gay couples. He has long maintained that currently, this issue is far from being a priority in Slovakia. As far as he is concerned, the presidential campaign has not been an exception in this regard.

Presidential candidates
When asked whether they support registered partnership of same-sex couples, most presidential candidates have answered with a “no.” Milan Kňažko presents his views in a manner that suggests the most favorable stance towards registered partnership. He perceives LGBT rights as human rights: “A democratic state has to respect human rights of all its citizens,” he says on this topic. At the same time, what he understands by this legal institution needs to be explained. In his view, a registered partnership should not amount to a marriage, as that “is a conservative institution of a man and a woman.” A registered partnership should guarantee certain civic rights regarding inheritance, the right to have access to one another's medical documentation, etc. The adoption rights of LGBT persons is a different matter, however. While it is necessary to discuss this topic, Milan Kňažko holds, similarly to all other presidential candidates, he is against.
Andrej Kiska holds views rather similar to those of Milan Kňažko – he would also support legislation arranging the rights of same-sex couples and he is also against adoption rights for LGBT people. In this regard, he however never fails to stresses the following: “For me, a marriage is a union between a man and a woman.” In his answers to all controversial questions, he often also highlights his religiousness. Contrary to Kňažko's views, Kiska is also against abortions, for example, although he stresses the woman's right to choose in some circumstances.
Another candidate who holds that marriage is a “union between one man and one woman” is Radoslav Procházka. While he states he would not present legislation on registered partnership himself, he adds that in case of a widespread societal agreement on this issue, he would not veto such law. He is also against gay adoption rights and on account of abortions he states that except for cases of rape and a direct threat to the life of the mother, he is against.
Pavol Hrušovský and Jan Čarnogurský are both against registered partnership, adoption rights for homosexual couples, as well as abortions. They both perceive marriage between a man and a woman as the founding block of society, which should be protected. They also agree that rights of gay couples should be arranged within the framework of the current civil code, without the need to establish additional legislative institutions. As Čarnogurský puts it, “The option to register the partnership of both heterosexuals and homosexuals de facto exists [in Slovakia]. When two people come to the register office and ask for a confirmation that they live in a common household, they are given such confirmation.” He continues that homosexuals often are heard pointing out that they are discriminated against in many spheres of life, including inheritance laws, the possibility to look into each other's medical documentation, etc. “I believe these concerns should be legally scrutinized and laws should be changed in a manner that would do away with the discrimination of homosexual couples. My objection to registered partnerships lies in the fact that everywhere around the world they amounted to the one step prior to introducing laws on homosexual marriage and adoption by homosexual couples. In Slovakia,” he is sure, “it would not be different.”
What can be concluded from the different ways the presidential candidates in Slovakia have recently handled the various controversial issues, particularly the rights of homosexuals? Firstly, the candidates' views largely correspond to those one could expect in a country where Catholicism resonates strongly – they can be described as generally tending to be rather conservative. Secondly, while several candidates do support registered partnership, their views are largely conveyed in the context of marriage perceived exclusively as a union between a man and a woman, with the human/civic rights aspect of this issue being stressed predominantly. Thirdly, the candidates' views can be argued to have a tendency to coalesce around what most likely is the proverbial median voter's opinion: while there is some variation in views, with Kňažko and Kiska voicing their support for registered partnership of same-sex couples (albeit with some restrictions) and Hrušovský and Čarnogurský speaking out decidedly against this idea, the candidates generally do not offer a wide spectrum of views on the various potentially controversial issues. No single candidate decided to openly support a gay marriage or adoption rights for homosexual persons. Similarly, only one candidate, Kňažko, supports abortions without reservation. Finally, it is also noteworthy that Robert Fico, who tends to receive the greatest support in pre-election opinion polls, has largely managed to avoid getting entangled in discussing these issues which in the Slovak society figure as sensitive. Whether there is some relationship between these two observations is a question, but it can be nevertheless concluded that in the Slovak society, opinions on these controversial issues continue to receive considerable attention – in the ongoing presidential campaign in particular they have certainly not stayed on the fringes of the dominant discussions.