Is today’s Slovakia truly the best of all possible worlds? Despite many positive achievements and encouraging statistics, there is a growing feeling in our society that this is not the case. The country is seemingly working well, while in reality, it is stagnant. The unsolved problems, which are preventing Slovakia to reach its potential and threaten our future, are piling up.
There has not been a single significant public policy reform over the last decade which would prepare Slovakia for the challenges of the 21st century. We are experiencing stable economic growth, but we are not able to create economic opportunities for those people who need them the most. Our taxes are rising, but our public education system and healthcare remain neglected; not to mention the poor state of our science or innovation economics. We are enlarging our cities and building new infrastructure, but we do not respect our public spaces, culture, and nature.
The state and its institutions, which ought to be a symbol of the common good, embody the symbol of incompetence and corruption in the eyes of the public. The political debate is empty, incapable of looking beyond the horizon of the issues of the day and petty scandals. Meanwhile, there is growing frustration in the society – we see it in the discussion forums on the social media, at the anti-corruption protests, in the massive departures of young people who choose to seek their education and jobs abroad, and in the rising sympathies for the extremist political movements.
A country with potential
Nevertheless, modern Slovakia is a success story full of remarkable instances of resistance against the often unfavorable history. 120 years ago, Slovakia had no university and only about 100 high school graduates. Today, as we are reaching 25 years of our existence as an independent country, we do so from the position of the co-creators of democratic Europe. Our gratitude for this achievement belongs to the many generations who were determined and brought sacrifices in their struggle for freedom and democratic emancipation: From the revivalist writers to the liberal Hlasist movement of the 19th century; from the Agrarians and Social Democrats of the First Czechoslovak Republic to the Antifascist guerilla fighters of the Slovak National Uprising; from the Slovak leaders of the Prague Spring to the underground church and dissident and environmentalists groups during the period of normalization; from November 1989 to the deciding parliamentary election of 1998. Throughout the history of Slovakia, our progress was never a result of a mere accident, nor an achievement of one exceptional leader. Instead, it was always a fruit of the joint endeavor of different groups of people who were not indifferent to the fate of their nation.
Today, we find ourselves in the perfect circumstances to try to follow the message of these groups. Slovakia’s starting point is in many aspects better than that of our neighboring countries. Our liberal-democratic institutions are showing resilience, which is, in the context of contemporary Central Europe, somewhat rare. Our macroeconomic and fiscal situation is favorable, and Slovakia is, as a member of the Eurozone and Schengen, part of the closest circle of the European integration.
However, what we are currently missing is the vision for our future. Slovakia’s last significant modernizing project was our accession to the European Union and NATO, joined with the policy reforms from the beginnings of the 21st century. We understood “progress” as catching up with the West after the four decades of communism and years of the autocratic rule of Slovakia’s former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar. Our economic identity was that of the “Tatran tiger,” a country welcoming to foreign investments. Since no new great idea for our growth emerged, Slovakia is still stuck with this image, despite the world radically changing in the meantime.
If we look around us, we can see that the world of the carefree globalization and favorable geopolitical situation, that motivated the “Tatran tiger,” is gone and never coming back again. With it, we also lost the potential for the rapid economic growth built on a cheap labor force, low social and environmental standards, and a stable supply of the European structural and investment funds. We have exhausted the post-communist model of the modernization. Furthermore, what changed is not only the environment – both European and global – but also our standards and expectations.
How should we then find a new vision for our future? How can we translate our current dissatisfaction with the state of things into positive and focused energy capable of moving the country forward?
A country that grew up
The key to Slovakia’s growth in the coming decade – in the era of technological changes, geopolitical instability, and transition to renewable resources – is elsewhere than where we were previously looking for it. It does not lie in the factory halls of a couple of big companies; instead, we find it in an educated, creative, and united society, capable of being competitive through offering its ideas. A society which does not measure its success by the number of exported cars, but by the number of the excellent schools. A society where the goal of the economy is not merely the GDP growth, but the creation of opportunities for a decent life for everyone. Its most crucial infrastructure will not be highways, but human relationships in our schools, towns, and public and private institutions.
We also need new public policies and a new approach to redistribution of public resources. Their primary goal must be the development of the human capital – this should become the new modernization project for Slovakia, which presupposes an in-depth reform of our education system – from the status of teachers, through the management system, to the very content of the education. The restart of our education system has to become a similar symbol of reform as was the flat tax reform of the early millennial years. Another priority is providing strategical support for the national innovation ecosystem that would connect research institutions with businesses, as this is where the source of our competitiveness lies in the context of the economy of the future.
Similarly, we need public policies that are not only about the accumulation of material wealth but are focused on increasing the quality of life and strengthening the ties that hold our society together. Translated into practice, this means that we need to put more considerable emphasis on the fight against social discrimination, equality of opportunities, as well as the growth of our culture, cultivation of our public spaces and protection of the environment. These internal changes will reflect in our newly gained self-confidence. A country that was always passive and happy with merely catching up with the others, unsure about its identity and its place in integrated Europe, must turn into a country which considers the European project as its own and actively contributes towards shaping it.
Our vision is for Slovakia to step out of the shadow of post-communism finally. It will leave the era of the rapid but fragile and imbalanced growth behind. Through learning from this experience, it will gain new depth – just as a young person on the edge of the adulthood, who is starting to realize that youth has its limits and it is time to face life in its broader context, with new responsibilities, wisdom, and humility. Our country celebrated a quarter century of independence in 2018. It is time for it to grow up.
“The more learned I am, the freer I am,” wrote M. R. Štefánik in his diary in 1905. Despite many sudden historical twists, progressive thoughts spread across Slovak history. Progressivism, then and now, stems from the European tradition of humanism, which takes human freedom as its core principle.
We understand freedom not merely as freedom from external constraints, but as a real opportunity for a decent and fulfilled life for every individual, regardless of the circumstances that they come from. The real liberty is not only a matter of civil rights or material well-being, but it also includes the quality and access to public services, density of one’s social ties, access to knowledge, art, nature, and the feeling of belonging to some broader community. The more socially cohesive our society is, the greater the freedom of every individual is.
We see the role of the democratic state and public institutions in a similar light. The debate about the role of the state is in Slovakia trapped in the midst of formal disagreements about its size and character. One side sees the state as a constant source of coercion, as an enemy that needs to be defeated so we can let the free market thrive. The other side expects the state to take on complete responsibility for their lives and expects unlimited protection from it. Both sides have in common their perception of the state as something that stands outside of them, something that they cannot identify with and do not have an impact over.
Contrary to this view, we see the democratic state as our common space in which we are all equal, from which no one is excluded, and which enables us to work together on goals that exceed mere private interests and individual possibilities. The fundamental responsibility of the state is to grant its citizens safety and justice and provide them with services that are accessible and of high quality. Public institutions have an additional, more profound role, in that they are the most significant force that moves our society forward. Slovakia’s issue today is therefore not the question of the robust state versus the minimal state, but the fact that the state is not capable of fulfilling its role. We need to bring the progressive ethos back into the public sphere, as this was the driving force behind all the fundamental changes and reforms since 1989.
A similar fight about the nature of our future is being led in Europe as a whole. The current rise of progressive political movements, from France to Slovenia, is proof that the traditional left versus right political dividing line is retreating. The politics is being defined based on its image of the future. On one side, we see political forces defending the status quo or calling for the return to some mythical past. This conservative camp includes not only nationalist and right-wing parties, but also many social democratic movements incapable of stepping out of their defensive attitudes. On their opposing side, we see progressive movements and politicians – right-wing as well as socialists, liberal as well as green parties. These political movements see change not as a threat, but as an opportunity. They are willing to offer their vision for a better future, and they dare to create this future. This kind of force is needed in Slovakia as well.
Progressive political forces also offer a new form of politics, where instead of the traditional pyramid-like structure of political parties, progressive parties are often established as bottom-up grassroots movements, blurring the differences between a political party and a civic movement. Slovakia must free itself from the political system built around authoritarian leaders, and create a new political environment of this kind.
These are the reasons that led us to prepare the following document, which presents our vision for the future.
What we want to accomplish before 2030
- Bring the number of long-term unemployed below the EU average.
- Bring the PISA test results of the Slovak students to the level of the best countries in our region.
- Slovakia will be among the top 15 countries in the OECD Better Life Index.
- Increase the number of patents from Slovakia and the participation of our scientific teams in international scientific projects by 500%.
- Decrease the number of preventable deaths at least to level of Czech Republic; define the minimal healthcare network.
- Reduce the time needed to establish a business in Slovakia by 50%.
- Increase the trust in the police by at least 50%.
- Improve Slovakia’s ranking in the TIS Corruption Perception Index by at least 20 places.
- At least two third of the Roma children (out of which 50% girls) born in the segregated communities will apply to the same high schools as their non-Roma peers in the same area.
- Reduce the average length of court trials by half.
- Increase the energy efficiency of our industry by at least ten places in comparison with other EU member states.
- Preserve at least 5% of Slovakia’s territory as nature reserves and widen the forests in the surroundings of larger cities.
- Slovakia will be among the top 25 countries in the OSN World Happiness Report.
- Slovakia will be among the top 25 countries in the Good Country Index.
1. Human Capital
Our vision is a country that develops its most precious capital – talent, skills, and uniqueness of each of its citizens. The quality of our educational system, therefore, has to become the central theme and priority of the Slovak politics
Complex reform of the education system will be a radical project, advancing both Slovakia’s economy and culture. A modern and inclusive system of education lies not only at the heart of any free society but is also the most effective instrument of the social mobility and against brain-drain. Furthermore, education reform is the key to Slovakia’s global competitiveness in the era of technological changes, since it paves the way for an economy built on creativity and top-class research. The post-communist economic model centered on cheap labor with low added value has been exhausted, and we must move beyond it. In 2030, Slovakia will be a country with competitive ideas and solutions; it will become a leader of the innovation economics and a relevant European player in the field research and innovation.
2. New economic and social model
Our vision is that of a country that prioritizes quality of life and well-being of all its citizens. A country that does not forget that economic growth is merely an instrument we use towards reaching this goal. Slovakia will be successful only if everyone has a share in its success.
This ambition requires an economic and social model that focuses on reducing existing inequalities and ensures a just redistribution of the produced value between the wages and the capital. It also requires a motivating market environment for the domestic business sector, which equals eliminating bureaucratic obstacles and other issues that slow down entrepreneurial initiatives and the growth of Slovak companies.
Slovakia of 2030 will be an economically stable country without significant inequalities in the budgets of people, private businesses, or government, with the quality of life comparable to EU15, modern public infrastructure, administration, and high-quality and accessible public healthcare.
We will be among the top 15 counties in OECD’s Better Life Index. The level of social mobility and equality of opportunities will be high enough to prevent the reproduction of generational poverty.
3. A fair and efficient state
We imagine a country where the democratic institutions and the rule of law enjoy high trust from the citizens since they serve as a useful instrument of justice and the common good.
Our vision is a state that is modern and well-functioning; a state that creates a fair and stable environment for people’s everyday life and it helps them fulfill their ambitions and dreams, by which it enlarges their freedom. The path to such a state is paved by systematic changes in justice, governance, and civil service on all levels, including municipalities. These changes will narrow the space for corruption and provide citizens with new possibilities of democratic participation, which will improve the quality of democracy in Slovakia.
4. A cohesive society
Our vision is a society that is internally cohesive, confident about its values, and hence open to diversity, human individuality, and future. Pride of one’s country and its success must become a source of a positive identity belonging to everyone, the kind of identity that will deepen the respect of the majority for the minorities and unprivileged groups.
We see a society that appreciates and systematically improves public space – both physical and spiritual – and understands the importance of culture and beauty for the growth of the country. A society that at the same time supports a critical reflection and dares to search for the truth about itself, its past and its direction.
5. A confident and safe country
Our vision is Slovakia as a self-confident and valuable player in the European as well as the global space. The strategical horizon and values of Slovakia’s foreign policy will go beyond the narrowly defined national interests.
Slovakia will continue to exist in the core of the European project, as this is where it belongs both politically and culturally. It will contribute to the project of European integration with its own priorities and solutions as a member state with the sense of responsibility for the fate of the EU as a whole. When it comes to defense politics, Slovakia will continue to be a reliable and active ally within NATO, with thoroughly modernized and well-working military and internal immunity against a broad spectrum of security threats.
6. A sustainable country
Our vision is of a country where agriculture and lifestyle are built on a respectful relationship with nature and the environment. We imagine an economy that is not dependent on the linear exploitation of the resources and growth that comes at any price, on the contrary, it strives to keep the resources in circulation as long as possible and with minimal losses.
The idea of sustainable growth will spread out across all public policies – from agriculture, through energy, to transportation. Our vision is Slovakia that can see beyond today’s horizon and feels responsible for the future generation; a country that does not measure its success by wealth, but by the quality of life.