Direct democracy in Slovakia and Switzerland: potential and challenges

On September 27, 2018, conference Direct Democracy in Switzerland and in Slovakia: Potential and Challenges took place in Bratislava.  The event was co-organized by the Embassy of Switzerland and the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO). 

The expert discussion at the conference showed that in Switzerland direct democracy through the appropriate legal regulations and systemic approach serves to increase the involvement of citizens into the governance, to deepen debate among the people, to strengthen the cohesion of society and to maintain political stability. Prominent Swiss expert Andreas Gross spoke in his keynote speech about all these and other benefits of direct democracy for contemporary Switzerland. 

In Slovakia, however, the legal regulation of the referendum is almost embryonic, and the institute of people’s vote is used often as a purposeful political tool. Slovak constitutional lawyer Peter Kresák in his contribution compared the institute of referendum in Slovakia with the still unborn child. He also criticized part of the rulings of the Slovak Constitutional Court on the referendum issues. 

Swiss expert Werner Bussmann summarized the basic characteristics of the referendum legislation in his country. It provides citizens with the opportunity to take the qualified and informed decisions in their voting on real alternatives (not just in the “pleated” plebiscites used in some other countries, including Slovakia, for strengthening the political positions of political parties). The bad image of Slovak referendum practice during the period of political transformation was outlined by Slovak political scientist Erik Laštic, who warned against the abuse of the referendum by political actors with serious risks for stability of the democratic system. 

Discussion at the conference revealed visible differences in the functioning of direct democracy in Switzerland and Slovakia. The Swiss participants have underlined that they do not consider the current Swiss system as a model for Slovakia, but as an example that can serve as source for inspiration. The exchange of views between Swiss and Slovak participants at the conference indicated that Slovakia is still waiting for rather lengthy process of shaping the prerequisites for meaningful implementation of the elements of direct democracy for benefits of the country and its citizens. 

Conference schedule 

Direct democracy in Switzerland and Slovakia – potentials and challenges 

International conference organized by the Embassy of Swiss Confederation and the Institute for Public Affairs (IVO) 

27th September 2018, Hotel Devin (Riečna 4, Bratislava)


9:00 – registration

9:30 – 9:40       –  Welcoming addresses 

Alexander Hoffet, Swiss Ambassador   

Grigorij Mesežnikov, IVO president 

9:40 – 11:00      –  1st  session 

Keynote address: 

Andreas Gross
(CH) – “How has Switzerland benefited from direct democracy? Could this system become  a model for Slovakia?” 

Q&A session 

Moderator: Grigorij Mesežnikov 

11:00 – 11:15     –  Coffee break 

11:15 – 12:45      –  2nd session 

Panel discussion: 

Werner Bussmann (CH), Peter Kresák (SK), Erik Laštic (SK) – “Legal and political aspects of direct democracy in Switzerland and Slovakia” 

Moderator: Grigorij Mesežnikov

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