Newcomers will find that the Slovak capital, Bratislava, has been modernized, thereby losing much of its early architecture. Small towns surrounding the capital, however, offer glimpses into the past. Trnava, for example, located 45 km northeast of Bratislava, is one of the oldest towns in the republic and maintains a medieval character.
The Danube Basin offers beach resorts, but the most popular destination for travelers in Slovakia is the High Tatras, which reaches alpine heights. The Western Tatras offer the same magnificence with fewer crowds. Small towns in the mountain regions, such as Banská Stiavnica, are also well worth visiting, and East Slovakia, home to a third of the country's Romanies, includes a number of fascinating medieval towns.
The Slovak Republic is a parliamentary democracy. The head of state is the president, who is elected by parliament for a five-year term. He appoints a prime minister, usually from the majority party in parliament, who heads the executive branch of the government. Legislative power rests with a 150 member National Council. National Council members are elected by proportional representation and serve for a four-year term.
Since independence, the Slovak Republic has endeavored to make the transition from monolithic controls under socialism to a market economy. The 1998 election saw a new, more liberal government, which initiated policies to promote privatization of publicly owned enterprises. These are now nearly complete. For example, banks are almost completely privatized. The government has also created policies which are friendly to foreign businesses and investors, spawning new investment, particularly in the automobile industry.
The present government is committed to developing an economy more closely in line with those of its neighbors, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary, as evidenced when the Slovak Republic joined NATO in April 2004, and became a member of the European Union in May 2004.