During the period of 1999 to 2000, the ‘Romany issue’ became of far greater general interest in Slovakia. Many positive trends were observed in the way the country tackled the problem, suggesting that the current administration of Prime Minister Mikulás Dzurinda is beginning to deliver on expectations put forth by domestic and foreign observers after the 1998 parliamentary elections.

The Dzurinda administration managed to reverse most of the negative trends created by the previous administration’s ethnic minority policy. Similarly, the Romany issue began to be approached in ways international human and minority rights organizations have recommended. Since the 1998 elections, the conditions for the Roma have been more positive than they were during the tenure of the previous administration of Prime Minister Vladimír Meciar.

During the period, state administration, local self-governments and non-governmental organizations, which had been deadlocked, finally began to cooperate successfully. The cabinet adopted and began implementing new strategies designed to solve the Romany problem. The Office of the Slovak Government’s Plenipotentiary for Solving the Problems of the Romany Minority continued its successful work. Furthermore, several important projects aimed at benefiting the Roma were launched.

Despite numerous problems, Romany political and intellectual leaders also managed to unite, allowing them to tackle the minority community better. Several of the most influential Romany politicians announced they would enter the 2002 parliamentary elections under a single banner, known as the Roma Agreement.

Although further problems on the Romany political scene are still expected, the civic and political mobilization of activists was a promising sign of events to come. The Roma increased awareness of the minority’s plight both in Slovakia and internationally; besides positive changes in the community itself, however, this has also allowed for the rise of some radical Romany leaders.

There was an increase in the already high unemployment rate in several of the country’s Roma-dominated districts; the cabinet tried to improve the situation by creating jobs for the unemployed on public benefit work projects.

Mass exoduses of the Roma to EU member states continued, which hurt Slovakia’s image abroad and resulted in visa requirements being installed by several of the countries which experienced the highest influx of Roma seeking political asylum. Subsequently, cabinet intensified its efforts to solve the Romany issue, and a broad public debate concerning the Roma began.

Unfortunately, personal relations between the Roma and the white population saw no improvement. Slovak politicians continued to make several racist statements, and displays of open racism were common, even in Parliament. The Roma were also victims of continued latent and open discrimination.

Generally speaking, the Romany issue became the hottest topic in Slovakia over the period examined. Politicians and celebrities realized the importance of investing significant amounts of time, money, social capital, and especially political will into solving the Romany issue. This was a remarkable shift from the past, in that Slovakia’s political and social elite, regardless of their motives, began to understand the complexity of the issue and the urgency of dealing with it.

Interest in dealing with the issue peaked for the following three reasons:
1. Morality and the importance of human rights: Some began to realize their obligation to help the Roma, and that inappropriate, misguided, or directly discriminatory methods and policies applied to Slovaks in the past should no longer be tolerated on Slovak soil. This reasoning, however, is limited to a relatively small group of people who call themselves liberal democrats.

2. Integration and pragmatism: A significant number of Slovak representatives understand the importance of finding a solution to the Romany issue, because the country’s integration ambitions and efforts to join the European Union (EU) and NATO depend on it.

3. Self-defense: A considerable proportion of the majority, represented mainly by the parliamentary opposition, admitted the necessity of solving the issue because of fears which stem from Romany demographic developments, and from the practically uncontrollable birth rates in Romany settlements.

Specifics of Romanies as members of an ethnic minority

The Roma are the second largest ethnic minority in Slovakia. The latest census in 1991 showed a total of 75,802 citizens claiming Romany nationality, or 1.4% percent of the population. However, various estimates put the Romany population at exponentially higher figures.1 Head counts conducted in 1989 by local and municipal administrations showed that there were 253,943 Roma (4.8% of the population); however, these statistics registered only socially dependent citizens. Therefore, it can be assumed that the number of Roma in Slovakia is today even higher. Current estimates by experts put the total number at between 420,000 and 500,000, a number continuously on the rise due to the high Romany birth rate.

According to experts, there are approximately 12 million Roma worldwide, eight million of whom live in Europe. Many European countries have more Romany communities than Slovakia does. The largest Romany community in the world lives in Romania (estimated population of between 1.8 and 2.8 million). Relatively speaking, however, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Macedonia have the largest per capita Romany community in the world (8% to 9% of the country’s population).

The Romany issue, the deteriorating socio-economic status of the Roma and the majority’s strongly negative perception of the Roma are becoming the most important challenges Slovakia faces on its way to the EU. Slovakia has the largest Romany minority of all EU-hopeful countries, and the one with the worst social status. The European Commission (EC) has repeatedly stressed that the situation of ethnic minorities in candidate countries aspiring to join the EU was acceptable, with the exception of that of the Roma.

The Roma constitute a truly distinct minority, and solution of the Romany issue therefore requires a rather complex approach. The unsatisfactory socio-economic situation of most Roma in Slovakia raises the question of whether they are becoming a social, as well as a purely ethnic, minority. Expert and professional circles see the Roma becoming an ‘underclass’, a word that perhaps best describes Romany settlements.

The basic characteristics of the members of an ‘underclass’ are the following: long-term unemployment, fragmentary work history, permanent success on the secondary labor market only, dependence on social welfare benefits or on activities that have to do with the shadow economy. The ‘underclass’ environment is characterized by general resignation, low respect for authorities, a low level of social self-control, reliance on welfare, and poor labor ethics. These general characteristics of the ‘underclass’ environment perfectly describe the situation of those Roma who dwell in Romany settlements and, increasingly, those who reside elsewhere (Vasecka, 1999).

Discussion of the underclass issue, which has been going on for several decades in some other countries, is perceived in Slovakia as having an ideological basis; many people seem to erroneously interchange the terms ‘underclass’ and lumpenproletariat. Nevertheless, opening such a discussion in Slovakia is vital for the country to prevent further negative consequences of the transformation from a modern industrial society to a post-modern, post-industrial one. Otherwise, the gap between the majority and the Roma will continue to widen, and ethnic poverty will intensify.

The Romany community has many different sub-groups. The most common are colonies of settled Roma (Rumungres) and nomadic Vlachika Roma; the remnants of the Germanic Sints represent a separate group.

The Roma also differ by the language and dialects they use in a Slovak environment, they use some Slovak language words and dialects, while in the Hungarian environment of southern Slovakia, they use Hungarian. Like the majority population, the Slovak Roma can also be distinguished by their place of origin (i.e. whether they are influenced by an urban or rural environment) as well as by their affinity to a particular region of Slovakia.

Regarding such differences, some Roma experts observe that the old caste system continues inside the Romany community, determining in advance a person’s role within the social system (in the case of Slovakia, we may speak of clans and groups).

The distinctiveness of the Romany minority is also illustrated by questions of whether the Roma are a nation or merely an ethnic group. As recently as 1991, the Slovak Roma ceased to be perceived merely as an ethnic group and were treated by the country’s legislation as a full-fledged ethnic minority, equal to other ethnic minorities living on Slovak territory.

Hopes of raising awareness about the Romany issue were aided by the International Roma Union (IRU) at its 5th congress in Prague at the end of July 2000. At the congress, the IRU introduced the document A Declaration of the Romany Nation, which may be interpreted as the cornerstone manifesto of the Romany nation. In the document, the IRU called on all governments in the world to acknowledge the Roma as a full-fledged nation.

Relation of the Majority Population to Romanies

The Romany minority’s different culture and overall way of life perpetuate their social exclusion by the majority. The social life of the Roma continues to be governed by internal common law and traditional social standards, which can create conflict with the majority. Much of the majority population feels that the Roma are neither willing nor able to adapt to their social standards, and that they are becoming increasingly resistant to continuous efforts at integration. Citizens perceive the cultural differences negatively, further distancing the Roma from the rest of the population (Vasecka Dzambazovic, 2000).

Surveys examining the majority population’s relation to various minorities show that the majority is most separated from the Romany minority. All surveys examining this phenomenon conducted since 1990 suggest that the separation is spread evenly throughout the population, regardless of age, sex, education, nationality, political preferences, or size of settlement they live in; the degree of separation is stable, and has remained virtually unchanged.

Regarding the majority’s poor relations with the Roma, the cabinet adopted on May 3, 2000 a document entitled An Action Plan for Preventing All Forms of Discrimination, Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Displays of Intolerance for the Period 2000 to 2001, created by the Section of Human Rights, Minorities, and Regional Development at the Slovak Government’s Office. Besides proposing an information campaign and various types of training for the Roma, the scheme focuses on anti-prejudice education among various professional groups (i.e. members of the Slovak Police Force, judges, judicial candidates, members of the Slovak Penitentiary and Judicial Guard Force, public prosecutors, servicemen of the Slovak Army, medics, and employees of social service facilities and social affairs departments at the district and regional offices of the state administration).

The cabinet also initiated the 2000 to 2001 period the Minority Tolerance Program, which is designed to tackle Romany problems. The plan is funded by PHARE (the project was submitted to the Delegation of the European Commission in April 1999). In advance, the cabinet initiated the 2001 to 2002 Minority Tolerance Program.

Legislation Regulating the Status of the Roma in Slovakia

Before 1989, the Roma were not acknowledged as an ethnic minority in Slovakia. The Communist regime’s attitude towards the Roma was based on a Marxist premise which claimed that improvements in Romany social conditions would by itself bring about a change in their behavior. Consequently, the state’s official legislative measures concerning the Roma focused on liquidating backward Romany settlements, improving Romany families’ economic conditions, addressing the most pressing problems such as unemployment, and introducing various social security benefits.

The Communist approach toward the Roma was based on three concepts: social assimilation, organized dispersion, and integration of the Gypsy community into the majority population. But these concepts were merely disguised forms of enforcing the majority’s cultural model and imposing it upon the Roma without acknowledging their ethnic identity.

Slovakia, which currently aspires to full EU membership, has encountered problems in defining a modern minority policy compatible with European standards since 1992. In some respects, the protection of minority rights in Slovakia is above-standard. However, the current cabinet had to overcome a certain regression in the field of minority rights from 1999 to 2000 caused by the policies of the previous Vladimír Meciar administration.

During the first year of its existence, Slovakia ratified the most relevant documents of the UN; similarly, the most relevant documents of the Council of Europe have also been incorporated into Slovakia’s legal system. The European Charter of Regional or Minority Languages, which was ratified by Parliament in December 2000, guarantees above-standard protection for ethnic minorities living in Slovakia. For the time being, Slovakia lacks a non-discrimination law; however, the Section of Human Rights, Minorities and Regional Development at the Slovak Government’s Office is expected to submit such a proposal shortly.

Nevertheless, Slovakia could do more to protect ethnic minorities. To begin with, the wording of the Slovak Constitution’s preamble must be changed to emphasize the civic character of the state. Its current wording emphasizes nationality [the Constitution was amended on February 23, 2001, but no change in the preamble was adopted; on the other hand, an ombudsman institution was established, which may be of some help to the Roma in the future ed. note].

It would also be desirable to abolish the 5% voter support requirement for parliamentary representation for political parties representing ethnic minorities. Finally, the implementation of affirmative action would help the situation of the Roma. However, these are measures which imply an above-standard approach towards ethnic minorities. They are not required by any international organization, and their adoption would give Slovakia more tolerant laws even compared to many EU member states.

Cabinet Documents Designed to Solve Roma Problems

Since the 1989 fall of Communism, Slovak society has begun to recognize that the Romany issue also has an ethical, cultural, economic, political, and socio-political dimension. Slovak opinions regarding possible solutions indicate a high degree of solidarity.

Since 1991, the Slovak Government has initiated and approved three minor legal regulations on the Roma. The first was adopted by the Slovak Government in 1991 (Principles of Government Policy Regarding the Roma). However, the conception was not implemented until 1992 parliamentary elections, and the new government of the independent Slovak Republic did not elaborate on the conception.

A 1996 document called Conception of an Approach to Citizens Requiring Special Care was largely based on the previous concept. The one tangible result of the new concept was the establishment of the Office of the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Citizens Requiring Special Care. Office staff members spent the following two years creating a concept for the government’s new approach to the Roma. In November 1997, the cabinet adopted the Slovak Government’s Conceptual Plans Regarding Solving Problems of the Roma. The new government concept analyzed Roma problems and considered solutions; it also gave an overview of other countries’ approaches to the issue, and outlined ways of financing relevant activities from the state budget until 2002 (Vasecka, 1999).

Throughout 1998, the Office of the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Citizens Requiring Special Care worked within the framework of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family, the most important institution in terms of solving the problems of the Romany minority. The office was headed by Branislav Baláz, a non-Roma who became a member of the Romany Civic Initiative (ROI) during his term in office. Following the change in Government after the 1998 parliamentary elections, the Dzurinda administration abolished the office and established a new Office of the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Solving the Problems of the Romany Minority, which worked under the auspices of the Slovak Government’s Office. Appointed to the post of Government Plenipotentiary was Vincent Danihel, a Roma who began his term in office on March 1, 1999. Shortly after its establishment, the office began to design the Government’s new strategy for solving the problems of the Romany minority (Vasecka, 1999).

The new strategy was presented to the cabinet by Pál Csáky, Deputy Prime Minister for Human and Minority Rights and Regional Development. The strategy comprised two stages. On September 27, 1999, the cabinet approved a document called Resolution No.821/1999 regarding the Strategy of the Slovak Government to Solve the Problems of the Romany Minority and the Set of Implementation Measures 1st stage.

The strategy’s first stage described the current state of the Romany population in Slovakia and proffered solutions. The strategy is well-designed, especially in the fields of culture and education and in defining discrimination against the Roma.

On the other hand, the strategy’s weakness is its chapter on social security. It identifies all the main problems facing the Roma, such as unemployment, lack of job opportunities on the labor market, and deficiencies in the connection between the social security benefits system and the unemployment benefits system. Unfortunately, the proposals suggested by the strategy are vague. But perhaps the most important aspect of the new strategy is that it recognizes the urgency to begin implementing concrete projects as soon as possible.

It is not sensible to create a new Roma strategy every time a new administration takes office. If adjustments had been made to the November 1997 strategy, it could have been applied immediately after the 1998 elections, provided that the new administration had designed an approach. It is possible that a new administration elected to office in the 2002 parliamentary elections will again establish a new government approach to the Romany issue, which will take half of that administration’s term to prepare.

On May 5, 2000, the cabinet began the second stage of the scheme, approving a document called Elaborated Strategy of the Slovak Government to Solve the Problems of the Romany Ethnic Minority, which transformed the initial strategy into a set of concrete measures planned for 2000. The new strategy is much more detailed than the original strategy from September 1999, not only on particular spheres of activity but also on concrete institutions which will be held responsible for the strategy’s implementation on the national, regional, district and local levels.

Based on a 1999 resolution, the cabinet charged particular ministers and heads of regional public administration bodies with turning the strategy into concrete measures for 2000, including proposed schemes of funding from their own state budgets. By doing this, the designers of the strategy got public administration authorities at all levels involved and, perhaps more importantly, connected the public administration’s activities with those of non-governmental organizations.

The strategy is based on civic principles; however, it also emphasizes the need for affirmative action laws in the future. The strategy deals with the most critical problems first. The problem areas have been put in the following order: human rights, education, unemployment, housing, social security, health care. However, in a number of the strategy’s chapters, the allocation of funds to concrete tasks is unclear. Also, some tasks require massive funding which will be impossible to obtain from budgetary funds, not only from the 2000 state budget but from all state budgets the current administration will have at its disposal until the end of its term in office.

Despite these drawbacks, the Elaborated Strategy to Solve the Problems of the Romany Ethnic Minority is the most detailed and complex concept adopted by any Slovak administration since 1989, thanks to its precise definition of the problems and tasks at hand, and its focus on marginalized regions and sub-regions as well as areas hit most severely by the hardships of economic transformation.

Institutional Solutions to the Romany Issue in 1999 and 2000

Under Danihel’s leadership, the Office of the Slovak Government’s Plenipotentiary for Solving the Problems of the Romany Minority focused on its own establishment and networking in anticipation of becoming more significant in the future. It also concentrated on designing the government’s two-stage strategy for tackling the problems of the Romany minority. The plenipotentiary is appointed and removed by the cabinet, and his office reports to the Slovak Government’s Office, a positive change from the past. Consequently, the Office of the Plenipotentiary is equal in status to the Section of Human Rights, Minorities, and Regional Development at the Slovak Government’s Office. Unfortunately, the activities and jurisdiction of both bodies overlap in certain areas, and their mutual communication is often blocked.

Through the Office of the Plenipotentiary, the cabinet approved concrete projects for tackling the problems of the Romany community. In the state budget for 2000, the cabinet allocated 30 million Slovak crowns for this purpose (15 million crowns for projects designed to solve the problems of the Romany community, and 15 million crowns for the social and cultural needs of the Romany community). Danihel’s secretariat is responsible for the selection of particular projects and the subsequent evaluation of their implementation.

Several government institutions and agencies are responsible for tackling the Romany issue and carrying out activities designed to improve the Roma’s social status in Slovakia, including the Education Ministry (Section of Education on Ethnically Mixed Territories, State Pedagogic Institute, Methodical Centers and the Clubs of Teachers of Romany Children that work under their auspices), the Culture Ministry (Section of Minority Cultures), the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family (Section of Health Care, Section of Family Policy) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Department of Human Rights).

Before 1999, regional and district state administration offices dealt with the Romany issue only marginally. Even when desire was shown to solve problems, plans often remained on paper only, leaving the responsibility for action up to energetic individuals or local non-governmental organizations which requested grants through district or regional bodies of the state administration. Because of its ambition to address the issue, it may be assumed that the Elaborated Strategy of the Slovak Government to Solve the Problems of the Romany Minority from May 2000 intends significantly to change the approach of regional and district offices in this respect. While a number of the ongoing and planned activities of these bodies respect the specifics of Slovakia’s individual regions, the Government’s strategy tries to coordinate their activities.

During the first official visit of President Rudolf Schuster to the Czech Republic in July 1999, the Slovak Presidential Office came up with a proposal for a joint Czech-Slovak strategy to deal with problems of the Romany minority. The result of this initiative was supposed to be a pilot project that would be applicable to the other countries of the Visegrad Four as well (including Hungary and Poland); however, the initiative has since lapsed, and today the project has been almost totally forgotten.

The Roma and Politics

The first registered attempt to establish an official Romany association in Slovakia was in 1948; it failed and the Roma had to wait for a somewhat more successful attempt in 1968. Nevertheless, due to the character of the communist regime, the Roma did not have a chance to establish their own political representation until 1989. This lack of organized political representation hurts the Roma as well as state administration representatives, who often fail to cope with the Romany issue (Vasecka, 1999).

Societal changes in November 1989 brought a radical change in this respect. Within a short period of time, several dozen Romany associations, cultural organizations and political parties were established. Ever since its birth in 1990, though, the Romany political scene has been strongly fragmented; it is little surprise that Romany political parties in Slovakia have never been successful in parliamentary elections.

In June 1990, the Romany Civil Initiative (ROI) ran in the first democratic parliamentary elections following more than 40 years of communist rule; in the Czech Republic it did so in coalition with Civic Forum party, in Slovakia it teamed up with the Public Against Violence party, both of which were instrumental in bringing down the communist regime. The ROI obtained four seats in the Federal Assembly, Czechoslovakia’s Parliament, and one mandate in the Slovak National Council, Slovakia’s Parliament.

Following the 1990 elections, though, the Romany political movement began to splinter, dissipating its political weight. In a sad manifestation of this process, the ROI decided to run in the 1992 parliamentary elections as an independent political party. However, it failed to drum up enough support, and after receiving only 0.53% of votes, Romany representatives were again eliminated from top politics.

In 2000, the Interior Ministry registered a total of 18 Romany political parties. A number of unregistered Romany political parties are also active in Slovakia, many of which have regional or local importance; some of them represent Roma living in eastern Slovakia, Hungarian-speaking Roma, Vlachika Roma, or even Roma from a specific locality (e.g. the Luník IX housing project in the eastern Slovak city of Kosice).

Between 1998 and 2000, representatives of Romany political parties tried to unify the smaller parties into a single party that would stand a chance of success in parliamentary elections. Before the 1998 parliamentary elections, there were intense negotiations between the three most influential Romany political parties at the time ROI, the Romany Intelligentsia for Coexistence in Slovakia (RIS), and the Party for the Protection of Romany Rights in Slovakia (SOPR).

In the end, though, hopes for unification were dashed when the ROI, led by Ján Kompus, began to cooperate with Vladimír Meciar’s Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) while the RIS, led by Ladislav Fízik, signed a treaty on a joint election campaign with Mikulás Dzurinda’s Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), the political arch rival of the HZDS. Apparently, both Romany political parties had great expectations of their respective agreements; however, after the elections it became clear that neither Slovak party was prepared to establish a real partnership. SDK leaders largely forgot their allies in the RIS and the joint agreement; the ROI, for its part, was staggered when Kompus died during the election campaign. Gejza Adam became the party’s new chairman, and began his tenure by criticizing the former party leadership for its cooperation with the HZDS.

The 1998 parliamentary elections catalyzed developments on the Romany political scene, and the creation of a single Roma party appeared imminent. But subsequent developments within the RIS showed that the Romany political scene was not prepared for a ‘Romany coalition’ just yet. The appointment of the Government Plenipotentiary for Solving the Problems of the Romany Minority caused a conflict between RIS Vice-Chairman Tibor Lorán and Fízik, and the party soon thereafter split. Fízik’s faction changed its name to the Romany Intelligentsia for Coexistence (RIZS), while Lorán’s kept the trademark RIS, but changed the party’s full name to the Romany Initiative of Slovakia. These internal power struggles caused considerable damage to the entire Romany political scene.

At the beginning of September 1999, representatives of 14 Roma political parties signed a joint agreement establishing the Coalition Council of Romany Political Parties. Over the course of 2000, attempts to further unite Romany parties continued. In October, the efforts of Romany leaders, especially from the ROI and RIZS, were rewarded when 14 Roma political parties and 37 Roma non-governmental organizations signed an agreement on a joint strategy for the 2002 parliamentary elections. The agreement was the most remarkable achievement so far in Romany political unification. It states that all Roma political parties will team up behind the ROI, the oldest and most consolidated Romany political party in Slovakia. The unification of Romany politicians was welcomed by the Slovak public, and a number of parliamentary parties endorsed the move.

The greatest political obstacle for the Roma is the requirement that all parties obtain 5% of the popular vote in order to qualify for representation in Parliament. Given the number of Roma in Slovakia and their demographic characteristics (i.e. the high proportion of children under 18 and their low literacy rate), it appears almost impossible for even a single Romany party to cross the 5% threshold for parliamentary representation. Some ROI representatives claim they can obtain 700,000 votes in the next elections, but this is absolutely unrealistic. Demographer Boris Valo believes that such results will not be achieved by the Roma for several decades at least.

To assure the Roma parliamentary representation, the 5% rule must be abolished for political parties representing ethnic minorities. But the idea has not been seriously contemplated. If implemented, Slovakia would have above-standard protecting for the rights of ethnic minorities, but one which is not necessary for the country’s western ambitions.

Other countries, for instance Poland, have implemented such legislation with positive results. The complexity of the Romany issue and the Roma’s deteriorating socio-economic situation present a challenge which requires the interest and concern of Slovakia’s majority population, as well as the possible use of affirmative action to aid minority political parties.

The Romany Issue as a Topic for the Majority Political Parties

The period of 1999 to 2000 saw a remarkable shift in how the Romany issue was perceived by political parties in Slovakia. Virtually every politician addressed Romany problems and presented their views on the Romany issue, which was a dramatic change from the past.

The intensified focus on the Roma issue awoke various opinions on the matter. At one end were political parties which honestly searched for positive solutions to Romany problems even at the expense of the majority population (the leftist Democratic Left Party (SDL), the free-market Democratic Party (DS)). At the other end were political parties which abused the public’s negative attitude towards the Roma (the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS), the non-parliamentary Smer). A third category of political parties included the Christian Democrats (KDH) and the HZDS; in public statements, both parties focused on issues such as the rule of law, and emphasized crimes committed by the Roma. Unlike HZDS representatives, though, KDH representatives never made explicit anti-Romany statements.

The newly established Smer party used the Roma issue more effectively than any other party to bolster voter support. Party boss Robert Fico skillfully blended proposals for anti-Romany laws with pro-minority statements in an effort to disperse and negative consequences of his controversial initiatives aimed at the Roma.

This ‘sugar and the whip’ policy was typified by Fico’s initiative to submit two bills to Parliament at once. The first was a Criminal Code amendment which would make a larceny on private property, then classified as trespass, a criminal offense, regardless of the damages incurred. The second bill aimed to amend the Law on Public Holidays and Red-letter Days, and establish September 9 as the Day of Commemorating the Victims of the Holocaust and Racial Violence. Parliament approved both proposals at the end of October.

Fico also addressed the issue of “Roma economic tourism”, his name for the Roma migration to EU member states. Fico said that Slovak Roma were taking advantage of EU member states’ generous asylum laws, and that they were indifferent to the harm they were causing Slovakia’s image abroad. Therefore, he submitted in January 2000 an amendment of the Social Assistance Law, which would delete the provision which “entitles citizens to receive social security benefits for two months, even while abroad”. The amendment also introduced a sanction according to which “a citizen loses the right to receive social security benefits for a period of one year if he speculatively leaves the country with the intention of obtaining an unearned profit by applying for political asylum” (this was Fico’s understanding of the motive for the Roma exodus).

Juraj Hrabko, then director of the Section of Human Rights, Minorities, and Regional Development at the Slovak Government’s Office, labeled Fico’s proposals populist and added that it was unthinkable that “a democratic country would introduce any kind of sanctions against its own citizens just because they have decided to apply for political asylum abroad” (Romano Lil Nevo, No. 416 – 423).

The SNS approached the Romany issue in a rather reactionary manner, showing little consideration for groups who condemned radicalism against the Roma. SNS Chairwoman Anna Malíková said that the Roma problem was a time bomb, and that Slovakia could ill-afford to have a large group of people who did not produce but only consumed (social benefits), because it would hinder the country’s economic development.

The SNS in August 2000 submitted a proposal to Parliament which sought to amend the Children’s Allowance Law, the Social Assistance Law, and the Taxation Law. These amendments aimed to take away social security benefits from parents who are unemployed and do not provide for their children.

Over the course of 2000, the SNS and Smer repeatedly made various uninformed and disingenuous statements on the Romany minority’s demographic situation which indirectly increased tensions between the Roma and the majority. In June 2000, during his official visit to eastern Slovakia, Fico repeatedly commented on the Roma ‘population boom’ in Slovakia. According to Fico, between 2010 and 2015, “Slovakia may have 1.2 million Roma, 800,000 of whom will be dependent on social assistance.”

Fico then presented the philosophy behind his party’s approach to the Roma issue:

“Roma are inhabitants of the Slovak Republic, and the state should be strict in demanding they observe all laws. But it has failed miserably in this respect. State administration organs must be strict in making sure that the Roma observe the law. Those state administration organs which fail in this task must be punished as an example to others.”

The Romany Third Sector

The Interior Ministry currently registers 60 civil society associations, three foundations, one non-investment fund, and one non-profit organization founded by the Roma. Considering the ratio of the Romany population to the overall Slovak total, the number of organizations is much smaller than one might expect. Given the number of non-governmental organizations founded by members of the majority population, the number of Romany groups should be at least 20 times greater.

Nevertheless, the Romany issue is being dealt with in Slovakia by dozens of non-governmental organizations founded by members of the majority population. Some have achieved great success in enhancing socio-economic status of the Roma and in spreading tolerance. Due to the experience and professional standard of these organizations, a significant proportion of the finances allocated to Romany projects is handled by them. In other words, from the Romany point of view, they are the target of too many projects, and the administrators of far too few.

The Roma have repeatedly pointed this out; however, the professional standard of many projects submitted by Romany applicants has been low. Nevertheless, it was encouraging to see the projects of many Roma organizations improve, and the activities of Roma non-governmental organizations in general become noticeably more professional.

Hand in hand with its increasing professionalism, the entire Romany third sector became more emancipated between 1999 and 2000; for the first time since 1989, the Romany third sector strove to become independent. The third sector has also promoted the idea of the Roma being represented exclusively by Romany organizations founded by the Roma. However, this otherwise logical desire carries the risk that Romany non-governmental organizations will become segregated from the majority population’s non-governmental organizations. Furthermore, it would not be in line with the ethos of civil society, since it is based on the principle of ethnicity. On the other hand, the Roma’s representation in the Committee of the Third Sector (Grémium tretieho sektora – G3S) is negligible, and the Roma quite rightly feel marginalized.

In October 1999, representatives of many Romany organizations convened in the town of Smizany and agreed to establish a special agency for serving Romany non-governmental organizations which would pave the way for the creation the Romany Third Sector, an independent association of Romany non-governmental organizations. According to the original concept, the Service Agency would have a regional network, while various expert sections would work at the agency’s headquarters.

But following repeated meetings of the group, represented by the Roma-Gemer organization and G3S representatives, the Romany activists seemed to realize the consequences of a split from the G3S, and partially gave up their intentions. This is not to say that the idea of enhancing the influence of Romany non-governmental organizations over the financing of projects designed for the Romany minority was illegitimate. The initiative can even be evaluated positively in that it would increase the participation of Romany non-governmental organizations in solving the Romany issue.

Besides the initiative to establish the independent Romany Third Sector, two other initiatives sought to coordinate the activities of organizations dealing with the Romany issue. The first was a project called Consortium of Organizations for Helping the Roma, which was developed by the Sándor Márai Foundation and unites various Romany and non-Romany celebrities and organizations.

Similar principles guided the creation of the first Regional Association of Romany Initiatives (KARI) in Banská Bystrica, which united the representatives of 14 Romany and non-Romany civil society associations, six local self-governments, the regional state administration office in Banská Bystrica, and a diocesan charity organization. The main objective of the KARI is to coordinate, on the regional level, the activities of various organizations dealing with the Romany issue in the fields of education, employment and business, and in encouraging a positive public opinion of the minority. If similar regional associations of Romany initiatives were established in other regions of Slovakia, the Government and the state administration would gain an important partner in their quest to solve the Romany issue.

Discrimation against the Roma and Racially Motivated Violence

The Roma in Slovakia are frequent victims of several forms of discrimination. The majority population feels various kinds of prejudices against the Roma, which in turn find expression in latent, overt or extreme racism. Since the latent form of racism is the most widespread of all, it affects the Roma’s everyday lives more negatively. The Roma confront displays of latent racism every day in their contact with state administration and self-government organs, on public transportation, in restaurants and other catering facilities, in medical establishments, when applying for or taking jobs, or simply as customers in shops. Overt forms of racism are less frequent in Slovakia, but some of their most fiery heralds can be found in the national Parliament. Extreme forms of racism are rather uncommon; nevertheless, neo-Nazi groups in Slovakia have strengthened and grown more bold and self-confident over recent years.

A typical display of latent discrimination against the Roma is that a note of their ethnicity is made in the dossiers of any Roma who come into official contact with state authorities. Until recently, it was routine for labor bureau officers to write the letter “R” in dossiers of Roma job applicants. In 1999, the Dzurinda administration ordered this discriminatory and illegal practice to be discontinued; however, officers at many labor bureaus then began to write the letter “B” (for “biely” or “white”) in the dossiers of majority population applicants. The Slovak Army also makes a record of a recruit’s ethnicity, which consequently influences the placement of a Romany conscript.

The Roma also encounter discrimination from locally-elected governments, especially when they apply for permanent residence in a village or want to change their residence within the village. An even more flagrant violation of Roma rights occurred when two eastern Slovak towns (Nagov and Rokytovce in July 1997) refused to allow Roma within the town limits; it took almost two years before state authorities finally forced the local governments to lift their bans in May 1999.

Medical establishments, especially in eastern Slovakia, employ a variety of means to discriminate against their Romany patients. The range of discriminatory tactics in the health service is broad: drawing up special consulting hours exclusively for the Roma (as happened in Kosice), having separate rooms for Romany and non-Romany expectant mothers (Krompachy), or the refusal of an ambulance crew to enter a Romany settlement (Presov district).

Roma also face extreme discrimination in restaurants, and in the service industry in general. Some restaurants and hotels have become known for their practice of not allowing Romany customers to enter (for instance, Hotel Slovan in Kosice). Police indifference and the consequent lack of penalties has allowed the practice to go unchallenged for many years now.

Repressive police measures are another form of discrimination against the Roma. The Roma repeatedly complain that the police treat them differently from other citizens. Police officers often discriminate against the Roma during investigations, especially through the following practices:

– refusing to press charges against perpetrators of racially-motivated assaults on the Roma;

– ignoring the racial aspect of assaults on the Roma;

– altering the charges pressed against perpetrators of racially motivated assaults on the Roma;

– denying the existence of violence against the Roma in general.

The Roma complain of the unwillingness of police to investigate racially-motivated assaults. Many policemen excuse their refusal to investigate racial beatings by claiming that an assault on a Roma cannot be classified as racially-motivated, since the Roma are members of the same Indo-European race as ethnic Slovaks.

Many Slovak judges also evaluate cases of racially-motivated assaults on the Roma with the same mentality. They punish a criminal offense motivated by race hatred as a normal crime, and refuse to acknowledge the racial motive, reasoning that from an anthropological viewpoint, the Roma are white. Slovakia’s Criminal Code imposes stricter punishments if a crime is deemed to have been motivated by the victim’s “political beliefs, different nationality, race, denomination, or because the victim is non-denominational.” As we see, the law does not distinguish between different ethnic groups.

Ján Hrubala, the former Chief Justice of the Banská Bystrica Regional Court and an expert on minority rights issues, pointed out a rather paradoxical phenomenon: “If, for instance, skinheads beat up a Kurd on a tram, it can not be qualified as a racially-motivated assault. But if they beat up a Turk, [the judge] must then contemplate a racial motive” (Romano Lil Nevo, No. 435 – 447). Therefore, the concept of race and the term “racial motivation” should be interpreted differently than they currently are in Slovakia’s judicial system.

The year 2000 was significant in this regard, as it saw the first ever conviction for a racially-motivated crime against a Roma victim. Three white men who attacked Ivan Mako, a Romany student at the University of Matej Bel in Banská Bystrica, while calling him a “a dirty Gypsy” were sentenced to jail in April 2000 by the Banská Bystrica District Court. On average, the punishment for each assailant was two years stiffer than it would have been had the assault not been considered racially motivated.

This landmark decision was a victory for those who argue that the laws should distinguish between different ethnic groups so that judges have no doubts on how to evaluate particular cases. The idea was endorsed by Pavel Rohárik, Chairman of the Association of Slovak Judges.

Racism in Slovakia’s Political Culture

In Slovakia, even the top representatives of political parties still contribute to the racist tradition in Slovak politics. Representatives of some political parties use blatantly racist statements to bolster popularity, specifically representatives of the SNS.

Following a Romany migration on January 14, 2000 to a western Europe state, Jaroslav Paska, SNS First Vice-Chairman, said: “By their activities, the Gypsies are erecting a barbed-wire fence around Slovakia which prevents all Slovak citizens from traveling abroad.” On July 28, 2000, during a period in which the Roma were accused of raiding farmers’ fields for potatoes, the SNS called on all citizens to protect their property by all possible means, and suggested that they even use “their own bodies.” The SNS called on the Ministers of Interior and Defense to employ the army and police to protect crops in the fields. “The government should address this agricultural disaster, [represented by] raids by swarming Gypsy locusts on our fields,” said SNS Vice-Chairman Dusan Maslonka, adding that “before the Farmers’ Law is passed, the Gypsies will have stolen the entire harvest.”

At a party press conference on August 4, 2000, SNS MP Vítazoslav Moric proposed the creation of “American type reservations” for maladjusted Roma. He explained:

“If we do not create [reservations] for [the Gypsies] now, the Gypsies will create them for us in 20 years. An overwhelming majority of mentally retarded people are born in Gypsy communities. What is humane about allowing one retard to father another retard, and allowing the number of retards and morons in our nation to increase?”

Moric’s statements aroused a great public outcry. On the same day he made them, the Civil Democratic Youth and the Slovak Romany Initiative filed a motion for Moric’s criminal prosecution for inciting ethnic and racial hatred and for defamation of a nation, race and conviction. On August 18, 2000, the case investigator with the Bratislava I District Bureau of Investigation requested that Parliament approve Moric’s criminal prosecution. On September 21, 2000, Parliament issued the approval.

The parliamentary debate which preceded the vote on surrendering Moric for criminal prosecution produced several surprising moments, but none more disappointing than the statements of SNS and HZDS MPs, which surpassed even Moric’s outburst in their radicalism and hatred toward the Roma.

The SITA news agency quoted HZDS MP Michal Drobny as saying: “How do you want to punish [the Roma] if they are like animals in terms of their humanity and senses? They live like pagans, they are amoral, and this is the very source of the massive aggression against them.” Drobny added that the Roma should indeed be isolated because, among other factors, they carry contagious diseases. Unlike Moric, Drobny cannot be prosecuted for his statements, since he made them on the grounds of Parliament.

Meanwhile, regular Slovak citizens used a more modern form of spreading racism. Over the summer, an SMS message called “Roming” began to circulate on Slovak mobile phone networks, offering 50 minutes of free calling for every 10 murdered Roma. An unpleasant aspect of the case was that many phone users forwarded the message to their friends, as one might do with a hilarious joke.

Racism in Slovakia by Numbers

Slovakia began keeping statistics on racial hatred in 1996, on the basis of data and information provided by district and regional state administration bodies. Complaints and motions for criminal prosecution are monitored and recorded by the Justice Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the General Attorney’s Office. More than half of the data recorded are not related to physical violence, but rather to the following criminal offenses: defamation of a nation, race, and/or conviction (Article 198 of the Criminal Code); inciting ethnic and racial hatred (Article 198a of the Criminal Code); and support and promotion of movements aiming to suppress personal liberties (Articles 260 and 261 of the Criminal Code).

Between 1990 and 1998, the General Attorney’s Office recorded 45 criminal offenses involving suspected racial motives. Most of the racially-motivated cases involved a Roma victim rather than a Roma culprit. Over the same period, there were 132 cases of bodily harm; Roma were the aggrieved party in 71.2% of them, majority Slovaks in 17.4%. According to statistics from the General Attorney’s Office, 32 people were criminally prosecuted for racially-motivated offenses in 1998; in 1999 that number increased to 43. Statistical data from the General Attorney’s Office and the Interior Ministry are not identical, because the former institution registers only perpetrators whose criminal prosecution has been concluded, while the latter registers the total number of reported criminal acts.

The Roma and the Media

Between 1999 and 2000, coverage of the Roma in Slovakia’s periodical press experienced a renaissance, while simultaneously showing signs of pluralism. Although coverage of the Romany issue continues to be problematic, certain positive trends have been seen in that more press are focusing on the minority. The Culture Ministry extends financial subsidies to six Romany periodicals. In 1999, it allocated a total of 4,449,000 crowns for this purpose.

The most respected Romany periodical in Slovakia is Romano Lil Nevo, which is officially a weekly but is actually published only occasionally. Published in the eastern Slovak town of Presov since 1991 by the independent association JEKHETANE SPOLU (Together), it has a circulation of 8,500 and its editor-in-chief is Daniela Silanová-Hivesová, a Slovak writer of Romany fairy tales. In total, only six issues of Romano Lil Nevo were published between the summer of 1999 and October 2000, mostly due to the lack of funding and the irregularity of subsidies from the Culture Ministry.

The 1993 Radio and Television Broadcasting Law offers the possibility to “produce and commission a production of [Š] broadcasts which will preserve and develop the cultural identity [Š] of ethnic minorities and ethnic groups living in the Slovak Republic.” Based on a government resolution, a specialized news review focused on the Roma called Romale is broadcast once a month by the public Slovak Television (STV). The news review is produced by STV studios in Bratislava, Banská Bystrica, and Kosice by experts in the Romany field. From 1999 to 2000, there were no problems with the regularity of broadcasting, nor did we see sloppy or anti-Romany editions of the Romale news review as had sometime occurred in previous years.

Radio broadcasting for the Roma is produced on a nationwide level by the Ethnic Broadcasting editorial office at the Presov studio of public Slovak Radio. Its weekly radio broadcast, called O Roma vakeren Hovoria Rómovia, features 20 minutes of news and information on Roma culture. The Banská Bystrica studio of Slovak Radio provides religious broadcasting for the Roma through its program Balvajeskere Chave.

Between January and December 1999, the first annual Preparatory Course for Romany Journalists in Slovakia was jointly organized by the Center of Independent Journalism and the InfoRoma foundation. The main objective of the project is to give young Roma access to print and electronic media. Eight graduates of the course’s first year completed a study visit to Slovakia’s most prestigious media, and upon graduation most went on to work for local television stations. In 2000, the course successfully completed its second year.

Debate on the Romany Issue in Non-Roma Media

While Slovakia intensified its efforts to join the EU, there was a dramatic growth in coverage of the Roma issue by Slovak media which, besides news reports, began producing analyses, expert articles and features on the issue. The natural heterogeneity of the Slovak media (in terms of ideology, quality and target group) was clearly manifested through their coverage of the Romany issue.

Most mainstream media tried to preserve balance and accuracy when reporting on the Roma; in this respect, Slovakia’s mainstream media are relatively mature and developed. Differences between individual Slovak media can be identified in their efforts to view Roma problems from ‘another perspective’, in their level of empathy and attempts to present how the majority population is perceived by the minority.

The sudden wave of migrations by Slovak Roma to EU states had a significant impact on the frequency of news about the Roma in Slovak media. An analysis by the Slovak Helsinki Committee (SHV) in 2000 suggested a direct connection between reporting on the Romany migration and on the introduction of visa requirements for Slovaks by various EU member states.

According to an analysis of Roma coverage in Slovak print and electronic media for the 12 month period between June 1, 1998, and May 31, 1999, news about the Roma can be divided into six basic categories: human and civil rights, public and political issues, social and psychological characteristics, criminality, education and culture, and welfare issues. News covered in the category of human and civil rights consisted, besides other issues, of the Romany migrations (which formed about one third of such news).

The migrations of the Slovak Roma to EU member states did not constitute the majority of Slovak media coverage of the Roma. Nevertheless, the SHV analysis and monitoring of three influential Slovak dailies performed by the Institute for Public Affairs suggest that the efforts of some Roma to acquire asylum in EU states directly motivated most Slovak media to increase their coverage of the Roma issue. Although the issues and angles chosen by those media are often not related to migration, their interest in the Roma is demonstrably influenced by the importance of the issue for Slovakia’s western ambitions.

For the time being, the SHV analysis remains the only media analysis in Slovakia concerning the issue of Romany migrations to EU member states, which is surprising considering that this very topic was the most sensitive aspect of Slovakia’s EU integration and sparked a broad public debate over the Slovak majority’s attitude to its most marginalized ethnic minority.

The independent civil society association MEMO 98 monitored the main evening news programs of the three most influential Slovak TV stations the private TV Markíza, Slovak Television (STV), and the private TV Luna from November 27, 1999 until February 28, 2000. The results suggest that Romany asylum seekers ranked among the five most important themes covered by Luna and the STV.

Foreign observers, especially those from EU member states, who are interested in the situation of the Slovak Roma repeatedly ask about the importance the Slovak media attaches to the Roma, indicates that representatives of EU member states have the impression that the topic is neglected by the Slovak media.

But according to the monitoring performed by MEMO 98, the reality is quite the opposite. The survey monitored the time devoted to particular ethnic minorities by selected Slovak media between January 1 and March 31, 2000, and delivered an astonishing conclusion: while the time devoted to the Roma by Slovakia’s five most influential electronic media totaled 3 hours, 19 minutes and 2 seconds, the time devoted to the Hungarian minority was only 7 minutes and 46 seconds; the Ruthenian minority received 1 minute and 33 seconds of coverage; the Czech, Polish, and Ukrainian minorities were not given any broadcasting time at all. In percentages, only 4.68% of screen time at the country’s five most influential electronic media to went to ethnic minorities in Slovakia; 95.32% of that time concerned the Roma.

Roma Migration to EU Member States

The migration of the Roma to EU member states continued from 1999 to 2000. Many of the destination countries tried to protect themselves from the immigration waves by introducing visa regimes, sparking an intense and often emotional public debate. By that time, however, many Roma were already returning to Slovakia or had been brought back by Slovak authorities. Their return exposed the Roma’s lack of readiness to re-integrate into society, and the disinterest among state authorities in help them do so.

The Romany migrations drew the attention of EU representatives interested in Slovakia’s human and minority rights protection. Because the country’s integration efforts were jeopardized by the issue, in July 1999 Deputy Prime Minister Pál Csáky and Deputy Foreign Minister Ján Figel established an interdepartmental committee to tackle problems related to the migration.

It is not easy to establish a clear profile of the typical Romany asylum seeker from Slovakia according to classic demographic categories. Most asylum seekers came from the Kosice and Michalovce districts, especially from the town of Michalovce and the villages of Pavlovce nad Uhom and Malcice. The typical Romany asylum seeker:

– hails from eastern Slovakia (the western Slovak territories have remained virtually unaffected by Romany migrations);

– speaks Slovak (Hungarian-speaking Roma do not often migrate);

– resides in towns and larger villages (smaller villages and settlements have also remained virtually unaffected);

– enjoys an above-average social status (most migrants are recruited especially from among members of the Romany middle class);

– has an above-average education (most migrating Roma have completed primary, some of them even secondary, education);

– has experience of work outside his own region (among migrants, a significant number of Roma have worked in remote regions of Slovakia or abroad in Prague or in the mining region of northern Moravia);

– as far as Romany sub-ethnic differentiation is concerned, most migrants are Rumungres and not Vlachika Roma (although in terms of their habits and traditions, Vlachika Roma are much closer to the nomadic way of life than Rumungres).

When evaluating the migrations, two controversial opinions prevail among Slovak citizens. While the Roma explain their migration as a result of the discrimination they face, most members of the majority population label the migrations as “ethno-tourism.” Both are half-truths, comfortable ways of avoiding a search for the more complicated truth.

Migration is merely one of the many strategies used by local Romany communities to solve their problems. If a particular Romany community chooses migration over other strategies, it is usually due to a combination of the following factors (Vasecka, Imrich, 2000):

The existence of an example, and informal information and assistance: Any Roma who has successfully solved his socio-economic situation through migration provides detailed information on the necessary methods and procedures to people he feels connected to. Subsequently, he becomes an example, a model to be followed by others. This information spreads through Romany communities. The result is a mass migration, an originally spontaneous movement which then attracts speculators who profit from helping organize the movement (as was the case in Pavlovce nad Uhom).

Legislative measures and calculation of profit: During their stay abroad, some Roma managed to collect and save significant amounts of money if they had the financial discipline. But given that certain Slovak laws may also be an incentive to migrate, even those who are not able to save large amounts of money may consider migration.

Organized migrations and the indifference of state authorities: Over recent years, usury (money-lending) has become a very lucrative business within the Romany community. There have been cases of Roma who owed money to the local usurer and were forced to emigrate in order to obtain funds to pay off the debt. Other Roma take a loan from the local usurer in order to migrate, and pay it back on their return. There have even been cases of usurers migrating in order to be able to lend money (e.g. from the Luník IX housing project in Kosice).

Racially-motivated violence and the feeling of helplessness: Racially-motivated violence exists in Slovakia, and is a motive to migrate. Each asylum seeker told authorities in his destination EU country that he feared violence in Slovakia. Yet only a small proportion of asylum seekers have been victims of a racially-motivated assault.

One fact that is often disregarded when analyzing the Romany migrations is the internal migration of the Roma within Slovakia after 1989. This was particularly apparent in eastern Slovakia, where the Roma migrate from villages to larger towns; at the same time, other Roma, especially those with lower economic standards, migrate out of towns back to their original settlements. This internal migration has a profoundly socio-economic character, and contributes to the overall trend towards ‘ethnicizing’ poverty in Slovakia. Since Romany migrations within Slovakia in most cases result in de facto segregation, i.e. the creation of urban and rural ghettos, it should be perceived as a negative phenomenon that will generate even more problems in the future and will further undermine society’s efforts to solve the Romany issue.

Demographic Situation of the Roma in Slovakia

The reproductive behavior of the Romany population differs from that of the majority, and is most clearly visible in the different age structure of the Roma compared to the rest of the population. According to the latest population census, held in 1991, the Roma have a high proportion of children under 14 and a low share of senior citizens.

Differences between particular ethnic minorities are predetermined by a number of factors. However, these factors are the most evident in the case of the Roma in terms of the structure and size of the typical Roma family. The most important factors are, for instance, the different long-term birth and mortality rates of the Roma compared to those of Slovakia’s overall population, the high degree of ethnic identity, their low degree of assimilation, their centralization of settlement, and the low proportion of mixed nationality/ethnic marriages.

From the viewpoint of age structure, the largest age category within the Roma are children under 14 who make up as much as 43.4% of the total population (the number is 24.9% for Slovakia’s majority). Young people between 15 and 29 make up 29.8% of the Romany population (22.8% in Slovakia’s majority population). In older age categories, the opposite trend begins to prevail when comparing the Roma to Slovakia’s majority population. People between 30 and 40 represent 17% of the Roma population (22% for the majority), people between 41 and 59 make up 6.2% (14.5% for the majority), and people over 60 represent only 3.6% of the Roma population (14.8% for the majority). The combination of an extremely high birth rate with a relatively high mortality rate means that as many as four out of five Roma are under 34 (Vasecka Dzambazovic, 2000).

Glaring differences can also be observed when comparing the number of children per Romany versus non-Roma woman. On average, a Romany woman gives birth to 4.2 children, almost three times as many compared to an average non-Romany woman (1.51 children). In the case of Romany families living in backward settlements, the average number of children per family is as high as 7.8.

Data on the demographic behavior of the Roma in Slovakia resemble data from developing countries. The Romany population is now at the same phase of development that the majority experienced several decades ago. For instance, the mortality rate among Romany infants recorded in the 1980s were similar to mortality rates among infants in Czechoslovakia during the 1950s. The average life expectancy of the Roma between 1970 and 1980 corresponded to the average life expectancy of Czechoslovakia’s entire population between 1929 and 1933 (in the case of men) and after World War II (in the case of women).

Another difference between the Roma and the majority population is in their settlement structure. While a majority of Slovakia’s population lives in an urban environment (58% of the population at the beginning of the 90s), Romany settlements are still largely rural. Nowadays, most Roma live in villages or on the outskirts of towns, far away from the Slovak majority population.

The settlement structure of the Roma living in urban environments can be differentiated in a similar way they live either integrated into towns, or segregated in urban ghettos or on the outskirts of towns. For the Roma, the traditional way of life is to live in large communities and maintain close relations with a wide circle of relatives.

Romany settlement structures also indicate a significant degree of geographic segregation among the Roma. Regions with a high degree of Roma inhabitants are among the most economically depressed regions of Slovakia, with grave social and economic problems. However, the country will probably avoid massive waves of internal migration, since demand for cheap, unskilled labor has dropped, even in large industrial centers.

Over the course of 1999 to 2000, various Slovak media published demographic estimates which purported to support fears of a dramatic increase in the proportion of the Roma in the overall population. But the only fact which is known for sure is that the Roma population grows more quickly than the majority population. Most estimates (which tend to exaggerate the growth of the Romany population) ignore the fact that the average life expectancy is only 55 years for Romany men and 59 for Romany women. Furthermore, the mortality rate among Romany infants and children is higher than that of the majority population.

Various ill-informed estimates of the Romany population’s demographic trends were presented by representatives of some non-governmental organizations. Unfortunately, their findings then appeared in the media, and were cited by some politicians. The newly-established Smer party, for example, began to profit unscrupulously from re-opening the Romany issue and focusing on opinions about Romany demographic trends, some of which claim that within less than two generations, the Romany minority will become the majority in Slovakia.

During the period from 1999 to 2000, demographer Boris Valo questioned these estimates of Romany demographic development published in the media, pointing out the irrationality of certain estimates given by representatives of Smer and the SNS, who maintained that there would be 1.2 million Roma in Slovakia by 2010. Valo argued that even if all infants born in Slovakia over the next 10 years were Roma, given the current birth rate of the Roma and assuming that none died, the Romany population would still fall far short of 1.2 million (Romano Lil Nevo, No. 448 – 454).

The Social Dependence of the Roma in Slovakia
Roma Unemployment in Slovakia

Between 1999 and 2000, the unemployment rate among the Roma remained extremely high, reaching 100% in several Romany settlements. Exact statistics for Romany unemployment do not exist, and one can only make estimates on the basis of assessing the overall situation in Slovakia’s more troubled regions. Districts with the highest share of Roma are also those districts that are most severely hit by unemployment.

The only data available on Romany unemployment, which still cannot be considered fully representative, are the unofficial data of the Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs and Family, which were recorded by district labor bureau officers who wrote the letter “R” in the dossiers of Romany job applicants (see Graph 1). Since this practice was illegal and discriminatory, it was discontinued. Unfortunately, one negative effect of the decision is that Slovakia now lacks a database on Romany unemployment.

Nevertheless, unofficial data from the previous period show that the number of unemployed Roma in Slovakia is permanently increasing, and that the Roma represent a significant majority of the long-term unemployed in Slovakia. The main factors influencing the high unemployment rate among the Roma are the following: their low level of qualifications, the lack of interest among employers in hiring Roma due to the high supply of workers on the labor market, the poor work ethic of some Roma, the lack of interest among some Roma to find a job on public benefit work projects, and the general scarcity of job opportunities, especially in regions with a large Roma population.

According to expert estimates, approximately 10% of Slovak citizens are dependent on social security benefits, a significant proportion of whom are the Roma. The disbursement of social security benefits to the Roma has become one of the main causes for the growing tension between the minority and the majority population. The majority argues that in doing nothing, the Roma receive large sums of money which they blow on alcohol. The Government’s inability to better plan the disbursement of welfare benefits, and widespread usury among the Roma, argue for the development of a supervisory mechanism through which the government could control the Roma’s spending of their social benefits (Vasecka, 1999).

The institution of the ‘special receiver of disbursed social security benefits’, which was introduced in 1998, has not proven the most viable solution to this situation. The practice meant that instead of money, Roma in certain villages received tokens with which they could purchase goods in selected shops. Another variation of this policy was that a certain part of the benefit would be transferred to the bank account of a village school, which then would use the money to provide food to Romany children. But the first approach required the division of shops based on ethnicity and proscribing who could shop where (as was the case in the village of Jarovnice). The second approach resulted in more frequent absences from school by children of certain Romany families (as was the case in the village of Rudnany).

The most serious objection to the two approaches was that they were implemented across the board, without applying individual criteria. The scheme was tested during the first half of 1999, and the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Family is not now considering a broader application.

On July 1, 2000, an amendment to the Social Assistance Law went into effect, aimed at preventing the Roma from abusing their social security benefits. The amendment stated that social security benefits would be cut in half for those unemployed who had been registered with labor bureaus for 24 consecutive months or longer. Since most of Slovakia’s long-term unemployed are Roma, the effects of the amendment were felt severely in Romany settlements.

Unemployment, especially the long-term and permanent unemployment so common among the Roma, perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the unemployment trap. The Roma become dependent on social security benefits, resulting in a high rate of long-term unemployment. The situation is then passed from one generation to the next. Consequently, the number of families in which both parents and children are permanently unemployed is also increasing; moreover, children have no experience of stable and permanent employment. Hence, all current conditions support a subculture of unemployed Romany youth (Vasecka Dzambazovic, 2000).

Overall, as many as 80% of the Roma depend on welfare (12.5% of the total unemployed, 60% of the children, and 7% of pensioners). Most unemployed young Roma have little chance of finding a job. Those who have finished compulsory school attendance do not usually continue with vocational training. Therefore, they are registered as unemployed and receive unemployment benefits. This situation does not encourage them to continue their education. Furthermore, if a Romany child decides to continue his or her studies, it drains money from the family budget, so parents often discourage their children from continuing their education.

Roma Criminality

Statistically, the rate of crime among the Roma is considerably higher than among the majority population. Criminal offenses committed by the Roma overall are rather high; however, most transgressions are minor offenses. This is due to the fact that a considerable majority of Romany criminality is perpetrated by citizens with low socio-economic and cultural standards, who commit crimes because they are unemployed, their income is low, and they are unable to be economical with their finances. Therefore, for a considerable share of the Roma in Slovakia, crime has become a rational way of solving their situation.

Some factors contributing to the high rate of crime among the Roma are: their unfavorable economic situation, high unemployment, low level of legal conscience, and the inefficiency of the penal system. The most important new factor following the fall of Communism in 1989 is the high proportion of Roma who are addicted to drugs, gambling and other vices.

A common Romany crime is one which secures their very subsistence, through acts such as stealing crops and cutting down trees for firewood.

Over recent years, the most frequent and typical example of this kind of criminality has become the theft of potatoes from fields. Although these crimes are committed by both Roma and non-Roma, the blame tends to be placed exclusively on the Roma, especially in eastern Slovakia where there are more Roma and more potatoes are stolen. Financial damage to these farmers has become quite serious, which has increasingly angered the farmers.

Under the current Criminal Code, crimes such as potato theft are only punishable through fines, causing farmers to demand that it be amended. At the same time, not all farmers have used all the possibilities that current legislation provides regarding the protection of crops. For instance, the Law on Field Guards has been almost totally ignored. The law allows for the creation of field guards who could protect crops with weapons and guard dogs. Unemployed citizens could also patrol the fields within the framework of public benefit work projects.

In 2000, the problem of potato theft was extremely politicized and became part of the agenda of nationalist and populist political parties, especially the SNS and Smer. Smer boss Robert Fico initiated an amendment of the Criminal Code. According to the amendment, which in the United States is known as the Farmers’ Law, the owner of the field would be entitled to employ all available measures to protect his property. Representatives of the SNS, for their part, presented rather militant statements (for further details, see the section headlined Discrimination Against the Roma and Racially-Motivated Violence).

Since the fall of Communism, usury has become a lucrative business in most Romany settlements. Some usurers lend money to their fellow citizens at an interest rate of 100% per month. Consequently, a significant share of the Roma become totally dependent on local usurers. On the day that social security benefits are disbursed, these usurers await their clients and extract their debts, often taking the entire welfare benefit. Forms of extorting money are often drastic, and the position of the usurer is almost unshakable, since he is backed up by his entire family clan. It is almost impossible to intervene from the outside, because debtors are afraid to testify against the usurer.

Of the over 7,000 prisoners who are serving sentences in Slovak prisons, about 40% are Roma. This figure was provided by the Justice Ministry in the summer of 2000, and is rather problematic due to manner of counting and registering Romany prisoners. The problem is that members of the Slovak Penitentiary and Judicial Guard Force performed a rather primitive head count of the Roma, based on examining prisoners’ appearances. The ministry claimed it needed the data for various reasons to do with statistics and prevention; according to the ministry, the data might have an impact on employing the Roma as penitentiary guards.

The Romany Housing Situation in Slovakia

The issue of housing is one of the most pressing problems for the Roma in Slovakia. Their dissatisfaction with the housing situation in general, and the quality of their housing in particular, is one of the main factors affecting the Roma’s own perception of their negative socio-economic situation. Most Roma dwell in unsuitable, sub-standard constructions in towns and villages. But their greatest housing problem is the isolated and segregated character of Romany settlements, which are full of shanties built in a wasted environment lacking even basic infrastructure.

The main factors affecting the housing situation are the following: the Roma’s unfavorable socio-economic situation and their consequent insolvency; the indifference of a certain proportion of Romany families toward solving their housing situation; the devastation of flats that have been allotted to the Roma; arrears in rent and payments for related services; the failure of the Government to apply a differentiated approach when allotting flats to citizens (Vasecka, 1999).

It is impossible to solve the Romany housing problem without solving the problem of the Romany community’s asocial behavior. This conclusion is supported by bitter experiences during the 1980s, when there were attempts to solve the housing problem such as the Luník IX housing estate experiment in Kosice.

In 1980, Romany families were moved into 204 flats in this housing estate following a political decision. However, the decision was implemented without regard for the particular families’ cultural standards and their degree of integration. As a result, the entire housing estate, including the flats, was devastated and has become a ghetto. Non-Roma living in the other 300 flats gradually moved out and were replaced by other Roma.

Since 1989, housing development in Slovakia has been insufficient. Despite various forms of housing savings and a limited amount of money distributed through state housing loans, there is no solid system that would enable a citizen with an average income to obtain a flat within a reasonable period of time. Therefore, public opinion is extremely sensitive regarding any forms of injustice in the field of housing policy, such as questionable allotments of flats or extending loans under too-favorable terms.

This does not apply only to the Roma but also to various other marginalized groups or Slovak expatriates who have been repatriated to Slovakia from the Chernobyl area in Ukraine. The most important task therefore is to support Romany efforts to solve their own housing problems through authorizing regulated construction of dwellings that would comply with at least basic building and housing standards. However, this requires finding suitable building plots, providing engineering supervision, and adopting related legislation. At the same time, it is absolutely vital that the Roma not be forcibly concentrated in isolated urban areas.

Romany Settlements in Slovakia

The issue of Romany settlements is a very frequent topic of discussion among experts and the Slovak media. Similarly, inhabitants of Romany settlements are the frequent target of various development programs sponsored by the state administration and non-governmental organizations. Most of these settlements are extremely backward and face inadequate, sometimes even non-existent, infrastructure poor quality drinking water, poor roads, the absence of public lighting, sewers, gas mains or sanitary installations, inadequate housing conditions, the absence of shops, post offices, schools, etc.

According to official statistics, the number of Romany settlements without public lighting grew from 15 in 1988 to 251 by 1997. Over the same period, the number of Romany settlements without a paved access road grew from 7 to 34.

According to data collected by the Office of the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Solving the Problems of the Romany Minority, at the beginning of 2000 Slovakia had 592 Romany settlements which were inhabited by 124,000 Roma. The most recent figures from the same source collected in the second half of 2000 speak of 616 Romany settlements accommodating 126,046 Roma. As many as 252 of these settlements with 53,057 inhabitants are located in the Presov region, which means that almost half of all Slovak Roma who live in settlements are concentrated in this region. In the Kosice region there are 153 settlements with 38,373 inhabitants, while the Banská Bystrica region has 110 settlements with 11,262 people.

However, these figures may be misleading because it is uncertain what criteria data collectors used when deciphering what, in fact, constitutes a ‘Romany settlement’. Data on the number of Romany settlements in Slovakia differ considerably, and reports that their number is increasing often appear. For instance, according to the Slovak Government’s Conceptual Plans For Solving the Problems of the Roma from November 1997, the total number of registered Romany settlements came to 516, an increase of 238 from the 278 Romany settlements registered in 1988.

The main reason for this statistical inconsistency lies in the various standards applied to identifying and registering Romany settlements. The problem is that the regional state administration offices which supply the data to the Slovak Government’s Office have no guidelines for what should be classified as a Romany settlement, and are therefore free to use their own standards. Consequently, they often label a problem street in the heart of a town or village, or a Romany part of a municipality which is fully interconnected with it in terms of infrastructure, as a Romany settlement. State authorities should therefore adopt an unambiguous set of standards for the classification of Romany settlements, thereby enabling the Government to develop special programs for particular settlements, depending on the urgency of the situation.

One of the most serious obstacles to finding a viable solution to the housing situation in Romany settlements is the fact that the Roma do not own any land (most of their settlements are built on the land of unidentified owners) and that a significant proportion of Romany dwellings are illegally built constructions which officially do not exist. Consequently, local governments are unable to build an access road or engineering networks (electricity, gas, water mains, sewers, etc.) to such a settlement. This problem must be addressed by the Government, whether it decides to tear down the illegal dwellings or to legalize them. When building alternative housing for the Roma, attempts to segregate Romany dwellings from the rest of the municipality must be avoided. Furthermore, the plans should be simple, and details such as the need for a fireplace forgotten.

The Health Condition of the Roma

The Roma’s unfavorable socio-economic situation along with the related issues of inadequate housing and infrastructure conditions are indeed the main factors predetermining the currently unfavorable health condition of the minority. Statistics on the health condition of the entire Slovak population do not usually differentiate between particular ethnicities or nationalities. With a certain degree of generalization (since a number of identified characteristics do not apply generally to the entire Romany population), the data indicate that the health condition of the average Slovak Roma is worse than that of a non-Roma.

Most literature dealing with the Slovak population’s health condition focuses on the high dissemination rate of contagious and venereal diseases among the Roma. At the same time, many experts say that the dissemination rate of contagious diseases is also higher among the Roma. The sickness rate caused by inadequate hygiene, poverty, and other exogenous factors (e.g. hunger, poor quality of housing, etc.) is therefore particularly serious. The poverty of the Romany population leads to various forms of multiple deprivation. This deprivation results in shortened life expectancy, a high frequency of disease, and a permanent decline in physical and mental ability.

The health care data indicate insufficient communication between the Roma and the staff of medical establishments, as well as insufficient understanding of the importance of prophylactics. All available data suggest that the health condition of many Roma is currently declining; this applies particularly to those Roma who live in increasingly big and isolated Romany settlements. This means that Slovakia is regressing in this field compared to the communist era, which was very successful in improving the Romany population’s general health condition (e.g. reducing the mortality rate among infants, increasing the average life span, and eliminating certain kinds of diseases).

The health care situation is particularly alarming in backward Romany settlements. Since 1989, there has been a significant increase in the number of people suffering from diseases of the upper respiratory tract. Some Romany settlements have repeatedly been plagued by tuberculosis, with the danger of epidemic outbreaks imminent. The most typical diseases in Romany settlements are skin and venereal diseases. There is also a high rate of physical injuries. Romany children often suffer from contagious and parasitic diseases that no longer occur among the majority population. Currently, there are fears of a meningitis outbreak. There is also a high occurrence of mental retardation.

All these factors impact the Roma’s life span. The life expectancy of Romany men is 55 years, women 59 years – approximately 13 and 17 years less, respectively, than the life expectancy of an average Slovak. The life expectancy of Slovak women born in 1998 was 76.7 years, while Slovak men born in the same year were expected to live 68.6 years.

Roma Education

The constitutional right to be educated in the languages of ethnic minorities is secured by a 1994 Law on the Primary and Secondary School System. The law enables members of all ethnic minorities to be educated at primary and secondary schools in their native language. However, in the case of the Roma, this law continues to be disrespected; the fact that Romany children cannot exercise their right to be educated in their native language is caused, among other things, by the following factors (Vasecka, 1999):

– until 1991, Slovak legislation viewed the Roma merely as a group of socially dependent citizens;

– there is no network of educational institutions providing education in the Romany language;

– there are lingering doubts regarding the codification of the Romany language;

– there are doubts of the benefits of education in the Romany language;

– doubts also linger among the Roma themselves as to whether to use the Romany language in education.

Only a very limited number of Romany children attend kindergarten. At primary schools, Romany pupils achieve significantly lower results than children of the majority. Few Roma attend secondary schools, and the number of Romany university students is negligible. The most serious problem seems to be the fact that a high percentage of Romany children, especially those from Romany settlements, are placed into special schools for handicapped children. However, the main problem of these children is their poor command of the Slovak language, their unwillingness (or inability) to adapt themselves to the conventions of the majority population, and the generally low level of education among the Roma; however, mental handicaps are not among these causes.

Despite all the negatives, Slovakia has a few educational establishments designed to improve the level of education among Romany children. In Kosice, there is a Secondary School of Arts for predominantly Romany students which focuses on the Romany culture. During a four-year study course, the school’s students can specialize in acting, folk instruments, or singing. After they pass final examinations, they can choose to continue their studies for two more years.

In 1990, the Pedagogical Faculty at the University of Constantine in Nitra opened a Department of Romany Culture which prepares primary school teachers (first through fourth grades) to teach at schools with a high proportion of Romany children. The faculty also trains educational workers who will work in villages with a higher proportion of Roma, and social field workers who will perform everyday social work within local Romany communities. Subjects taught at the university, such as the history and traditions of the Roma and the Romany language, are completed after passing an official state examination. The department has a branch in the town of Spisská Nová Ves. Unfortunately, the department’s professional level has been repeatedly questioned by Roma representatives as well as educational experts.

A Romany language primer named Romano hangoro and a Romany language reading book called Genibarica, both published in 1993, are important teaching aids for teachers of special and primary schools for Romany pupils. Members of the Romany Children Teachers’ Club in Kosice are searching for ways to improve their work with Romany pupils. By order of the Education Ministry, the Kalligram publishing house in 2000 published a textbook called Romany history, designed for fifth through eighth grade students. Unfortunately, the textbook has yet to be distributed to schools because of a legal action threatened by one person who is referred to as a Romany by the textbook. The plaintiif says he does not feel that he is a Roma, and strongly objects to his name being mentioned in the textbook.

In 2000, the University of Constantine in Nitra published a Romany language textbook for primary school teachers. Authored by Ján Berky, Peter Seidler and Eva Poláková, the textbook is the first of its kind in Slovakia and gives a brief overview of the history of the Romany language while explaining certain peculiarities and regional differences. The textbook is an invaluable aid for teaching the Romany language.

The Romany Languauge as a Communication Language

According to expert estimates, approximately 70% of Slovak Roma speak Romany as their native language. Since 1989, a number of books have been published in Romany; some literary works have been translated into Romany, and there have been isolated efforts to establish bilingual schools for children who speak Romany. However, the issue of using Romany as a legitimate language in official contacts or as a teaching language is not even considered in Slovakia. According to the Slovak Constitution, “all citizens who are members of ethnic minorities have the right to be educated in their native language” (Vasecka, 1999).

Besides the constitutional right to use the Romany language in educational settings, one important fact speaks in favor of introducing it as a teaching language: especially at lower stages of the educational process, Romany children who are educated bilingually achieve better results at school. Unfortunately, Slovakia’s educational system is not ready to use Romany in the educational process. Also, opinions differ over the expedience of such a move. It is generally envisaged that in the future, Romany will be a taught language rather than a teaching language. Perhaps the most important argument against using Romany in the educational process are the lingering doubts of most Slovak Roma about its benefits.

Dilemmas in Solving the Romany Issue in Slovakia

Most Roma living in Slovakia have in the course of the transformation process slipped to the lowest social class. Following 1989, the Roma in Slovakia witnessed an obvious regression in their social status. This regression was a direct consequence of past measures implemented by the majority before 1989, which were designed to assimilate the Roma into the majority society. But what’s worse, the political and social elite in Slovakia continues even today to be unaware of the dilemmas which must be identified in order to address the Romany issue successfully. Unambiguous solutions must be implemented for Slovakia to be successful in its western integration ambitions. The most important dilemmas are the following:

What should be the eventual goal of all the activities and projects designed to improve the Roma’s status in Slovakia? Is it integration or assimilation? Although this question sounds banal, the truth is that politicians often speak of integration, but the concrete measures taken are assimilative and their final result is often de facto segregation.

What should be the primary focus of these activities? Many politicians believe that the most important task is improving the Roma’s socio-economic status (especially of those Roma living in backward Romany settlements); others maintain that the most important issue is the education of the Roma (along with the need to introduce affirmative action within the system); human rights activists, for their part, focus on introducing and adopting anti-discrimination legislation.

If education is acknowledged as the most important long-term priority, and is emphasized in the activities currently pursued, another question arises: How do we in the short term avoid serious social and interethnic conflicts caused by a systematic decline in the Roma’s social status?

Considering the disastrous collapse in Romany standards of living, it is becoming more and more difficult to assess whether the primary target group of various programs should be the Roma living in backward settlements or the Roma living partially integrated into the majority population. Since the situation in a number of Romany settlements is becoming unsustainable, it is those Roma for whom most programs are designed. However, we are simultaneously witnessing an equally negative development within the Roma community: due to problems caused by the transformation process, such as the high unemployment rate, the former Romany middle class which was in the past integrated into society is sliding towards the lowest social bracket. Therefore, we believe that assistance programs should be designed for these Roma as well, otherwise we run the risk of completing the process of ethnicizing poverty.

Given the separation between the majority and the Roma, it is difficult to decide whether it would be better in the short term to teach tolerance to the majority, or to educate the Roma about their human rights.


Most politicians, social personalities and academics in Slovakia are beginning to agree on the most important challenges in transforming Slovakia into a modern country. Most educated citizens consider reform of the country’s educational system, health care system, pension system, and a solution to the Romany issue, as the greatest hurdles Slovakia faces.

While enacting fundamental reform is primarily a matter of political will, the Romany issue is becoming one of Slovakia’s most serious social and cultural problems. Solving it will require more than just political will and courage; it begs a vision of a multicultural Slovakia, and acknowledgment of the majority population’s past failures in dealing with the Romany issue.

Despite the extremely tough situation in which the Roma living in Slovakia currently find themselves, certain positive trends were seen during the course of 1999 to 2000. The Roma are finally gaining national attention; the Romany political scene in Slovakia has taken a significant step towards unification; the activities of state administration organs, local governments and non-governmental organizations to tackle the Romany issue are becoming increasingly coordinated; and last but not least, more and more Slovak politicians seem to realize the importance of finding an accommodating solution to the problem, regardless of their actual opinion of the Roma.

In a certain sense, Slovakia is experiencing a cultural shift in its attitude toward the Roma. This shift is corroborated and accompanied by certain projects and programs designed to reverse negative trends. A basic precondition for this progress was the political changes that occurred in 1998. A further powerful catalyst has been the large number of people aware of the urgency of the Romany issue, people who were willing to get involved in improving the Roma’s status in Slovakia.

The change in the majority population’s attitude toward the Roma from 1999 to 2000 was heavily influenced by the EU, which exerted pressure on Slovak institutions and authorities to deal with the problem. This pressure has played an extremely positive role in uniting the country’s pragmatically-oriented political forces with people who share a vision of a liberal, democratic and modern Slovakia.

At the same time, certain positive changes occurred in the thinking of EU representatives as well. Especially during the tenure of Chairman Romano Prodi, the European Commission came to perceive the Roma as a pan-European ethnic minority, and has begun to adopt rules to deal with the minority directly. During the last year of the millennium, a rough idea of how communication between the majority and the Roma should proceed in the 21st century was established.

In March 2001, Slovakia conducted a new population census. The census was expected to give a more realistic idea of the total Romany population in Slovakia than the 1991 census did. In the summer of 2000, the Slovak Government’s Council for Ethnic Minorities and Ethnic Groups appealed to citizens to declare their identity in the census. This call was addressed in particular to the Roma.


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The Roma's general unwillingness to declare their own nationality is explained by various theories, most frequently by the minority's fear of being persecuted, a successful assimilation process which managed to integrate many Roma into the majority, and the Roma's lack of a national or ethnic identity. The actual reason is likely a combination of all of t he above.

Published 12 March 2001
Original in English
First published by Eurozine

© Michal Vasecka / Eurozine


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