“WE DID NOT establish our independent state in the first place for minorities, although we do respect them, but mainly for the Slovak state-forming nation,” said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, adding that he has detected what he called a “strange tendency to put forward the problems of minorities” to the disadvantage of the Slovak nation “as though Slovak men and women do not live in Slovakia at all”.

The views Fico expressed to mark the 150th anniversary of the establishment of the state-funded cultural organisation Matica Slovenská were seen by representatives of minority communities in Slovakia as unsettling, and have provoked the chairman of the deputy faction of the European People’s Party (EPP) in the European Parliament Joseph Daul to deem them “unacceptable”.
“In today’s Europe there is no room for such statements,” said Daul as quoted by the Sme daily on February 28.

In his fiery address delivered in Martin on February 26, Fico also said that some minorities have been trying to “blackmail” the state through the issue of minority rights - “be it the Roma, [or] people of a different orientation, minority of opinion or ethnic [minority]”, Sme reported.

Fico said that it is becoming a tradition for minorities in Slovakia to be seen with outstretched hands pressing their demands but “without any responsibility towards the state” and without what he called a “cultivation of civic virtues”.

Laco Oravec, programme director of the Milan Šimečka Foundation, a think tank, suggested Fico’s remarks were intended for voters and will not reflect actual policies that he intends to pursue. However, Oravec added that such rhetoric can potentially “deepen hatred in our country”, according to public broadcaster Slovak Radio (SRo).

“I have noticed a significant difference between what the government declared in its programme and in today’s [February 26] statements by the prime minister,” said government plenipotentiary for national minorities László Nagy, as quoted by Sme, adding that it is a pity that Fico failed to list any specific examples of disloyalty on the part of minorities.

Peter Pollák, the government’s proxy for the Roma community, said he was taken aback by Fico’s statements and that the public is rightly troubled by 20 years of failure in addressing Roma problems, and thus it is quite tempting for every politician to use the issue to collect political points, Sme wrote. Pollák said he hopes that Fico does not want to walk this route.

“The statements are untrue and come as an insult for the Czechs living in Slovakia,” Dagmar Takácsová, chairwoman of the Czech Association in Slovakia in Košice and a member of the Committee for National Minorities and Ethnic Groups.

The prime minister’s statements came only shortly after he stirred the waters on February 19 by suggesting that the state should take a more decisive approach to the problems of the Roma community, which should also involve placing Roma children in boarding schools.

“Someone should show the children they can live in a different way,” the TASR newswire quoted him as saying, “but you can do this only when using extreme measures – you would have to take these children from their environment and place them elsewhere.”

Human rights advocates, including Amnesty International, responded that boarding schools solve nothing and only deepen segregation, SRo reported on February 21.