THE MUNICIPALITY of Moldava nad Bodvou banned the festival called Moldava Spolu (Moldava Together) which was to take place in the town’s Budulovská Roma settlement on August 29, just nine days before the start of the event, citing safety concerns.

The festival supported by the US Embassy was to unite the Roma minority and the majority population through music, theatre, photos and more, with both Roma and non-Roma performing. It is a response to the raid of 63 police officers in the settlement on June 19, 2013. They were purportedly seeking seven men for which they had arrest warrants. They found none of those men, but violence ensued, some people were injured and 15 Roma were taken to the police station.

“I am surprised how institutions are able to blight the event with a purely positive message, which should lead to increasing of tolerance and communication,” Matúš Vallo of Mestské zásahy civic association participating in the event’s organisation told the press on August 26. “It was also about providing the possibility for open-minded people to come to the settlement and see it in a safe festival area.”

The town’s mayor, István Zachariaš, said that he made the decision in accordance with the police’s recommendation, which stated that Budulovská is not a safe place for the festival. It would violate several security and hygienic rules and in case of emergencies, ambulance or fire fighter vehicles would not be able to enter the area, he told the Sme daily. Zachariaš also said that he does not fear potential legal action, as his reasons for banning the festival were well-grounded.

“I am sorry, but I cannot think over it in a way other than for safety’s sake,” Zachariaš said, as quoted by Sme on August 22.

Organisers said they are considering legal steps against the ban. They questioned police claims and labelled decision as two-faced since municipality indicated no serious reservations about the festival during earlier discussions.

“We will not look for another place,” Martin Vavrinčík of ETP, non-governmental organisation co-organising the event, told the press, “because it would indicate our agreement with the ban which violates the law, according to us.”

The place is safe

The Interior Ministry supported the ban, agreeing with police claims about inappropriate roads crossing settlement which are too narrow for purposes of a music festival. The police also criticised the number of people living in settlement estimating that there are 2,000 inhabitants in Budulovská which could lead to dangerous overcrowding at the festival, they said. Other problems were messy environment including waste and excrement on the street, stray dogs as well as near river which could be dangerous for visitors, Sme reported.

Lýdia Šuchová from Equity civic association co-organising event said she has visited settlement several times and police’s claims are untrue. The main road leading to settlement is safe, two cars are able to pass each other there; moreover, organisers planed to allow just festival’s personnel, supervising bodies and artists to use it during the event.

Organisers also did not ask the municipality to clean the settlement, as the wording of ban says, but asked for cooperation and mechanics needed for cleaning and grass cutting. They planned to clean the whole settlement by themselves with the help of locals, according to Šuchová.

“Even in this way the festival could contribute to improvement of habitants’ attitude towards cleanliness of settlement,” Šuchová said in festival’s press release, “because we all know that happiness and positive motivation is the best way.”

Furthermore, the organisers consider the estimated number of Roma living in settlement to be exaggerated pointing on Atlas of Roma Communities study showing that there are just 773 Roma in the settlement.

“I cannot imagine that some of us would risk his or her professional credit by organising risky event or event just for image purposes,” said co-organiser Michal Kaščák from Pohoda agency which organises the biggest open-air festival in Slovakia Bažant Pohoda, as quoted by Sme.

Odd behaviour by municipality

During a press conference organisers condemned the approach of the municipality, which made the decision in secret, they say. Organisers say they were never given the opportunity to propose solutions to potential problems. Moreover, the text of ban reached organisers just nine days before event while legislation gives people 15 days to comment on such a ban.

Vavrinčík said the mayor originally agreed with festival during personal meeting with organisers. They sent announcement of festival to municipality on May 28. Later, they met with mayor again in early August to discuss some organisational issues. Zachariaš said nothing about banning the festival. He just asked them to send him additional information for example exact place of stage, insurance and so on. They also approached police which also agreed with festival, Vavrinčík said.

However, municipality demanded additional information from organisers on August 13, who received the notice only on August 18, the same day the ban was announced.

“The town asked us about additional information but it did that at the point when it simultaneously decided to ban festival,” Vavrinčík said, “and we had no chance to respond.”

Zachariaš told the TASR newswire that he declined to release a permit for the festival, as the organisers failed to present him with all the proper documents, mainly those pertaining to security.

“I needed to know on which specific plots [of land] the festival should have taken place, where the stage should have been located and how the police patrol would have been ensured,” the mayor said. “They did not provide anything. So, at my own initiative, I approached the state police for a stance, and I was told that it would not be safe [to organise the festival] in the settlement.”

This was already the second ban; earlier, the town decided that festival cannot take place in June, on the anniversary of the police raid incident because it could be considered as controversial or provocative.

Nevertheless, organisers still want to have festival in Budulovská settlement saying that if municipality can so precisely name the problems it will be able to discuss them with organisers in advance next time.

“We will try to do it but it will be next year,” Vallo said in press conference. “And we believe that it will go well.”