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Getting society's disadvantaged ready for the euro

WHILE market-watchers keep their eyes on inflation and financial figures, and politicians try to refrain from statements that cast doubt on Slovakia's commitment to adopt the euro in 2009, some Slovaks still need an explanation of how the EU currency will affect their lives.

WHILE market-watchers keep their eyes on inflation and financial figures, and politicians try to refrain from statements that cast doubt on Slovakia's commitment to adopt the euro in 2009, some Slovaks still need an explanation of how the EU currency will affect their lives.

These citizens do not face any serious threats or material damages from their lack of euro knowledge, but they do need more help to understand the euro-related changes, said the government proxy for euro adoption, Igor Barát.

Most people will get euro information through the mass media, print materials mailed to households and advertisement campaigns, but a different approach is needed to communicate with the more marginalised groups. So the state is launching a special awareness campaign for seniors, low-income groups, the Roma community and other groups of citizens.

"Fortunately there are no threats for those who are not well enough informed," Barát said. "They will not suffer damages to their health or property. However, uninformed or poorly informed people might find it difficult to get oriented in the new situation and the lack of information might complicate their lives."

The confusion could even have a psychological effect on people, he said.

The awareness campaign will involve the Labour Ministry, the state-run social insurer, the Union of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the government proxy for the Roma community, and NGOs to reach the sensitive groups, Barát said.

It is hard to calculate how large these groups are and how many people will need the special approach when it comes to the euro.

"I am not sure if there is any reliable data," Barát told The Slovak Spectator. "In the case of the Roma community, the figures that are available differ significantly: some talk about dozens of thousands of people, some talk about hundreds of thousands of people."

The government also expects the regional governments and the Association of Towns and Villages to make sure that even the remote regions and smallest villages get a contact person who can give the locals all the information they need about the euro, said Barát.

The Finance Ministry has been making plans for a smooth transition to the euro with the Labour Office, the Labour Ministry and the social insurer Sociálna Poisťovňa, because these institutions are in direct contact with the people who receive their pensions and benefits from the insurer, Finance Ministry state secretary Peter Sika said at a press conference.

The Labour Ministry has also mapped out special communication strategies focusing on the blind, pensioners, children in orphanages and elderly people with mental disorders.

The regional branches of the Labour Office and the social insurer will have the first contact with the people who have a hard time psychologically adjusting to different sums of money and learning their value, state officials said.

Roma, seniors need extra help

The government proxy for the Roma community, Anina Botošová, said the Roma are a vulnerable group that has many layers.

"I think most people in segregated and isolated communities and places in eastern Slovakia will need a special approach," Botošová told the press. "The government has not yet monitored the needs of central Slovakia, but the assumption is that the campaign will need to target at least 300,000 Roma."

The main campaign, which will involve TV spots, brochures and TV programmes for ethnic minorities, will start next year, while the so-called pre-campaigns have already started.

Botošová and the director of the public service Slovak Television have already discussed the possibility of live broadcasts that would directly address the communities.

"I am travelling around the Roma settlements and asking people whether they know what the euro is at all and what will happen when it is adopted," Botošová said. "Many do not have any knowledge yet.

"This is one of the target groups which will need a very specific explanation. I think the money invested in the campaign will not be a waste."

Kamil Vajnorský, the chairman of the Association of Slovak Pensioners, said the older generation does not feel threatened by the euro, but they keep wondering how the euro will impact their everyday lives.

"Hopefully the state will make sure that there are no major price imbalances after the euro installation and that enough attention is devoted to that, and it will not allow what happened in many countries - that prices went up dramatically after the installation of the euro," Vajnorský told the press.

The association, which has 850 branches, has offered help to the National Bank of Slovakia. It also wants to run some advisory centres and also a kind of hotline.

"An older person will have more courage to call the pensioners' association than the Economy Ministry," Vajnorský said.

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