"This incident in Revúca cannot be generalised into the context of a wider problem. It's just one isolated case."
Deputy Prime Minister Mária Kadlečíková
Sendrei died in police custody on July 7 of wounds sustained in undetermined circumstances. His sons, who were taken into custody with him July 6, say that they were beaten by police in eastern Slovakia's Revúca, a charge the police themselves deny. According to the police, Sendrei sustained his mortal wounds in an earlier fight with the mayor of the village of Magnezitovce.
But whatever the truth of the case, Sendrei's murder drew strong reactions from the European Union, a 15-member economic alliance that Slovakia hopes to join in 2004.
"Whatever the reason these Roma were detained, the fact that they were brutally beaten, and that one of them died, is absolutely unacceptable," said Jan Marinus Wiersma, the European Parliament's main negotiator for Slovakia. "I thought that kind of police brutality was already in the past."
Wiersma's words came at a crucial time for Slovakia, on the very day the foreign affairs committee of the European Parliament debated a draft of its annual resolution on the progress Slovakia is making towards accession to the EU. The draft is to be voted on by the full parliament this September.
Against the backdrop of such European scrutiny, Slovak Deputy Prime Minister for Integration Mária Kadlečíková reminded the foreign community that Wiersma's fears were far from having been confirmed.
"Mr. Wiersma was giving a first reaction to the information that he had received at the time," Kadlečíková told The Slovak Spectator July 11. "I am convinced that once he has received all the information, he will be aware that this is a unique case."
Even before the news of Sendrei's death, Swedish liberal parliamentarian Cecilia Malstrom had recommended the committee include a clause expressing "profound regret at the continuing discrimination against the Roma minority in Slovakia." The EU has been critical of Slovakia's minority rights record since the 1994 to 1998 government of Vladimír Mečiar.
Malstrom's proposal was in the end rejected by the committee; nor was Wiersma's reaction reflected in the text of the draft, which a source close to Slovakia's EU entry process called "moderately upbeat".
Kadlečíková took this as a sign that the EU was being cautious on the explosive Sendrei case. "We are pleased that the words of Mr. Wiersma were not put into the European Parliament resolution," she said.
That doesn't mean, however, that Slovakia is off the hook on treatment of its Roma overall. The Slovakia-EU source said an upcoming November resolution on Slovakia's entry by the European Commission, an EU executive body, "is expected to be critical of Slovakia's progress in the field of minorities and human rights."
Some of the information that has been reaching the Commission from NGOs and human rights activists, the source added, cited a general failure by the Slovak government to turn promising laws into practical results.
The reports to the EC claim, for example, that no data exist on how an important 1999 Minority Languages Law is working in practice, and that in general, the Roma are under-represented in state administration, and thus lack the authority to make sure their rights are protected.
"Just look at how the Roma live, many of them in de facto segregation and living on top of garbage dumps," the source said. "This just doesn't tally with how western countries expect minorities to be treated."
Nevertheless, the Slovak side is insisting the EU keep its eye on the facts, and not be swayed by appearances before the final verdict in the Sendrei murder.
"The case in Revúca was not one motivated by race. It was a complicated incident and not one involving Roma against other people," said Kadlečíková.
"The European Parliament and European Union know that the situation with the Roma in Slovakia is complicated, but they are also aware that this incident in Revúca cannot be generalised into the context of a wider problem. It's just one isolated case which we have never experienced before and, I believe, will never experience again."
- additional reporting
by Ed Holt
16. Jul 2001 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson