The preliminary results of a comprehensive European-wide study called the European Values Survey - conducted in 32 European countries from 1999 to 2000 - suggest that Slovaks, more than any other European citizens, do not want Roma (gypsies) as neighbours.
The survey, which was headed by the Dutch Tilburg University and involved cooperation with the Slovak Academy of Sciences as well as professors and university heads from around Europe, asked 1,331 Slovaks how they would feel about having a Roma neighbour; 77.2% said that they would be opposed to the idea.
Slovaks were followed in the survey by Hungarians (68.6% against having a Roma neighbour) and Lithuanians (63.3%). In the Czech Republic, the number stood at 39.9%.
Conducted now for three successive decades, the survey recorded a 6.2% increase in the percentage of Slovaks who were against having a Roma neighbour since the last survey was held in 1991.
The main themes of the survey were "religion and morality, politics, work and leisure, and primary relations". Programme Director Loek Halman of Tilburg University said that the complete results of the survey had not yet been published, but would be soon in book form.
The SAV's Zuzana Kusá, a sociologist who headed the survey in Slovakia, was on holiday last week and was unavailable for comment. However, minority relations analysts in Slovakia said they were not surprised by the results.
Although she said she would wait for the survey's official release before formulating a final response, Klára Orgovánová, the Government Plenipotentiary for Solving the Roma Issue and herself an ethnic Roma, said that stereotypes against the Roma which were perpetuated by the media were responsible for the outcome.
"[Ethnic Slovaks] don't necessarily have bad experiences with the Roma themselves, but they do have a tendency to believe the traditional negative stereotypes," she said August 14. "The media has the ability to influence public opinion, and most of the time that the Roma are covered, it is in a negative light."
Grigorij Mesežnikov, the head of the IVO think-tank in Bratislava, also said the media was largely to blame. "The media is a crucial factor in spreading negative stereotypes," he said. "There are many examples around the country of positive experiences where Roma have integrated into society, but the media predominantly cover the negative experiences. It's a circle: there are negative stereotypes held by the people, and the media strengthens the negativity by covering only the negative aspects."
Ladislav Ďurkovič, the head of the non-profit organisation Ži a nechaj žiť (Live and Let Live), which directs the Ľudia proti razismu (People Against Racism) programme, added: "I read an article in [the daily paper] Sme about potato theft from Slovak farms," he said in reference to a series of reports over the last year concerning the theft of potatoes. "I want to write a letter [of gratitude] to [Sme editor Martin] Šimečka because this is finally the first time I have read an article about potato theft without once reading the word Roma."
Ďurkovič added, however, that regardless of why the number of Slovaks against having a Roma neighbour was so high, the bottom line was that Slovak society should be held responsible.
"Since 1990, there have been over five polls which asked this same question, and in all of them over 80% of Slovaks said that they would not want a Roma neighbour," he said. "Slovak society is racist, we don't have a culture of tolerance."
20. Aug 2001 at 0:00 | Chris Togneri