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Family thrilled with adopted Roma baby

Despite numerous opinion polls over the years indicating that a majority of Slovaks take a rather negative view of the country's Roma (gypsy) minority, many Slovak families claim they have friends in the Roma community. Some have gone further, and have made Roma children permanent members of their families.
Over a year ago, Lucia and Peter Michoněk from Bratislava adopted Klaudia, a Roma girl who is now two-and-a-half years old. The couple already had two children of their own - seven year-old Klára and five year-old Jonáš - but said that adopting a Roma baby had long been their wish.
Peter Michoněk, a 42 year-old professional cello player, admits that in adopting Klaudia he and his wife had taken an unorthodox step in Slovakia, but explained the decision had seemed a natural one.


The Michoněks in their garden in Kuchyňa, with Klaudia (back left).
photo: Martina Pisárová

Despite numerous opinion polls over the years indicating that a majority of Slovaks take a rather negative view of the country's Roma (gypsy) minority, many Slovak families claim they have friends in the Roma community. Some have gone further, and have made Roma children permanent members of their families.

Over a year ago, Lucia and Peter Michoněk from Bratislava adopted Klaudia, a Roma girl who is now two-and-a-half years old. The couple already had two children of their own - seven year-old Klára and five year-old Jonáš - but said that adopting a Roma baby had long been their wish.

Peter Michoněk, a 42 year-old professional cello player, admits that in adopting Klaudia he and his wife had taken an unorthodox step in Slovakia, but explained the decision had seemed a natural one.

"Since we've been together we've known we would one day adopt a child, so the decision was one we thought about for a long time," he began. "Secondly, Klára, our oldest daughter, had a Roma friend and the two liked each other a lot, and our children were enthusiastic about adopting a Roma child. So we did it."

As Michoněk spoke at his summer cottage in western Slovakia's Kuchyňa, Klára stood behind his chair, nodding with a wide smile on her face. Her adopted sister Klaudia was in the back yard, playing on a swing hanging from a tree.

Just how unusual the Michoněks' decision was is hard to measure. Jana Kostanjevcová, a legal officer with the Social Affairs Ministry, said their move was "not typical", but admitted she was unable to provide The Slovak Spectator with figures regarding the ratio of Roma to non-Roma adopted children. "Of the total 3,637 children in Slovak orphanages, only 334 report Roma nationality. Take the orphanage in [the Roma-dominated eastern Slovak town of] Veľké Kapušany where there are 220 kids, for example " she said. "Almost all [Veľké Kapušany orphans] are obviously of Roma origin, but none of them claims Roma nationality - they say they are either Hungarian or Slovak nationals."

The Michoněk family says they have received more positive responses than negative since adopting Klaudia. "Our friends said, 'What a beautiful girl'," reported Peter Michoněk. "On the other hand, we've been told things like, 'Wait until she's older, her genes will tell'," he said smiling. "We'll see what she wants to do when she grows up."

To address what the Michoněks say is a persistent lack of understanding among Slovaks of the problems of the country's estimated 450,000-strong ethnic minority, they and about 20 other people mainly from Bratislava have registered for an upcoming course on Roma language and history.

The course, organised by a Bratislava-based non-governmental group Helsinki Civil Assembly, will start September 3 and run for one year, every Monday afternoon. It will consist of several lectures on the history of the Roma and basic Roma language instruction.

"It's natural for us to take part in such courses, among other things," Michoněk said. He added that his family read books about the Roma and went to Roma music concerts in order to find out as much as possible about the minority.

"We want to understand them better, and we also want to give an element of choice to our daughter," Lucia Michoněk's added. "If she ever wants to know more about where she came from, or would be interested in learning the Roma language, I want to be able to give her at least some reliable information that isn't based on prejudice."

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