A Bratislava district prosecutor laid charges of inciting racial hatred against far-right MP Víťazoslav Moric this past week as the ruling coalition continued in its efforts to improve Slovakia's image on minority issues.
Moric, who in August suggested that some of the country's Roma (gypsy) population be put on reservations and called them "idiots" and "retards", was stripped of the immunity from prosecution he enjoys as an MP by his parliamentary colleagues on September 21, clearing the way for the investigator to file a case on October 2. If convicted, Moric faces either a fine or a jail term of up to one year.
While Moric himself has appeared unconcerned by the uproar, inviting parliament to strip his immunity and saying it mattered to him "less than whether tram number three is going to or from the station", human rights activists have said the latest developments confirm that the government is getting somewhat tougher on bigotry and racism.
"I think the atmosphere is slightly improving, thanks to certain individuals [politicians] who are making their views [on racism] clear," said Klára Orgovanová of the Roma NGO Inforoma, noting that the Slovak police had also recently detained three youths suspected of beating Roma mother of eight Anastázia Balážová to death with baseball bats.
However, she cautioned against seeing the new charges against Moric as a sign that dramatic change was at hand. "Moric doesn't interest me, what he said doesn't interest me - what is significant, however, is the reactions of other MPs to what he said. There was a lot of hesitation in parliament, as if politicians were wondering if there wasn't some truth in his statements, or if what he said was legally actionable," she noted. "It was rather disappointing."
Similar feelings were expressed by Roma political leader Ladislav Fizík, who commands a wing of the Romany party Intelligentsia for Co-oexistence (RIS). "This [the laying of charges] is a first step, that's true, but we'll have to see if it leads to a conviction. And then, what the punishment is. Tell me, what kind of punishment is sufficient for someone who says we should be put on reservations?
"I tell you, if you go out among the Roma villages, you'll see that nothing has changed. Social and economic pressures on the Roma have increased. The government can polish its image in front of the European Union as much as it wants, but unless Roma are involved in solving their own problems, we won't see any improvement," the Roma leader concluded.
The European Union has indeed paid close attention to how the government is handling the 'gypsy problem', with the European Parliament on October 4 passing a resolution calling on Slovakia to "improve its minority policies" as well as to improve the situation of the Roma.
Slovak Roma have been travelling sporadically to EU countries for the past three years in search of political asylum to shield them from what they claim is persecution in Slovakia. Few asylum cases have been approved, but various EU governments have begun to require visas of Slovaks travelling across their borders.
In response, however, the government has claimed it is doing its best to improve the lot of the Roma, and that the response of the police and courts to incidents like the Moric speech show that the social environment is beginning to improve.
Vincent Danihel, government plenipotentiary for the solution of Romany problems, said the prosecutor's decision was "a good signal" to both the EU and the Roma. "There have been several occasions recently which show that the government is following this [problem of racism against the Roma], and on the other hand that the courts and prosecutors are not afraid to qualify such crimes as racially motivated," he said. "It's a signal that something is happening here and that decent people are taking an active interest."
9. Oct 2000 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson