Recent press reports allege that young Gypsy girls are being sold to westerners as 'exotic' prostitutes.
photo: Spectator archives
According to the reports, which have been substantiated by Roma community leaders and international human rights observers, several young Slovak Roma women have recently been kidnapped and then sold to Czech underworld figures. The captives are then smuggled into western countries, where they are forced into prostitution.
Following a story in late July in the Czech press agency ČTK, the Slovak weekly magazine Moment reported the case of Silvia Kováčová, an 18 year-old Roma girl from the small village of Hencovce in eastern Slovakia, who had been kidnapped by a family friend in mid July. She was driven to the nearby town of Vranov by the friend, who said they were going to inquire about an available flower-selling job for the girl.
However, the car met with three large men en route. "When we got there, I asked about the work selling the flowers," Kováčová said. "But they all just started to laugh... one of them then sprayed something in my face which knocked me out. When I woke up we were outside Bratislava."
Kováčová was then smuggled into the Czech Republic by the kidnappers and was eventually sold at a gas station to a local pimp in the Czech town of Teplice for the cash sum of 200 Deutsche marks ($93).
Human rights professionals say that Kováčová is not the only gypsy girl to suffer the same fate, and argue that the kidnap-smugglings are the work of organised gangs [the Moment article names another two Roma girls who recently went missing].
"There are many criminal gangs, especially in the [eastern Slovak] area around Košice and Michalovce [north east of Košice], which might be involved in this type of business," said Jozef Červeňák, a member of the Roma International Congress in Hamburg and head of the Roma NGO Gemer-Roma.
Slovak police, however, say they have no evidence that such crimes are on the rise: Marián Benkovič, head of the violent crime unit at the Slovak Police Presidium, said that police do not record the ethnicity of victims and therefore cannot say how many recent kidnapping victims have been Romany.
But according to a survey conducted by the Bratislava-based NGO International Organisation for Migration (IOM) earlier this year, "women trafficking" cases have increased significantly. "While in 1998, the number of recorded cases was 3, in 1999 it was 11," reads the IOM report. "Although the number doesn't seem very high, relatively speaking we witnessed an increase of almost four-fold in Slovakia."
While cases like that of Kováčová have angered the Roma community and shocked observers, others are not moved. Instead, they say the Romany girls are actually voluntarily selling themselves into prostitution in order to get to the west and make some money.
"They go voluntarily to make money over there," said Igor Dužda, a Roma journalist who hosts a show dedicated to Roma issues on Slovak state radio (SRo). "The girls say they were kidnapped - but what else should they say if they want to avoid contempt from the community [when they return]?"
Michal Vašečka, a sociologist and Roma specialist with the Bratislava-based think tank Institute for Public Affairs, agreed, saying that the girls realised their dark skin could fetch high prices on the prostitution markets of white, rich countries.
"These girls are very much desired in many countries like the Czech Republic or Germany because they are rather exotic," he said. "For those who come from extremely poor backgrounds with no other prospects here in Slovakia, this is a good opportunity for a better life."
But the female Romanies who have returned from abroad insist that they were forced into prostitution. Elder Roma community representatives have supported the girls, in keeping with the fact that prostitution is absolutely unacceptable and intolerable in Roma circles.
"Roma traditionally take great pride in family values - the prostitution of a female member of a family would automatically mean that all her relatives were expelled from community life," said Červeňák.
Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan said that he had not heard the kidnapping reports, while Vašečka said they were unlikely to harm Slovakia's international image. But recent pronouncements by a prominent member of the opposition Slovak National Party have fuelled the impression that the Roma minority still face significant discrimination if not forced prostitution.
Speaking at the far-right National Party's press conference August 4, MP Viťazoslav Móric called for Slovak Roma to be herded onto American-style reservations. "If we don't do it to them now, they'll do it to us in 20 years," he said.
Móric added that the move would be a humanitarian one since Roma, he alleged, "have a far greater percentage of mentally retarded children born in their community."
"What is humanitarian about letting idiots impregnate idiots?" he asked. Móric's National Party enjoys the support of between 8-10% of Slovaks.
Alexander Patkolo, the chairman of the Slovak Romany Initiative political party, on August 7 laid charges against Moric for speading racist propaganda. The case is being investigated by the Attorney General's office.
14. Aug 2000 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová