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MINORITY RIGHTS ACTIVISTS AND EU DISAPPOINTED THAT MPS WERE NOT WILLING TO EVEN DISCUSS DRAFT

MPs drop anti-discrimination bill

SLOVAK minority groups suffered a bitter setback when parliament on July 3 refused to discuss a draft law to outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, age, religion, and sexual or political orientation.
While the bill had been considered important to adopting European Union (EU) directives on race and employment issues, Slovak members of parliament (MPs) decided not to even include the anti-discrimination bill on the agenda of the ongoing parliamentary session, the last before September elections.
"This may harm our image, because we had a chance to say a decisive 'no' to any discrimination," Mária Kadlečíková, deputy PM for European integration, said prior to the parliament's vote.


A DEMONSTRATION in front of parliament brought promises but no action.
photo: Marek Velček - Pravda

SLOVAK minority groups suffered a bitter setback when parliament on July 3 refused to discuss a draft law to outlaw discrimination on the basis of race, age, religion, and sexual or political orientation.

While the bill had been considered important to adopting European Union (EU) directives on race and employment issues, Slovak members of parliament (MPs) decided not to even include the anti-discrimination bill on the agenda of the ongoing parliamentary session, the last before September elections.

"This may harm our image, because we had a chance to say a decisive 'no' to any discrimination," Mária Kadlečíková, deputy PM for European integration, said prior to the parliament's vote.

The vote was the second refusal by parliament to discuss the law, and drew sharp criticism from Dirk Meganck, the EU's chief negotiator on Slovakia's entry bid.

"We regret that parliament didn't debate the law, because it would have been a positive step in Slovakia's preparation for [EU] entry," he said. "We hope it will be debated at the earliest opportunity."

Slovakia aims to join the EU in 2004, but must finish bringing its laws into line with EU legislation by the end of the year if the deadline is to be met.

Following the first refusal to discuss the bill, around 50 human and minority rights activists gathered in front of parliament June 27 to appeal to MPs to discuss the law. The meeting was to remind MPs that people are "all different, all equal", advised the event's main slogan.

While the protest drew a promise from Ján Brocka of the ruling coalition Christian Democrats (KDH) to "reconsider the bill," the majority of MPs, including the KDH, Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) and the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), voted to have the draft withdrawn from the agenda.

The KDH's Peter Muránsky insisted that Slovakia's EU bid was not dependent on the bill's approval.

"We will not meet any obligations towards the EU if this empty declaration is approved," Muránsky told The Slovak Spectator July 1, adding that "the issues which the law tries to address are covered by other legislation."

Members of the homosexual community in Slovakia, however, argued that the rights of homosexuals were not protected by any laws, and said they were disappointed by parliament's stance on the issue.

"Sexual orientation is not mentioned in other laws. In cases of discrimination the homosexual minority is not protected anywhere," said Marianna Šipošová, spokesperson for the civic initiative Inakosť, which advocates equal rights for sexual minorities.

Milan Ištván, an MP with the ruling coalition Democratic Left (SDĽ) party who is known for his support for the homosexual community, also expressed disappointment with parliament's resistance.

"In my opinion, some MPs chose this way to express their dissatisfaction with the government. The law was submitted at the last minute and in accelerated proceedings, which in case of important proposals is incorrect and just irritates MPs. The vote may also have been due to insufficient understanding of the issue."

According to Muranský, approval of the law would have been "the first step towards enabling homosexual partnerships to be legally registered, to allow them to adopt children and so on," a move the KDH, for one, is strongly opposed to.

Although considering registered homosexual partnerships and adoption as legitimate aims, Šipošová disagreed with Muránsky and said that "the draft is not connected with child adoption by homosexual couples in any way."

But the damage has been done, Ištván said after the bill was rejected by deputies. "It's an open question when parliament will be willing to talk about this draft again."

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