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Roma responsibility still a hot potato

Amid all the fanfare that accompanied the publication of the proposed new government programme, one question has been left with no clear answer: Who's going to deal with the Roma issue?
The incoming government said it was assigning policy decisions on Slovakia's Roma minority to the Culture Ministry, but when he heard that, Culture Minister Rudolf Chmel was as surprised by the news as anyone else.
"I have been abroad for a number of days. I don't know why the parties made this decision," Chmel told the daily Sme.

Amid all the fanfare that accompanied the publication of the proposed new government programme, one question has been left with no clear answer: Who's going to deal with the Roma issue?

The incoming government said it was assigning policy decisions on Slovakia's Roma minority to the Culture Ministry, but when he heard that, Culture Minister Rudolf Chmel was as surprised by the news as anyone else.

"I have been abroad for a number of days. I don't know why the parties made this decision," Chmel told the daily Sme.

This is the third government to leave the Roma issue without a solid home. Under the previous government, Roma rights were the responsibility of Deputy PM Pál Csáky, who was charged with finding solutions to the problems of high unemployment, low education levels and massive discrimination that afflict Slovakia's Roma minority. Csáky now says the Roma issue needs more attention than he can give it.

"The deputy PM's office is constructed in such a way that [dealing with the Roma issue] simply does not fit in," Csáky said, adding that he thinks a separate office should be created to deal with the issue.

Chmel agreed, suggesting that his office was not the right place for the Roma either: "The Roma question is not related only to culture. It is far more complex and demands an autonomous solution."

Before 1998, responsibility for the Roma fell to the Ministry of Social Affairs, which was also one of the candidates for the job in the new government.

In 1999 the government established the office of the high representative for the Roma. Klára Orgovánová, the last person to hold this position, expressed her surprise at the new coalition's stance on the Roma issue.

"No one has contacted me, not even to discuss the proposals included in the government programme," she said.

The Roma were not excluded entirely from the government proposals. In fact, the programme states that the Roma question is a priority for the government.

However, apart from the Education Ministry, which will ensure the Roma get access to elementary education in their own language, according to the programme, no other ministry has made public any plans to take action on behalf of the minority.

Observers say the government's apparent unwillingness to take the problems of the Roma seriously could draw harsh criticism from the European Commission, which on October 9 released a report urging Slovakia to improve its record on relations between the Roma and majority Slovaks.

By Lukáš Fila

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