Roma issues not addressed despite efforts

ISSUES relating to the country's Roma population caused consternation in many spheres in 2002 - from negotiations with Brussels over EU entry requirements to political bickering between parties.
With an estimated population of 400,000, the Roma are Slovakia's second-largest minority behind the Hungarians. Many Roma activists say that racial discrimination causes the group's most serious problems, including high unemployment rate, a low level of education, substandard living conditions and a lack of access to health care.
While the Slovak government has taken some steps to reduce the number of Roma seeking political asylum abroad, freeing money for Roma projects and expanding the role of an advisory office on Roma affairs, activists say few realistic ideas have been put forward, and institutional discrimination against the minority remains widespread.


HAVRĽOVÁ'S clean hands.
photo: TASR

ISSUES relating to the country's Roma population caused consternation in many spheres in 2002 - from negotiations with Brussels over EU entry requirements to political bickering between parties.

With an estimated population of 400,000, the Roma are Slovakia's second-largest minority behind the Hungarians. Many Roma activists say that racial discrimination causes the group's most serious problems, including high unemployment rate, a low level of education, substandard living conditions and a lack of access to health care.

While the Slovak government has taken some steps to reduce the number of Roma seeking political asylum abroad, freeing money for Roma projects and expanding the role of an advisory office on Roma affairs, activists say few realistic ideas have been put forward, and institutional discrimination against the minority remains widespread.

In 2002, the Roma's lot did not improve:


Early February - A group of 160 Roma from eastern Slovakia demands asylum in Norway.


February 5 - The European Court of Human Rights rules that Belgium in 1999 violated the rights of Slovak Roma asylum applicants by detaining them in a camp near Brussels airport; the court ruled that the Roma should be compensated.


February 8 - A police officer from the village of Jarovnice allegedly asks Roma journalist Denisa Havrľová of the Romano l'il nevo newspaper to show him a hygiene certificate before he would shake her hand.


February 12 - Jozef Vojdula, head of the Prešov regional police, comes to the aid of his colleague and says all police officers are obliged to protect their health while carrying out their duties, and that no police force rules dictate that an officer must shake hands with someone.


February 23-24 - A group of 60 Slovak Roma arrive home in Košice from Norway, where they travelled to claim asylum. Another 70 Roma await return from the Scandinavian country, which processed their claims in three weeks.


March 11 - An inspection conducted by the Interior Ministry has ruled that the police officer from Jarovnice did not have a racial motive in refusing to give his hand to Havrľová, but instead that "his behaviour was justified in the interest of protecting his safety and health". Later, Havrľová is charged with assault on a public official.


April 1 - Jozef Balogh of Košice becomes the first Slovak Roma to be compensated by Germany for being interned in a forced labour camp during the second world war.


April 22 - The government frees Sk3 million ($64,000) for social and cultural projects benefiting the Roma minority, including bringing gas and mains electricity to some Roma settlements.


May - The Medical Faculty of Bratislava's Commenius University says it wants to change its entrance exams to make it easier for Roma students to gain access to the prestigious school. Unlike other applicants, Roma students will be required to score only 50 per cent on entrance tests.


Late May - Sweden becomes the latest target of Slovak Roma seeking asylum. Swedish asylum officials have yet to grant even one asylum request, and say the exodus is being organised by unknown parties.


June 1 - Comenius University decides not to artificially lower entrance requirements for its Medical Faculty to make it easier for Roma applicants to gain admission, saying it would violate equal treatment provisions laid down in the constitution.


August 6 - A group of 21 Slovak Roma asylum seekers is returned from Norway after failing to comply with the country's asylum criteria. A further 260 Slovaks are still in Norway waiting for the authorities' decision.


September 23 - Leaders of the Roma Civil Initiative (ROI) party decide to abandon politics after recording a disastrous result of 0.29 per cent support in the general elections. No Roma representatives were elected on the ballots of parties that made it to parliament either.


Late September - The incoming government says it is assigning policy decisions on Slovakia's Roma minority to the Culture Ministry, but Culture Minister Rudolf Chmel is as surprised by the news as anyone else.


November 12 - The cabinet decides that the office of deputy Prime Minister Pál Csáky will retain responsibility for the Roma minority agenda, rather than passing it on to the Culture Ministry. The proposed shift had been criticised by the EU.

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