THE RECENTLY issued report on the forced sterilisation of Roma women in eastern Slovakia poses another great challenge for the government.
Apart from the need to find an adequate way to respond to these abuses because that is the right thing to do, there is a wider political problem. The well-documented research by the Advisory Centre for Civil and Human Rights and the New York-based Centre for Reproductive Rights may blow up into a major issue between Slovakia and the European Union in the run-up to EU accession. Slovakia has attracted strong criticism from western European governments in the past on the Roma question, and there is no reason to expect it will be any different this time.
The government must make it clear to the international community, without delay, that it takes human rights abuses seriously. There are lessons to be learned from past mistakes. During his last term in office, Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda and his ministers attracted widespread criticism for its low-key response to racially motivated murders. This time, the government cannot afford to be seen to be shrugging its collective shoulders with the air of a man who wonders what all the fuss is about.
Firstly, the government must deplore, in the strongest terms, evidence contained in the report of physical abuse of Roma women, including forced sterilisation. Real action is also required. It is heartening that deputy prime minister for minorities, Pál Csáky, has initiated an investigation, but prosecutions must follow if the evidence is strong enough to bring convictions.
Two imperatives should drive the government: The first is a genuine commitment to stop abuse of the Roma minority and improve its living standards. The second is to convince this country's future EU partners that Slovakia takes their concerns seriously and accepts the need to rectify an impossible situation in every way possible.
On the other hand, it may be too much to hope that EU critics of Slovakia will make an effort to understand the complexities of the Romany issue. Condemnations, reports, and prosecutions will not be enough to bring the Roma into the European mainstream. Only concerted governmental efforts, huge amounts of aid, and, perhaps most importantly, changes of attitudes on all sides will achieve real change in the social situation of the Roma people in Slovakia.
3. Feb 2003 at 0:00