THE ROMA are criticised by many ethnic Slovaks for having large families.
photo: Ján Svrček
On February 21, PSNS boss Ján Slota announced his party would present parliament with a draft law mid-March laying out how Roma men would be offered Sk20,000 (480 euro) in return for their fertility.
The PSNS proposal comes only weeks after allegations that Roma women from eastern Slovakia were forced into sterilisation, raising serious questions at home and abroad about the situation of the Roma minority in Slovakia. Most of Slovakia's 400,000 Roma live in poverty on the margins of society.
"I think we would increase the income [of Roma] if they got Sk20,000 for just one little cut. I think a lot of Roma would volunteer for this," Slota said.
The proposal provoked immediate sharp criticism from human-rights activists.
"The statements made are characteristic of [Slota] - they are unprofessional, ignorant, and racist. Europe had terrifying experiences with holocaust, genocide, and sterilisation at the time of Hitler. Notions such as these put us in a similar position and are very dangerous," said Ladislav Ďurkovič, head of the People Against Racism NGO.
Representatives of the Roma community agree.
"In this region I see Slota's statements as a form of modern fascism, whose representatives support a sophisticated type of racism toward the Roma community," said Roma activist Edmund Muller from the Centre for Roma Rights NGO.
However, PSNS representatives say that it will be up to the Roma to decide whether or not they want to be sterilised, and that the measure therefore does not represent a threat to the minority.
"There is nothing wrong with it. Families will be free to choose and improve their social situation," said PSNS spokesman Rafael Rafaj.
Moreover, the PSNS claims its idea grew out of a desire to improve the status of the Roma.
"We are motivated by a report that says that in 2050 [ethnic] Slovaks will become a minority in Slovakia. We are worried about the development of the Roma community and the ability to ensure [for them] the standards common in the civilised world, especially in childcare, which is often neglected in large families," said Rafaj.
"If we do not manage to motivate them to participate in responsible parenthood, any projects aimed at improving their social situation, the status of their children, and success in the labour market will be useless," Rafaj added.
But Roma activists believe the proposal puts the emphasis in the wrong place.
"The main things Roma need are education, work, and an improvement in their social situation and hygiene. I would recommend that the proponents of such statements undergo a restriction of fertility, to decrease the number of racists in Slovakia," said Ďurkovič.
Muller suggested the motivation for the PSNS proposal was less about demographics and more about politics.
"I see the activities of Slota as part of a drive to increase his party's support. [The PSNS] wants to attract many voters who are prejudiced against the Roma," said Muller.
Political analysts agree that Slota's statements may have more to do with gaining popularity than solving the problems of the Roma.
"This is another of Slota's exotic and xenophobic proposals regarding the Roma issue, which is unacceptable in Europe. Perhaps it is motivated by efforts to increase his popularity and improve his negotiating position before the unification of the Slovak National Party [SNS] and PSNS," said political scientist Ľuboš Kubín from the Slovak Academy of Sciences (see article, page 2).
Ďurkovič said the PSNS should not be allowed to take advantage of racist sentiment, particularly as its leader is not a parliamentary politician.
"Slota is a person like anyone else, so he can have any opinion he likes, but he is not a member of a parliamentary or governmental party so I don't think it's appropriate to pay attention to his ideas," he said.
However, experts say ignoring the issue is not a good way to go either.
"[Slota's statements] should not be a taboo, although the media attention such statements get should be equal to the importance of the people presenting them," said Kubín, adding that history has shown that when radical ideas are not addressed, they can grow to dangerous proportions.
According to the Public Opinion Research Institute of the Statistics Office, Slota is currently the 10th most-trusted politician in Slovakia.
Activists say that the current political situation needs to change before solutions to Roma issues can be found.
"The problem is that there are two racist anti-Roma sides in Slovakia. One is formed by purely Slovak [national] parties and the other by Hungarian parties. We need to change the political system from a false anti-Roma democracy to a multicultural open society," said Muller.
However, analysts say it is in great part up to the Roma to change the current situation.
"Roma leaders are divided and unable to agree. If they want to make [a difference], they must first overcome their division," said Kubín.
3. Mar 2003 at 0:00 | Lukáš Fila