WHILE the current tensions within the Roma community present clear threats to government of Mikuláš Dzurinda and to the stability of the country as a whole, they also offer opportunities that need to be stressed, and taken advantage of.
Firstly, the social unrest can have a most decisive impact on the results of the referendum on early elections scheduled for April 3. It is in the best interest of both the ruling coalition and the much-needed stability of the nation that less than 50 percent of voters show up for the vote, thus making the plebiscite invalid.
Few things matter more to citizens of a nation than their safety and the safety of their property.
As a result, at times of security threats, people tend to forget political and ideological differences and rally behind their leaders.
If the cabinet proves its decisiveness and gets the security situation under control quickly, Slovaks will most definitely be more reluctant to see it removed.
Ironically, the greater the threat appears, the better for Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda. That is, as long as he can handle it.
So far, the government seems to be on the right track - Dzurinda and Interior Minister Vladimír Palko have both visited crisis areas, the police have shown that they are ready to use force, but will not be provoked to use it excessively, and the army has been called in to demonstrate the determination of the state to restore order.
In addition, the government doesn't appear to be panicking.
All these factors combined give the impression that the administration is ready to do everything necessary to protect citizens.
The intelligence service, too, can benefit from the situation.
The Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS), which has been involved in one scandal after another over the past years, can now prove that it can serve the people of the country and could start tracking down the loan sharks in Roma villages and those who try to abuse the pain of the minority for their own interests.
In a country where terrorism is not an acute threat, it is easy to forget that it is not an obsolete institution.
If the situation calms down and the government points out the positive role played by the SIS, it can finally begin its rehabilitation in the eyes of the Slovak public.
Many may argue that the right-wing government's business-oriented policies, which disregard the needs of the weak, are to blame for this situation.
That claim will not stand for two reasons.
One is that the cabinet has done a very good job convincing ordinary people that the looting is not driven primarily by the social despair of the Roma, but is rather organised by upset loan sharks, who have been cut off from their source of income.
That is supported by the fact that there have been no radical protests coming from non-Roma members of the lower classes, which have also been hit by the new social cuts.
The other reason is that the Roma problem has not been addressed for years, even though an ever-increasing number of Slovaks feel something needs to be done.
Though riots are not what these people sought, they do prove to them that something is happening.
Whatever it is that can help the Slovak Roma, experience has clearly shown that giving them high social and family benefits without offering them jobs and addressing the origin of their problems will make things worse, not better.
Finally, recent developments present an opportunity for the Roma community itself.
The Roma and the rest of society, which will have now learned that the Roma problem is not something that only exists beyond the walls of their courtyard, will have to look for other ways of curing the minority's problems.
One of the most effective methods of promoting their interests and perhaps the only one that can bring them real benefits, at least in the long run, is politics.
If the Roma learn to fight for what they want in the same way most people living in the civilised world do - through elections - it will help them and help society as a whole.
The Roma, making up around 10 percent of the population, are a large group.
Now that large group seems to have a common agenda. It is up to them, their leaders, and the leaders of non-Roma parties looking to boost support, to realise this fact and turn the destructive anger into constructive politics.
It is not a likely option, but the one that would make most sense.
Otherwise, the gap between the Roma and the majority population will only grow and it will only be a question of time before violence erupts again.
1. Mar 2004 at 0:00