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OPPONENTS SAY AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL, SOME SAY NOT

Legislating equality: Can it be done?

A CLAUSE that legislates equal opportunity for Roma people earned a resounding majority vote in parliament in May. Now it is under attack by the same group that opposed it. The Christian Democratic Movement is asking the Constitutional Court to strike the law as unconstitutional.
At a press conference on September 13 Slovak Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic told journalists that positive discrimination, including various quotas designed to help some social groups gain greater access to jobs and education, "infringed on human dignity".

A CLAUSE that legislates equal opportunity for Roma people earned a resounding majority vote in parliament in May. Now it is under attack by the same group that opposed it. The Christian Democratic Movement is asking the Constitutional Court to strike the law as unconstitutional.

At a press conference on September 13 Slovak Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic told journalists that positive discrimination, including various quotas designed to help some social groups gain greater access to jobs and education, "infringed on human dignity".

"Every kind of discrimination is bad in my opinion, both the negative and positive," the minister said. He said that quotas "strengthen the stereotype that some groups cannot achieve success without special protection".

Lipšic's legal argument centres on his assertion that the constitution explicitly denies racial or ethnic groups from gaining advantages or suffering disadvantages by stating that all people are equal. The minister asked the Constitutional Court, a top judicial body that decides over legal disputes, to inspect the clause.

Pál Csáky considers the positive discrimination legislation perfectly legal. Slovakia's deputy PM for minorities and human rights, Csáky said that the clause is a temporary

measure to "ensure unfairly disadvantaged groups have a chance to match the rest of society".

Csáky's spokesman Martin Urmanič also noted that various experts from the European Commission proclaimed the Slovak anti-discrimination clause one of the most modern pieces of legislations of its kind in the EU.

Lipšic believes that racial or ethnic origin alone cannot justify any type of discrimination legislation.

Marian Posluch, the head of the state law department with the Comenius University's Faculty of Law in Bratislava, agrees with Lipšic that the clause is in conflict with the constitution.

"The Slovak constitution states clearly that all people are equal," Posluch told the private news agency SITA on September 13. Posluch also said that introducing the positive discrimination clause with vague language such as "balancing measures" made it unclear when, and for whom, the positive discrimination clause could be used.

If the top court decides that legislating equality is indeed incompatible with the Slovak constitution, Roma representatives said they fear that the gap between Roma and non-Roma people in Slovakia will widen.

According to various estimates, Roma in Slovakia count between 300,000 and 500,000 people. They are the poorest in the country, often living in ghettos and settlements mainly in Eastern Slovakia. They suffer high unemployment rates and often are subject to social exclusion.

Alexander Patkoló, head of the Slovak Roma Initiative party (RIS), said the clause is an invaluable tool to help improve the Roma situation. "RIS supports positive discrimination for Roma people, particularly in the labour market. We see it as an inevitable temporary measure," Patkoló told The Slovak Spectator.

Klára Orgovánová, the cabinet's plenipotentiary for Roma Communities told The Slovak Spectator in July that Slovakia's central authorities - the labour and health ministries - were also opposed to granting Roma people temporary balancing measures.

Even those who are wary of affirmative action measures see the need for passing them to legislate equality.

Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations Kálmán Mizsei said recently, "The Roma population of Slovakia is so much behind the mainstream, and it is so much a target of prejudices, that its problems cannot be solved exclusively on the basis of the civil principle [that all people are equal]."

He told The Slovak Spectator, "In the micro-cosmos, it is possible that supporting the Roma groups in eastern Slovakia could hinder the socially disadvantaged Slovaks or ethnic Hungarians in the region.

"However, our latest global human development reports for 2004 unequivocally show that without well targeted affirmative action, the problem of discrimination either cannot be cured, or will take a great deal of time to rectify," Mizsei told The Spectator.

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