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Slovakia's Roma decade begins

CABINET appointee (plenipotentiary) for Roma affairs, Klára Orgovánová, opened the Decade of Roma Inclusion in Slovakia on April 8, World Roma Day. The Decade of Roma Inclusion is an international project involving former Communist bloc countries.

"Efforts to improve the situation for the Roma population in Slovakia gained a formal character once Slovakia joined this project, but the outlines and aims remain the same," said Orgovánová.

According to the plenipotentiary, over the last 10 years NGO activities have created a base from which to change the status of the Roma in Slovak society, the SITA news agency reported.

So far the most important steps have been acknowledging the Roma community as a national minority, establishing Roma civic associations and setting up a Roma theatre in Košice.

Orgovánová also praised the creation of a Roma department at Nitra University and high schools that include classes on Roma history and language. Slovak schools have Roma assistants to help Roma pupils and teachers communicate. There are also social workers based in Roma settlements.

Slovakia plans to improve school attendance among Roma children and enhance the status of the Roma on the labour market.

In its national action plan for the Decade of Roma Inclusion, Slovakia pledged to support employers who offer jobs to Roma, reduce racial prejudice among civil servants in the social affairs and employment sector, distribute grants to unemployed Roma to help them get work, and build homes for Roma people within and outside Roma settlements.

Orgovánová said that the cabinet allocated about Sk600 million (€15.2 million) for these goals in 2005. Additionally, Slovakia can draw funds to improve Roma living conditions from EU structural funds and apply for subsidies from the Roma Education Fund, the European Social Fund and the PHARE fund.

The International Decade of Roma Inclusion is supported by the World Bank, the Open Society Institute, the European Commission and the United Nations Development Programme.

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