THE CONSITUTIONAL Court seems unable to swallow or spit out the huge bite it has taken: the anti-discrimination legislation. Signalling that it is content to chew, the court once again failed to give Slovakia a verdict on whether the anti-discrimination law is in line with the country's constitution.
The paragraph on affirmative action is what makes the legislation so sensitive. Affirmative action language was inserted into the law as a tool to help the most afflicted groups of society get in step with the rest of the population.
Last year, over 85 percent of Slovaks agreed with the anti-discrimination act, based on a poll conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs.
"Support for the anti-discrimination law is so universal that different opinions between social-demographic groups are not apparent," the institute's analysis read.
The legislation, which has divided cabinet members and distressed politicians, received words of praise from several human rights experts who suggested that it is a better law than several, more established EU members have.
In early May, the European Parliament called on all EU member countries that have a significant Roma minority to fight against unjust exclusion and improve the Roma's access to education.
The initiator of the European Parliament resolution, Viktória Mohácsi, a parliamentary deputy for Hungarians of Roma origin, claims that nine million Roma suffer living in the European Union from the consequence of racial discrimination, poverty and social exclusion.
Officials admit that Roma participation in state administration is minimal. However, sociologists say that it would be extremely difficult to say how many Roma work in state and local government.
"We are not allowed to keep statistics based on ethnicity," Michal Šebesta told daily Hospodárske noviny. Šebesta works at the Office of Cabinet Appointee for the Roma Community, Klára Orgovánová.
Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, who challenged the anti-discrimination legislation at the Constitutional Court, does not accept the argument that affirmative action should serve only as a temporary balancing strategy.
He insists that this kind of "preferential treatment" might harm the human dignity of the Roma.
It would be hard to estimate whether the legislation has had any positive effect on the employment of the Roma, since the existence of the legislation on the books does not guarantee that the society will give up its prejudicial ways.
Certainly, Lipšic's message calling for colour-blind laws resonated with those who worry that a large percentage of Slovaks would lose out if affirmative action were widely applied in the country.
In fact, a lack of serious debate on how these strategies would be applied affects the efficacy of the law. What concrete form should affirmative action take? How many people would it affect? Who would benefit and who might be disadvantaged?
The inability of the Constitutional Court to decide over the legislation only shows how sensitive the issue is and how many angles it actually has.
Advocates of the initiative should make certain that the law in no way supports preferential selection procedures that favour unqualified candidates over those who are qualified.
"The whole problem with positive discrimination is that to prevent ourselves from discriminating we have to discriminate. This is like an argument out of Catch 22," Lipšic said March 24 in Košice, where the Constitutional Court discussed the anti-discrimination law for the first time.
Certainly being a purist is a political value under certain circumstances, but practical life shows that if not affirmative action, there must be something done to support equality and it must be done urgently.
Last year, the Office of Cabinet Appointee for the Roma Community registered several cases in which Roma were victims of discrimination in various spheres of life.
Slovakia's National Centre for Human Rights received more than 200 complaints related to workplace discrimination and cases complaining of labour market discrimination. Human rights experts say that the actual number is likely much higher, since many do not know how or where to complain.
The last annual report on human rights released by the US Department of State also criticized Slovakia for ongoing discrimination against the Roma.
The truth is that even with initial help for the Roma, it will take many years before the majority of the population will see an increased number of Roma studying at universities, let alone working in state administration or in parliament.
By Beata Balogová
9. May 2005 at 0:00