SOLUTIONS offered by politicians are like fashion items. When a fashion trend emerges, politicians diligently adopt the new style, the colours, the shades, the voice: anything that promises a vote here and there. Yet sensitive issues that affect vulnerable groups in society should be free from political fashion trends. The problems of the Roma community, which have been neglected over many decades, should be addressed calmly and considerately, not inflamed by rally talk.
As tensions between the Roma and non-Roma population have escalated in Slovakia and locals who live near Roma settlements have seemed to become more sympathetic to extremist talk about instant solutions than the amorphous governmental documents which are supposed to define the problem, political parties have smelt a chance and promptly adopted their Roma policies.
The Slovak National Party (SNS) went as far as to claim the seat of Dušan Čaplovič, Slovakia’s deputy prime minister for human rights and national minorities, in exchange for the Environment Ministry, from which it had been expelled after a string of shady deals. One would search in vain among the record of the SNS for any reasoned solution offered to the Roma community, unless one counts leader Ján Slota’s infamous insults aimed at Roma.
SNS deputy chairwoman Anna Belousovová rushed to suggest that children from “socially inadaptable families” should be placed in boarding schools. She said that in this way children would be given a choice about what type of life they would like to choose. Indeed, Čaplovič too said that the idea of boarding schools should be considered. One serious aspect to such a proposal might be that these boarding schools might well end up being segregated, which would directly contradict international and national law in any European country, according to Arthur Ivatts, senior consultant to the British Department for Children, Schools and Families and formerly HM Inspector for Roma, Gypsy and Traveller Education in the UK. The Milan Šimečka Foundation, which has been working with the Roma community for many years, immediately protested against this line of thought – describing it as a drastic approach towards children and families.
Then, not to miss the train of hasty solutions, deputy chairman of the opposition Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH) and former justice minister Daniel Lipšic suggested that Slovakia’s armed forces should be deployed in eastern Slovakia to protect the health, security and property of citizens there. The image of troops patrolling the cities of the east is probably not the image Slovakia wants to project nearly 20 years after the Velvet Revolution. It is also hard to say what is systematic about this solution.
“The government has totally ignored the Roma problem for three years,” Lipšic said as he introduced his idea – a statement which no doubt had some appeal for people in Krompachy or Šarišské Michaľany, places which recently lured bands of extremists to march against what they called “Roma crime”.
Yet Lipšic’s statement needs some amendment: none of the post-communist governments has come up with a sustainable and systematic solution for Roma. When the fashion wave arrives and the public starts caring, for more or less self-centred reasons, about what happens to the estimated 380,000-strong Roma community, governments dust offsome of those notoriously repeated proposals, which serve as a temporary painkiller for symptoms but hardly as a cure.
Lipšic’s colleague, former interior minister and head of the Conservative Democrats of Slovakia (KDS), Vladimír Palko, thought that processing and releasing statistics on crimes committed by Roma might help people see the problem in clearer contours. What comes next? What solution would such information produce in either case? Would it stop shaven-headed extremists from marching to villages where locals have complained about Roma to offer their instant solution, hoping that enough television cameras and journalists would be there to justify for at least a couple of minutes the senseless and hateful unity with their groups?
Observers were quick to point out that crime rates are more likely to rise in communities affected by severe poverty, rather than there being any link to ethnicity.
Now, with parliamentary elections nearing, politicians will more often “discover” their Roma, many of whom have long lived deep in debilitating poverty regardless of who ruled the country. Given some of the proposals coming from both the opposition and the ruling coalition it might be too optimistic to say that improvement of the situation of Roma now depends on who makes it into the next government. It would certainly help if parties best-known for seeking popularity by turning ethnic groups into national hate figures do not.
Sensitive issues are like fragile historical objects: they break easily when touched by rough and hasty hands.