EDITORIAL

Sniffing the foul air of prejudice

THE DWINDLING of prejudices, stereotypes and tensions between minorities and the majority population should be signs of a nation’s society coming of age, say the philosophers among us when making their contributions to post-modern discourse. Over the past couple of years, however, it seems that some nations are relapsing into childhood rather than advancing toward maturity in erasing prejudices, reducing conflicts between groups of citizens, and scouring racism, sexism and homophobia from society.

THE DWINDLING of prejudices, stereotypes and tensions between minorities and the majority population should be signs of a nation’s society coming of age, say the philosophers among us when making their contributions to post-modern discourse. Over the past couple of years, however, it seems that some nations are relapsing into childhood rather than advancing toward maturity in erasing prejudices, reducing conflicts between groups of citizens, and scouring racism, sexism and homophobia from society.

If one of the signs of the greatness of a nation is how well its majority population behaves towards its minorities, there would not be many ‘great’ nations in central Europe right now, especially when looking at it from the perspective of Roma citizens.

Many surveys have confirmed that ethnic prejudice has been worsening in the region and that ‘majority citizens’ squeezed by the global economic downturn have too often responded to their economic insecurity with more hostility towards Roma communities.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in a December 2009 release wrote that over the past 12 months as many as 64 percent of Czech Roma were victims of discrimination. In Hungary that number stood at 62 percent. And according to the report, an overwhelming majority of those surveyed had not reported their discrimination to any organisation, which means that thousands more incidents of discriminatory treatment might be invisible.

On January 26, Amnesty International lashed out at Romanian authorities for that country’s inhumane treatment of its Roma minority and called on officials to cease forcibly evicting Roma families and to immediately “relocate those living for years in hazardous conditions next to waste dumps, sewage treatment plants or industrial areas on the outskirts of cities”.

And Slovakia? Slovaks regard ethnic tensions as more dominant than any other kind of social conflict, according to a recent report prepared by the Slovak Academy of Sciences. The sharpest social tension exists between Roma and non-Roma citizens, with Slovak-Hungarian tensions coming right behind, the Academy’s International Social Survey Programme 2009-2010 found.

The report said 25 percent of those polled consider tension between Roma and non-Roma to be very sharp, while 50 percent said they perceive it as sharp. Sociologists involved with the survey also stated that Roma citizens are now starting to be even more discontented with their unequal status in society.

Over the past year, there have been reports about towns toying with the idea of building walls to separate non-Roma and Roma residents and the village of Ostrovany actually erected such a wall. Extremist groups have organised mass marches in several towns while local residents complained via the media about rising tensions between non-Roma and Roma in their communities.

It is at this point that one of the ruling coalition parties, the Slovak National Party, has chosen to trot out its old ‘solutions’ for its version of the ‘Roma problem’ and begun to disseminate so-called reports packed with hackneyed stereotypes of Roma via its party web-television. SNS’s ‘reporter’ calls Roma citizens ‘gypsies’ while its deputy chairwoman, Anna Belousovova, promptly rationalises that this is because “SNS is not hypocritical and always calls problems by their right name,” as quoted by the Sme daily.

With parliamentary elections nearing it is quite likely that the SNS will keep dirtying the already grimy political discourse with its well-worn ideas. Belousovova has already suggested that regular publication of crime statistics involving Roma should be resumed.

After some of our politicians sniffed the foul air and decided that ‘doing something about Roma’ is once again safe and sellable because of increasing tensions within some towns with a large number of Roma residents, several parties have suddenly declared that this issue will now be spotlighted on their agendas. But if society and the media want to find a comprehensive and sustainable policy for better social inclusion of Roma citizens, the search must start with the third, non-governmental sector because Slovakia’s government offices and political parties are bereft of sensible ideas.

The nearing elections are likely to produce a whole battalion of politicians who have become home-grown sociologists, ethnographers, or experts on minorities and cultural issues. Weirdly enough, many of our politicians think that simply because they joined a political party and were then elected to their seats or party offices, they also somehow inhaled sufficient wisdom to know what is best for minority groups. And so often – just for the sake of a snappy statement, one they think might resonate well with voters – these charlatans risk inciting even more tension in society.


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