Another wall separates Roma from non-Roma in eastern Slovakia

THE WALL that now separates the mainly Roma inhabitants of a settlement next to the village of Ostrovany, near Šarišské Michaľany in eastern Slovakia, has evoked intense debate since it was built last year. But some are now suggesting that it could serve as a model for other parts of Slovakia, where similar walls may be erected to serve the same purpose: to separate the Roma from the non-Roma population.

THE WALL that now separates the mainly Roma inhabitants of a settlement next to the village of Ostrovany, near Šarišské Michaľany in eastern Slovakia, has evoked intense debate since it was built last year. But some are now suggesting that it could serve as a model for other parts of Slovakia, where similar walls may be erected to serve the same purpose: to separate the Roma from the non-Roma population.

Michalovce in eastern Slovakia is now joining the ranks of the segregated after an extra 25 metres was added to an existing half-kilometre-long wall. Locals people in the suburb of Vychod collected €3,000 to finance construction of the wall extension, which prevents residents of the neighbouring Angy Mlyn settlement, where approximately 1,800 Roma live, from making a short-cut through their properties when they want to walk to the centre of the town, the Sme daily reported.

Municipal officials said the wall would be good for sporting activities and would also serve as a barrier against noise. The local authority has even suggested that it will protect Roma residents from traffic, according to the Sme daily.

“It seems to me like the Berlin Wall for us,” said Robert Ridaj, one of the residents of the Roma settlement, adding that the difference is that he does not expect this wall to be taken down.

Sme quoted inhabitants as saying that the wall was not directed against Roma but against people who were throwing trash around and urinating under their balconies.

Prime Minister Iveta Radičová said that the wall would not solve anything.

Slovakia’s ombudsman Pavel Kandráč has said he will examine the construction of the Michalovce wall. Based on media reports he has already asked the local authority in Michalovce to supply a written statement and all relevant documentation about the construction of the wall near Angy Mlyn.

Kandráč will also look into complaints by inhabitants of the Roma settlement who now claim that due to its construction their access to public facilities has been restricted based on their ethnic origin, SITA newswire reported.

In fact, the land on which the wall was built was rented to local home owners for the purpose of landscaping and aesthetic fencing, Michalovce Municipal Authority spokeswoman Iveta Palečková told SITA.

Construction of the controversial wall began at the end of last year. The almost three- metre-high concrete barrier stretches from Kyjevská Street to Leningradská Street. The city argued that it was built for sporting purposes.

This is not, however, the first wall of its kind to have been built in Slovakia. The wall next to the village of Ostrovany, near Šarišské Michaľany in eastern Slovakia, has become a symbol of the problems between the Roma minority and the non-Roma majority in Slovakia.

Just as in Michalovce, Ostrovany locals claim that their wall is the only way to prevent raids on their fruit and vegetable gardens from those living in the Roma settlement. The local Roma say they feel as if the wall has turned their settlement into a zoo.

Last year Štefan Šarközi from the Institute of Roma Public Policy criticised the Ostrovany wall, which he said puts all the residents of the settlement into one category: thieves. He spoke sarcastically about the wall in comments for The Slovak Spectator: “Is the wall sufficient to prevent to Roma from stealing? Is it long enough so that they cannot come around it, is it high enough?”

According to Šarközi, building the wall was an easy solution, but it is not clear where it leaves the people on both sides, or what might happen next.

He noted that any wall that separates people of different races, origins, languages or religions is in fact an edifice to the failures of society itself.

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