Increased tension in relations between the majority population and the Roma minority also characterised 2010. With parliamentary elections in sight, the first half of the year witnessed many expressions of anti-Roma sentiment on the national as well as the local level. People’s Party-Our Slovakia (ĽSNS), whose roots lay in the outlawed extreme-right Slovenská Pospolitosť (Slovak Togetherness) organisation, held demonstrations across eastern Slovakia to protest against what it described as the unacceptable behaviour of local Roma communities. In some cases, hundreds of people joined these demonstrations.
The presence of the nationalist Slovak National Party (SNS) in the government did not help to ease the tension, as the intolerant and sometimes racist statements of its representatives continued to appear in the media. One of the party’s election campaign billboards featured a bare-chested Roma man – whose photograph was digitally altered to give him prominent tattoos and a thick gold chain – along with the slogan: “So that we do not feed those who do not want to work”.
Several reports on the state of human rights in Slovakia pointed to the unresolved issues of discrimination against Roma, among them the US Department of State’s Human Rights Report and Amnesty International’s report The State of the World’s Human Rights. They pointed to the huge numbers of Roma children who are being denied the right to education by being placed in special schools or classes for children with mental disabilities despite not having any mental disability, and the unresolved poverty and unemployment in Roma settlements. Blatant examples of segregation were listed in housing practices, and in the construction of walls to separate Roma-inhabited neighbourhoods from places where the majority population live.
A wall built to separate a Roma settlement from the village of Ostrovany in eastern Slovakia in 2009 is one such example, and was later followed by others. In Michalovce in eastern Slovakia, an extra 25 metres was added to an existing half-kilometre-long wall in August 2010. Local people in the suburb of Východ 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.
Such problems, however, are not confined to the country’s east. In the far west of Slovakia, the village of Plavecký Štvrtok has been trying to get a nearby Roma settlement bulldozed. The local authorities argue that most of the houses in the settlement are illegal, and some of them have also been built on land above an underground gas pipeline, a restricted area where no buildings are legally permitted. While human-rights watchdogs continued to publicise the inhumanity of such solutions, the government’s only response to the concerns of the village citizens appeared to be an offer to fund low-standard housing for Roma living in the settlement.
But the citizens of Plavecký Štvrtok found a sympathetic ear among officials of the SNS, known for its hard-line attitude on Roma issues. They stated that they supported the village’s demolition plans. Shortly before parliamentary elections were held, the vice-chairman of the SNS youth organisation, lawyer Martin Píry, offered his services to the mayor and on April 8 his offer was accepted.
The most recent development has shown that the settlement is protected from demolition for now, as the prosecutor has protested against it.
The unresolved problems of the Roma minority, which in turn affect the whole of society, resulted in a recent survey – the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) 2009-2010, conducted by the sociology department of the Slovak Academy of Sciences – finding that conflicts between the majority population and the Roma minority are perceived as the most bitter by Slovakia’s citizens.