New proxy proposes 'Roma Reform'

PETER Pollák, the first Roma ever to sit in the Slovak parliament, has taken over the job of government proxy for Roma communities at a time when two recent anti-Roma rallies unmistakably indicate that the situation of Slovakia’s Roma community needs urgent attention.

Peter PollákPeter Pollák (Source: SME)

PETER Pollák, the first Roma ever to sit in the Slovak parliament, has taken over the job of government proxy for Roma communities at a time when two recent anti-Roma rallies unmistakably indicate that the situation of Slovakia’s Roma community needs urgent attention.

Pollák, who made it into parliament on the candidate list of the opposition group Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO), is now geared to pursue what he calls the ‘Roma reform’, built around the philosophy that state assistance for individuals will depend on their approach to society, the state and the family.

In carrying out the reform, Pollák’s office will work with ministries, municipalities and non-governmental organisations, he told The Slovak Spectator.

On October 3, Pollák, who replaced his namesake Miroslav Pollák as proxy, called on non-governmental organisations and parliamentary parties to cooperate on coming up with solutions to the problems of Roma communities, and invited them to a working session on October 8, the SITA newswire reported.

The government proxy said that he does not want to reduce the role of the third sector and political bodies, but instead wants actively to involve them in solving the problem in such a way that Roma reform works to the benefit of Slovakia and brings results.

Pollák shared with The Slovak Spectator his opinions about a rally attended by about 3,000 people in Partizánske, Trenčín Region, on September 29 and organised by the Say Stop to Anti-Socials in Your Town civic initiative. It was also attended by Partizánske’s mayor, Jozef Božik and later joined by about 200 neo-Nazis. On the same day, Marián Kotleba, the controversial leader of the extremist People’s Party – Our Slovakia, and about 250 neo-Nazi followers marched on a Roma settlement adjoining Krásnohorské Podhradie, a village in Košice Region, where Kotleba has acquired part of the land on which the houses of several Roma families currently stand.

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How do you assess the fact that the so-called march against those whom organisers called ‘inadaptable citizens’ was supported by the mayor of Partizánske, who claimed that they had no other option in order to attract the attention of Bratislava to the fact that the problem is serious?
Peter Pollák (PP):
I have entered the position of government proxy for the Roma communities to make sure situations such as the one in Partizánske or Svodín [Ed note: a village in Nitra Region where disputes were reported in August 2012], where the tensions between the Roma and non-Roma population have increased, are not repeated. The mayors of towns and villages will not solve problems that emerge within the coexistence of their citizens by organising protest marches or by moving the inhabitants from these communities out of their municipalities. The basic role of the municipality, as defined by the law on municipal establishment, is to care about their inhabitants.
We know that the problem is serious and this is why we have prepared the so-called Roma Reform. During the application of its principles and specific steps, I will welcome the active cooperation of mayors, because I am convinced that by bringing the reform to life the situation will calm down and will benefit both groups. Its central principle is that decency pays.

TSS: What are the potential impacts of similar expressions of dissatisfaction by local citizens directed against an ethnic group?
If we fail to seriously address the problems within communities, then the dissatisfaction of citizens might grow into more radical expressions and people will express more open sympathies towards extremist movements.

TSS: What is your response to the activities of extremist leader Marián Kotleba in Krásnohorské Podhradie?
I consider the goal of Marián Kotleba, whose aim is the removal of homes of a marginalised Roma community in Krásnohorské [Podhradie], an act that is at odds with the legal order of Slovakia as well as international laws. I assume that the actions of Mr Kotleba, from the moment he purchased a share of the land, up to publishing the call under the slogan, “Enough talk, the situation calls for action”, as well as his request [to state police] for cooperation [with accompanying him to the Roma settlements], possibly indicate that criminal acts like defamation, inciting racial and ethnic hatred, as well as limiting the freedom of movement, have been committed.
Carrying out the so-called Roma Reform, which offers more systematic solutions, is also needed to limit any space for the presentation of simplistic solutions by similar movements which are represented by Kotleba.

TSS: What is your office’s solution to the problem of unsettled ownership of some Roma families towards the land on which their dwellings are built?
The Roma community has seen the most significant decline in their standard of living in the area of housing. The number of dwellings built on unsettled land has grown in line with the number of families relocated from integrated city suburbs due to worsening economic situations in families and society. The constructions are traumatising for both sides: the owners of the land cannot use their plots for their purposes and the Roma do not have ownership of their own homes. We thus propose that the state reimburses the owners of the land on which the illegal settlements are built and subsequently offers the land for the same price to its current occupiers. If they do not purchase the land they are using, their dwellings will be removed.

I assume that the number of people who will not purchase the land before the deadline set by the law will be minimal. We consider that Roma will also be able to use a state subsidy for housing, which should go not only to those who have a certificate of ownership of real estate, to pay for the land. The inhabitants of communities are eligible for housing assistance to a rather small degree based on the current legislation, because they cannot prove that they are owners of the real estate, as it is built on unsettled land. I would like to stress that the state will not be paying these subsidies automatically but based on the fulfilment of legal duties.

TSS: How do you perceive the expressions of the majority towards the Roma living in settlements and how in your opinion could tension between economically vulnerable Roma and non-Roma be eased?
Opinions about the Roma are often not based on personal experience and knowledge but mainly by images presented in the media. We want to motivate employers to create jobs for long-term unemployed people. They will thereby improve their social situation and will not depend on state help.

TSS: How will you make sure that your office remains linked to the realities of Roma communities?
The office of the government proxy is interlinked with the Roma communities. The regional branches of our office monitor the particular municipalities where inhabitants of the Roma communities live and they cooperate with representatives of the local governments in an effort to avoid problems within these communities.

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