Among the major changes in the government’s structure after the March election was the cancellation of the post of deputy prime minister for national minorities and human rights, a step for which Robert Fico earned harsh criticism from human rights and minority rights activists. Subsequently, for the first time, the post of government proxy for Roma communities was given to an opposition representative, Peter Pollák, who is also Slovakia’s first-ever ethnic Roma MP, and a member of Ordinary People and Independent Personalities (OĽaNO).
Pollák, whose agenda now falls under the Interior Ministry, and is shared with Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák, announced an ambitious project dubbed the ‘Roma Reform’ and officially titled ‘The Right Way’, which includes solutions divided into six areas, of which only two – education and justice – have so far been presented.
Meanwhile, several anti-Roma protests took place throughout the year, indicating what local and international human rights watchdogs say is a negative shift in public opinion against Slovakia’s Roma minority. Watchdogs have warned of extremists becoming more sophisticated and of the public becoming more susceptible to racist sentiments.
Marián Kotleba, the controversial leader of the extremist People’s Party – Our Slovakia, and about 250 of his followers marched on a Roma settlement adjoining Krásnohorské Podhradie, a village in Košice Region, on September 29. Earlier this year Kotleba announced his intention to demolish an illegal Roma settlement there shortly after he had acquired part of the land on which the houses of several Roma families currently stand. He had obtained it after nearby Krásna Hôrka Castle was devastated in March by a fire which police later concluded had been started inadvertently by two Roma boys smoking a cigarette near the historic site.
On the same day, a rally was organised in Partizánske by the Say Stop to Anti-Socials in Your Town civic initiative to campaign for what it called “the rights of decent people”. Partizánske’s mayor, Jozef Božik, who commented that his town had no other option but to urge politicians in Bratislava to focus their attention on the issue, attended the rally. About 200 neo-Nazis also joined a march towards houses in the town where Roma live. Later, on October 13, a similar rally called ‘Together for a Decent and Safe Life’, organised by Oskar Dobrovodský, a resident of Malacky whose disputes with his Roma neighbours have been widely reported, took place in Bratislava.
Roma were also involved in a tragic event that occurred on June 16 in Hurbanovo, Nitra Region, during which local police officer, 51-year-old Milan J., shot dead three people and injured another two. The perpetrator, who was off-duty at the time, parked his own car in front of the house of a Roma family and shot dead a 44-year-old man, his 19-year-old son and 24-year-old son-in-law. A second son was shot in the lung and the son’s wife was shot in the leg.