THE GOVERNMENT'S Roma policy is based on a discriminatory and sanctions-oriented policy while ignoring an action plan passed by the previous government, according to a group of NGOs operating in Slovakia.
The Civil Society Monitoring Report on the Implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS) and Decade Action Plan in 2012 in Slovak Republic was prepared by a civil society coalition comprising the Roma Institute, Centre for the Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK), Quo Vadis, and Cultural Association of Roma in Slovakia NGOs. It evaluates the fulfilling of those two documents from August 2011 to March 2013 and contains studies conducted at the local level about education, discrimination, employment possibilities, the healthcare situation and housing of Roma in Slovakia. The report was presented on June 17.
In the report NGOs point to Roma segregation at schools and the government’s ineffective using of EU structural funds to increase Roma employment. Not all the data is official, but it is representative and “responsible”, the report’s author Jarmila Lajčáková from CVEK told The Slovak Spectator.
The report was prepared within the Decade of Roma Inclusion, the international initiative of governments, intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations as well as Roma civil society geared towards eliminating discrimination against Roma that runs through 2015. Similar reports have been prepared in Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Hungary, Romania and Spain.
Old plan ignored
“We [NGOs] think that [the government and Government Proxy for Roma Communities Peter Pollák] do not have interest in fulfilling the revised action plan and national strategy; it is one of our objections,” Lajčáková told The Slovak Spectator.
The national strategy, NRIS, was adopted in 2011 in response to the European Union’s demand to create a strategy for Roma integration, making it a condition for governments to draw money from the EU structural funds. At the time when it was created, the European Commission evaluated Slovakia’s strategy as the one of the best, according to the NGOs’ press release. The NRIS might have its shortcomings and may be “vague”, nevertheless the government should observe it, the NGOs say.
“I understand that NGOs are waiting for results but my approach towards the issue is to deal with it from the basics,” Pollák told The Slovak Spectator. “I want to unite the partial results achieved by my predecessors in one complex project.”
Pollák called the approach of the NGOs’ unprofessional as they did not ask him about his office’s future plans for the purposes of the report, such as increasing the number of health-care and teachers’ assistants in Roma communities or building new kindergartens.
NGOs condemn sanctions approach
NGOs called Pollák’s reform proposal discriminatory and based influencing behaviour through the threat of sanctions, which is “in a dire conflict with the NRIS”, according to the report. Even though restrictions like cutting down social benefits are quick to make, they will not bring the positive long-term effect, Lajčáková said.
“I do not think that changing the social system to be fairer will harm the Roma,” Pollák responded in an interview with The Slovak Spectator. “On the contrary, it will activate and strengthen the Roma community as well as decrease the tension between Roma and the majority in society.”
Ingrid Kosová, the head of Quo Vadis, told The Slovak Spectator that policy should focus on informing about rules rather than the threat of sanctions.
“We isolate them [Roma] into segregated environment, impose sanctions on them, hate them […] and then we expect them to be willing to integrate?” Kosová said. “If a six-year-old child fears to go to school because they know that [people] will scold them there, it’s a big problem for this country.”
Among the report’s complements of government policies, NGOs commended a provision adopting affirmative action by state and private bodies into its revision of the Anti-Discrimination Act, which became effective on April 1, 2013. That may help to ensure equal opportunities in accessing especially education and employment for Roma, the report says.
Failure to use EU funds
Unemployment is among the most serious problems of the Roma and the government’s labour market policy has had limited impact on Roma employment rates so far. In the monitored segregated Roma communities just 11.1 percent of people were employed, as compared to 85.9 percent among those in the surrounding areas. Employment rates also show gender discrimination that is more serious in Roma communities. Just 6.1 percent of women of Roma women are employed as compared to 13.8 percent of men.
The European Commission has noted the ineffective use of funds from Brussels, noting that while money is continually invested there appears to be little progress. Though the using of funds improved the progress is very small, Director for Policy Co-ordination at the EC’s Directorate General for Regional Policy Rudolf Niessler told the SITA newswire. Lajčáková said that the EC is considering halting funding of activation works, according to unofficial information she has.
Kosová also pointed to infective spending of money intended to address problems in the Roma community as well, saying that during the previous programme period of drawing Structural Funds from EU (2007-2013) Slovakia received €200 million.
“These financial sources […] were literally wasted away and not a cent of them went to the Roma communities,” Kosová said. “The public speaks about that money as [if it was] spent on those communities to solve Roma problem, but it is not the case.”
Pollák admitted that Slovakia’s drawing of EU Structural Funds is ineffective. His office is currently preparing new projects, to contain clear measures and data about their effectiveness, he said. He also proposes creating a special labour market where long-term unemployed people will have access.
School segregation remains real
In the area of education, the report hails the ruling of the Prešov District Court from 2011 and upheld by a Regional Court in 2012 outlawing segregation Roma children at a school in Šarišské Michaľany as a major breakthrough. However, the case has not prompted relevant authorities to start to proactively eliminate widespread practices of segregation, the report says.
“We have a school in Zvolen where it is forbidden for Roma parents to enter the school after the school time and they [school employees] place children in the cellar area instead at school children’s club to wait for their parents, watched by teachers’ Roma assistant,” Kosová said.
It is not an official school policy, but usually deputy headmaster tells somebody to take children from lunch and place them in cellar area so they will not be seen, Kosová said. Such conduct often escapes governmental reports, including the reports on fulfilling the national Roma strategy.
“Slovakia looks very good on paper but when one goes out to the field, one sees a rather different reality,” Lajčáková said.
15. Jul 2013 at 0:00 | Roman Cuprik