Report assesses Roma policies

THE POLICE raid of a Roma settlement in Moldava nad Bodvou, the government’s approach towards the activities of Slovakia’s Ombuds-woman, and introducing cuts in welfare benefits for those unwilling to participate in so-called activation work were steps taken by the government in 2013-2014 that were roundly criticised in a recent study released by the Milan Šimečka Foundation (NMŠ).

The document, entitled Roma in Public Policies, assesses the second year of Prime Minister Robert Fico’s government from mid 2013 to mid 2014 in terms of its agenda to address issues that plague Roma communities. The summary report was prepared by 41 respondents, including sociologists, activists and politicians. The overall evaluation they gave to government policies last year was a mark of 3.54 (with 1 being the best and 5 the worst), a slight improvement from the mark of 3.62 in the previous year.

The evaluation was carried out within a project entitled What to Do About Poverty that was supported by Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway via the Active Civil Engagement and Inclusion programme overseen by the Ekopolis Foundation in cooperation with the Children’s Foundation Slovakia and SOCIA, the Social Reform Foundation.

The newest report states that the government has failed to develop new ideas for dealing with challenges faced by Roma citizens and have rather stuck to populist rhetoric and measures, according to Laco Oravec, the director of NMŠ.

“We are getting better in some quantitative indexes; we are investing more in already existing programmes,” Oravec told The Slovak Spectator, “but we don’t come up with new programmes or policies.”

Peter Pollák, the Government Proxy for Roma Communities, said he disagrees with findings in the document because it does not fully reflect all activities and projects undertaken by government. Pollák pointed to improved attendance of Roma children at schools, an increasing number of community centres, pre-school education projects and discussions with the EU that resulted in €383 million in grants for the programming period 2014-2020. He stated that the complete list of adopted measures is on the Interior Ministry’s webpage.

“This and many other activities of this [Roma proxy] office and other government departments are not mirrored in the founda- tion’s summary,” Pollák told The Slovak Spectator. “I eva-luate the results of this shadow summary as inadequate.”


Critics cite Moldava raid


One of the most criticised features of the Fico government’s second year, receiving a failing mark of 4.85, was the approach towards the work of Ombudswoman Jana Dubovcová, who has tried in vain to get the government to discuss her report that points to serious human rights violations by state bodies toward Roma. Her report included the violent and controversial police raid on a Roma settlement near Moldava nad Bodvou, also strongly criticised in the foundation summary, which gave a failing mark of 4.85.

The Roma settlement informally named Budulovská was raided by 63 police officers on June 19, 2013. They were purportedly seeking seven men for which they had arrest warrants. They found none of those men but violence ensued and 15 other Roma were taken to the police station. While police allege they were attacked when entering the settlement, none of the 15 detained were ever charged with a crime resulting from the clash. Several of the Roma were injured.

Instead of seriously dealing with Dubovcová’s reports, state officials have shown a preference for accusing her of violating the law and mixing politics with her human rights agenda.
“The ignorance towards findings and reports that the ombudswoman provides is the most serious continuing problem in dealing with Roma issues,” Lucia Žitňanská of opposition Most-Híd party wrote in the summary.

The third most criticised action, receiving a mark of 4.49, was the adoption of legislation cutting welfare benefits for those who are unwilling to work that took effect at the beginning of 2014. Slovakia’s basic material-need welfare benefit varies from €60.50 to €212.30 per month depending on number and age of household members. It is reduced by €61.60 per month for every adult household member who is able to work but declines to participate in at least 32 hours per month of community service projects or other activation works organised by the municipality, according to the NMŠ summary.

According to Zuzana Balážová of Roma Advocacy and Research Centre this measure will only strengthen stereotypes about Roma being unwilling to work.

“This legislation is like government saying to the public ‘Now those lazy Roma will work and if not, they won’t get a single euro’,” Balážová said.


Positive measures


The best response from the people surveyed for the summary report was for the publishing of all data in the Atlas of Roma Communities in July 2014 which received a mark of 2.08. The atlas was published by Prešov University and the Labour Ministry which received €70,000 from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The atlas reports that there are 14 Roma settlements in Slovakia with conditions similar to the Middle Ages: lacking access to clean water, sewers, electricity and gas. On the other hand, almost half of the approximately 402,000 Roma living in Slovakia are integrated among the majority inhabitants. Another 95,000 Roma live on the edges of municipalities and 74,000 reside in segregated settlements. About 46,000 Roma live in ghettos within cities and villages, according to the atlas.

“Most of all, it [the atlas] is made much better than the previous one and it’s more accurate,” Pollák said in an interview attached to the summary. “It shows that most Roma don’t live in settlements and that the majority of Roma do not create the “Roma issue” that is so widely discussed in Slovakia.”

The second most positive measure is the re-opening of the Healthy Communities programme that received a mark of 2.16. There are 108 health care assistants and dozen of area coordinators as part of this project, with the task to educate residents of settlements and assist with communication between them and doctors, the Sme daily reported in mid October 2013.

Zuzana Pálošová of Platform for Support of the Health of Disadvantaged Groups noted that the programme seeks cooperation between marginalised Roma municipalities and health care professionals.

As quoted in the NMŠ summary Pálošová said: “We consider it as big expression of trust with the message: ‘You are able; solve problems from the position of partners’”.

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