For the past 3.5 years in office, the second government of Robert Fico has failed to adopt significant measures to improve the situation for the country’s Roma community, experts agree. One of the biggest projects was the adoption of the law on material need aid, which is widely criticised by the non-governmental organisations advocating the rights of Roma. Another big project, to so-called Roma reform introduced in 2012, is also assessed negatively – since it has not in fact been adopted by the government.
“I consider it a period of lost opportunities,” Jarmila Lajčáková of the Centre for Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK) told The Slovak Spectator.
Moreover, Roma issues were rarely discussed during the current election term, and experts do not expect this to change during the upcoming election campaign.
Only a vague document
In its programme statement, the government promised to continue integrating Roma communities as was proposed in several previously adopted documents and strategies, including the EU strategy on Roma inclusion or the Slovak strategy of Roma integration through 2020.
“The government perceives the strategy as an open document which will be gradually updated based on the development of real solutions and relevant materials,” reads the programme statement.
The government also criticised the use of EU money to solving the Roma problems, claiming it will focus mostly on implementing the existing projects.
It further pledged to increase the employment and education level of Roma and to improve living, cultural and social conditions.
“The government lacked the vision and the interest for solving Roma problems,” Laco Oravec of the Milan Šimečka Foundation (NMŠ) told The Slovak Spectator.
Instead of implementing the strategies and action plans prepared by the Iveta Radičová government (2010-12), the new cabinet of Fico introduced the so-called Roma reform and adopted the new law on material need aid which requires Roma to work in order to draw the benefits. This law, however, has supported neither employment nor integration, Lajčáková added.
Moreover, the government did not use the possibilities to harness EU money from the previous programming period, which may have been used to support the inclusive education of Roma children. As a result, there are still segregated schools, classrooms, playgrounds, toilets, and even entrances to schools, she claimed.
On the other hand, Lajčáková praised several projects that emerged from the cooperation between non-governmental organisations and mayors at local levels.
Roma reform incomplete
Apart from the government statement, Government Proxy for Roma Communities Peter Pollák and Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák introduced the so-called Roma reform in 2012, focusing on six areas. Though they promised to gradually introduce the individual parts of the document every week, they have presented only two areas: education and law enforcement.
When asked by the NMŠ whether he is satisfied with the reform, Pollák said that the measures have been implemented, and that they have started several projects, including constructing and reconstructing schools.
Klára Orgovánová of the Roma Institute, who once served as the government’s proxy for Roma communities, said that the Roma reform has not resulted in adopting any significant strategic document that would propose any specific solutions or make the government adopt concrete steps to solve the problems.
Oravec adds that most of the measures within the Roma reforms have not been presented, so even after three years it is not clear what the real content of the reform was.
“It has rather become a marketing brand for everything Peter Pollák and his office has done, but not a comprehensive strategy,” he added.
More money for Roma
When commenting on his performance as the proxy in the interview with NMŠ, Pollák highlighted the fact that Slovakia will be able to use the EU money for helping Roma communities during the 2014-20 programming period.
“This is not common, as no other country will use the EU funds particularly on Roma communities,” Pollák told NMŠ.
During the negotiations about such possibility, Pollák and his office pointed mostly to the activities realised in the end of the previous programming period, especially those focused on pre-school education, construction of school facilities, settling the lands under settlements, supporting community centres and construction.
Orgovánová also praises the fact that the EU money was used in some localities to build new kindergartens or community centres.
“In such a serious issue it is certainly a success, but it has not brought any significant change in attitude of the Slovak government to solve Roma problems,” she told The Slovak Spectator.
Lajčáková however criticised Pollák, saying he was forced to revise the strategy and prepare the action plans by the European Commission. The EC required it as one of the conditions for drawing the EU money, she added.
Under new rules the municipalities and companies applying for money from the EU funds will have to employ at least one Roma, with the numbers increasing on construction projects in areas with a significant Roma population.
“This includes, for example, building the access to drinking and non-potable water, supporting the construction of new pre-school facilities, or construction of community centres,” Interior Ministry spokeswoman Marta Fabianová told the Sme daily.
Roma will receive the ordinary employment agreement or an agreement on performing certain tasks. The number of Roma the municipalities or companies will have to employ to receive the EU money will depend on the specific project.
Pollák hopes that the new rules will help improve the conditions for accommodation or education of Roma.
There is, however, a question whether the ministries or state officials will be able to manage and check the application of the new rules in the regions. If not, there is another question of who and how they will check the implementation, Michal Páleník of the Employment Institute told Sme.
There is also a risk that mostly Roma who already have been employed will get the new jobs. This may increase the demand for working Roma, which means there will be no change in the problematic regions, added Róbert Chovanculiak of the Institute for Economic and Social Studies (INESS) think tank, as reported by Sme.
Moreover, even if companies hired all Roma registered with the labour offices, the problems would not be solved as most of them are not listed in records, the daily wrote.
Slovaks support Roma inclusion
Meanwhile, a survey carried out by the Focus polling agency for the Slovak Governance Institute (SGI) showed that majority of Slovaks support the inclusion of Roma and the measures on which the experts agree.
“To our surprise, Slovaks considerably support the measures to improve the education and employment of Roma,” Jozef Miškolci of SGI said, as quoted in a press release.
Up to 94 percent of 1,067 respondents support the pre-school education of Roma, while 83 percent say there should be more experts in ordinary schools. In addition, 70 percent of respondents support the idea that the long-term unemployed Roma should complete their education.
The survey also suggests that 63 percent of respondents agree with supporting the employment of long-term jobless Roma in public orders, TASR wrote.
“Such agreement of the public and experts create a unique opportunity for politicians to adopt measures with high potential of social change,” Lucia Kováčová of SGI said, as quoted in the press release.
Not a key topic in this campaign
Experts addressed by The Slovak Spectator agree that Roma issues will not be among the main topics of the campaign before the upcoming general election.
“Political parties are afraid of the Roma topic,” Oravec said, adding they are especially concerned about proposing something positive.
Even if some parties mention the topic during campaign, it will likely be framed in a way to solve problems the rest of society has with Roma, he added.
The non-governmental organisations associated in the Slovakia for Everybody initiative however stress that the government should deal with the topic and bring solutions to the Roma problems. They compiled a document in the summer recommending several areas on which politicians should focus. Regarding Roma, they propose to enable improved access to potable water, medical care and education.
Oravec points to worsening situation in the Roma settlements and the increasing number of poor people living there. Though this would require some attention of the politicians and, maybe, some kind of big agreement made by the political parties, he is afraid that they are not prepared to take the necessary steps.
5. Nov 2015 at 12:57 | Radka Minarechová