Plan to fight Roma criminality questioned

The Interior Ministry defends its plan to increase the number of police officers in problematic localities, but mayors would welcome other measures.

Illustrative stock photoIllustrative stock photo (Source: Sme)

It is necessary to “put things in order” in Roma settlements, said representatives of the ruling Smer party at their December 2016 congress. To achieve this goal, Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák promised to increase the number of police officers in what he called “problematic localities” and, if necessary, also adopt more repressive measures.

Not everyone, however, agrees with the recently published list of 200 areas on which the ministry now wants to focus. Some mayors were even surprised at appearing among the problematic municipalities.

“I don’t have the feeling that the crime rate has recently increased significantly,” Attila Agócs, mayor of Fiľakovo (Banská Bystrica Region), told The Slovak Spectator.

Though Fiľakovo, situated close to the Hungarian border, has one of the highest concentrations of Roma in Slovakia, they deal with average problems, he added.

Problematic selection

The Interior Ministry prepared the list, which was published only after the Sme daily requested it via the law on free access to information, based on an analysis of socially excluded communities, particularly from the point of security situation, which is regularly prepared by the police.

“The analysis reflects not only conflicts between the minority and the majority, but also within communities,” the ministry’s press department explained to The Slovak Spectator.

The document evaluates the situation in the first half of 2016. Compared with the second half of 2015, the number of conflicts increased, the ministry adds.

Some mayors addressed by the Slovak media, however, were surprised by their localities being listed and claim they have not noticed more crimes committed by Roma. Agócs says they face other, particularly social problems, which cannot be solved by a greater number of police officers.

Also, the Government’s Proxy for Roma Communities Ábel Ravasz (Most-Híd) finds some choices “very questionable”.

Though his office runs under the Interior Ministry, they failed to invite him to discuss the list. Ravasz, however, admits that their cooperation is rather formal and logistical, and they only rarely meet to discuss policy issues.

“I would have been glad – as an advisory organ of the government – to have been involved in the process of preparing this document, to avoid unnecessary mistakes and conflict,” Ravasz told The Slovak Spectator.

Responses mixed

On the other hand, several mayors have praised the activity. Štefan Gregor, mayor of Šahy (Nitra Region), said they welcome every activity aimed at increasing the security of inhabitants.

Also the city of Trnava, which appeared on the list with 15 localities, claims it is necessary to strengthen patrols. Since some violations of the public order create a breeding ground for some radical responses, it is necessary to ensure that everybody observes the law and avoid discrimination of those who abide by the rules, said city’s spokesperson Pavol Tomašovič.

“The city can eliminate some phenomena only within its own powers and education, but also in this case it is necessary to have legislative support in case the basic behaviour rules are violated,” Tomašovič told The Slovak Spectator.

Though also Nitra Mayor Jozef Dvonč welcomed the increase in the number of police officers, he connects the measure mostly with the arrival of Jaguar Land Rover and five more companies, which will result in an increase in the number of inhabitants and commuters for work.

“As for Roma, everything is okay as we systematically continue social field work in community centres in Orechový Dvor and Dražovce,” Dvonč told The Slovak Spectator.

Analysts critical

Though the Interior Ministry stresses its analysis is not based on ethnicity, Elena Gallová Kriglerová from the Centre for Research of Ethnicity and Culture (CVEK) calls the proposal “a typical approach of the ministry towards any minority, especially Roma”.

“It creates a feeling that there is a danger and it is necessary to adopt some repressive or restrictive measures,” Gallová Kriglerová told The Slovak Spectator.

Also Laco Oravec from the Milan Šimečka Foundation questions the proposal, saying that Slovakia has one of the highest number of police officers in Europe.

“We instead lack the ability to solve social problems and inequalities in the society,” Oravec told The Slovak Spectator, stressing the need to prevent the situation from worsening and creating tension on the local level.

Return of Roma patrols?

The increased number of police officers in Roma settlements should, however, be only one of the measures planned by the Interior Ministry. Its aim is to install more camera systems in problematic areas in cooperation with municipalities and also to open new district units.

Yet it plans to introduce specific measures for respective localities only later, as their preparation is currently “underway”, the ministry explained.

Several mayors addressed by the Slovak media, however, say they would rather welcome measures focused on prevention, money for social field workers or community centres.

Ravasz also stresses the importance of field work, saying he does not support repressive measures.

Agócs sees one of the solutions in re-introducing the Roma civil patrols, which have been active in Fiľakovo for 12 years. The project was beneficial for the Roma, but also for the town and the local labour office which was employing the patrols’ members, he added.

Financing from the EU funds, however, ran out at the end of 2015, and no new project has been launched yet. Ravasz, however, promises to restore the project and claims he has been searching for ways to finance it.

“I believe we have now found the resources and hope to jumpstart the programme by the summer of 2017,” he added.

Prevention rather than repression

One of the positive features of the patrols is that their members are Roma and know the community, said Gallová Kriglerová.

“It is however more important that Roma participate in social field and community work,” she added.

Oravec agrees, saying that the Roma patrols may serve as an example of how to increase the participation of Roma in various sectors.

“Roma patrols should not be seen as the tool to repress the crime rate, but to increase mutual trust and prevent problems,” he added.

Moreover, they can serve as role models for others and help smooth the communication between state authorities and Roma, Oravec said.

Gallová Kriglerová also stresses the need to adopt measures that can help Roma become part of society and fight segregation.

“Not to build walls, but to build bridges between communities,” she added.

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