Sunday, April 3, 2011


Settlement in Slovakia
 From Global Voices in English

Slovakia: The Roma People, “Livin' On the Edge”

By Tibor Blazko
2 April 2011

Photo by Flickr user matýsek/Matus Kacmar (CC BY 2.0)

One of the major ethnic minorities in Central Europe are the Gypsy/Roma/Romani  people. It is unclear how many of them live in Slovakia because often they label themselves as ethnic Slovaks or ethnic Hungarians in the polls.

They arrived centuries ago here, and even though this is their home, they're not fully integrated with the majority. In the Slovak language, for example, “to gypsy” (cigániť) means “to lie.” On the other hand, they are popular for their dynamic music and, historically, they've been considered excellent blacksmiths and horse herders.

Traditionally, they've been living in their own communities, some of them as nomads. They survived various assimilation initiatives, some of which would be deemed unacceptable today. During World War II, from 220,000 to 1,500,000 Romani were killed by the Nazis.

During the socialist era, nomadic way of life was prohibited, and instead of their wagons and ghettos, the Roma received new flats. One of Slovakia's largest and best-known Roma neighborhoods is Luník 9 in Košice.

After the fall of communism, the poorly educated members of the Roma community became the first victims of unemployment. Unable to pay their bills, some of them left their flats and created illegal colonies, with no access to public services, such as electricity, sewage and garbage collection.

They also grew to rely on social benefits a lot. One of the common majority stereotypes is that the Roma “have many children because of the related benefits” - even though a large share of children in foster homes are Roma.

Poverty leads to increase in crime. People living near the Roma colonies are unable to enjoy fruits of their work in gardens and fields, and even trees in national parks are being cut illegally. Children and old people are being robbed, often by the Roma youngsters who cannot be prosecuted. Real estate located close to Roma neighborhoods is quickly losing value. Some people are trying to defend themselves. In the village of Ostrovany, for example, a wall was erected [8] between the Roma neighoborhood and the rest of the village - but it proved useless, because young thieves were able to get over it.

The media tend to focus a lot more on the problematic members of the minority than on the ordinary Roma, while some people in the majority population tend to believe that most of the unpleasant facts about the minorities are concealed to keep “social harmony.”

Fortunately, along with the state's positive discrimination, various non-governmental organizations are working with the Roma, visiting them regularly, teaching them how to deal with money and highlighting the importance of educating their children. The work done by Jozef Červeň [9] (SLO), a Catholic priest from Luník 9, is a good example of this kind of effort.

But life could be hard even for the educated and otherwise “mainstream” members of the Roma community.

Blogger Janette Maziniova  (SLO) spoke about her experiences in an interview  with Her problems started in elementary school, when her family moved to a different city and no one wanted to be friends with her. Even her teacher would reserve the seat next to her for bad students. As an adult, Maziniova failed to keep the job of a door-to-door insurance seller - because of the color of her skin. A waiter at a restaurant once refused to serve her - until she started speaking French to him.

On the other hand, Silvia Šarköziová, a successful musician, said she had only encountered indirect racism. She recalled, for example, how her daughter had to persuade her friends she was a Gypsy, because they did not believe someone like her could be one.

According to media reports, the European Network Against Racism  is filing a complaint  with the European Commission regarding Slovakia’s failure to remove all forms of racial discrimination. Miroslav Lacko, head of the Košice branch of ENAR's Slovak branch, said that “racism in Slovakia has become part of everyday life” and cited as an example the construction of a new segregated colony for the Roma, financed by the Slovak government with the knowledge and money of the EU. “It is concentration camp surrounded by a fence,” Lacko said.

ENAR's initiative has been widely commented on in the Slovak online space.

Blogger Zuzana Panáková wrote (SLO):

"Every activist speaking about discrimination should buy a small house in one of those villages in Eastern Slovakia, where Gypsies make up at least 60% of the population, and live off nothing else but the fruits of the earth he would plant himself. Only after this such an activist would have the right to complain, provided he still feels it is reasonable. […] After one year in such conditions I will ask him the following questions: […] What part of the planted produce ended up reaching the activist's table? Do you have a dog or another animal? Do you have tear gas or a knife in your pocket? […]"

Blogger rippen wrote:


I don't believe this - even at dance parties, Gypsy music is being played and Slovaks love it and dance to it."

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