The nationalist Slovak National Party (Slovenská národní strana - SNS) has once again decided to use anti-Romani billboards in its campaign prior to the parliamentary elections in March. The opposition party, which has been hovering in public opinion polls around the threshold required to be elected, made similar moves prior to the 2010 elections.
"How long are we going to lose on the gypsies? Let's change it!" the opposition SNS announces on one of its billboards, which juxtaposes a photo of Romani people outside an apartment building with an image of party head Ján Slota. On another billboard, the SNS warns voters that another political party has included a Romani man on its candidate list.
The SNS played the anti-Romani card two years ago. A billboard with the party's logo depicted a half-dressed, obese Romani man and the slogan "Let's not feed those who don't want to work". After charges that the SNS was conducting a racist campaign, the party had the billboards papered over.
SNS is facing criticism from NGOs over the current campaign. The party is defending itself by saying it is merely pointing out the need to address Romani people's bad social situation. Many Romani people live in settlements where the hygienic conditions are unsuitable and there is no electricity or other form of energy. Several hundred thousand Romani people are estimated to live in Slovakia.
In the past, international organizations have warned that Romani people are discriminated against in Slovakia and that the situation is deteriorating. Today the Slovak Parliament, at the suggestion of the opposition, halted discussion of a controversial bill drafted by MPs aligned with the coalition government that would have reduced state benefits to parents caring for small children by one-half should the parents have been unemployed for a long time.
The authors of the bill made no secret of the fact that their initiative is also aimed against Romani people who do not seek work and rely completely on state welfare. The lower house is to discuss a similar bill which would make it possible to reduce the state's contribution to parents from the moment a child is born.
In addition to its anti-Romani campaign, the nationalist SNS is also using slogans targeting neighboring Hungary. "We've been defending Slovak land for 140 years. Orbán's boat is sinking," is the SNS message, which references Hungary's economic problems under the leadership of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.
Prior to the creation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, Slovakia was part of Hungary. SNS head Slota, who is known for his anti-Hungarian invective, has repeatedly claimed in the past that Budapest has not abandoned the idea of reviving "Greater Hungary". He has also announced that in the south of Slovakia, many members of the Hungarian minority live, there is a risk that the region will declare autonomy.