A brief view of Roma in modern Slovakia
According to the report by the European Roma Rights Centre (2011-2012), Slovakia has one of the largest Roma communities in Europe, as shown in official statistics such as the 2011 census; but ‘the actual number of Roma living in Slovakia is likely to be much higher’. This is due to the nature of traditional Roma communities, according to this report around 40% live in segregated communities. ‘The highest concentration of Roma is in the Prešov, Košice and Banská Bystrica regions’. The Slovak Roma can sometimes be split into two large groups, ‘Ungrika Roma’ and ‘Vlachika Roma’; the former has been settled for many generations and the latter primarily migrated to Slovakia in the 19th century. (Statistics sourced from report by European Roma Rights Centre).
As in many parts of Europe, Roma in Slovakia have been and continue to be discriminated against; ‘More than 70% of Europe’s Roma live in dire poverty, often marginalized and victims of discrimination’ (BBC report, 2015). Amnesty international, the global human rights organization, has commented extensively on that in 2017, in their attempts to advise on how to curb such discrimination in Slovakia. The main issues according to them are; poor quality education, and misdiagnosis of mental disability amongst Roma children, which both attribute themselves to systematic discrimination of Roma. Often classes are segregated, Roma children are raised doing different and more vocationally based work than their non Roma peers. Additionally ‘Girls at the school are offered “Practical Woman” (Praktická Žena) lessons, part of a nationwide programme in which Romani girls are taught to become “good housewives” with lessons in cooking and housework’.
The Report by the European Roma Rights Centre points out that many Roma people are bilingual or trilingual, with Romani remaining the first language for the majority. This poses an educational issue particularly amongst children, who may speak an amalgamation of languages, or a language such as Romani, which is not spoke proficiently within standard schooling. This can lead to unfair setting as was found within the amnesty international report, or indeed diagnosis of Roma people as special needs, which equip them with education not suited for their capabilities.
‘The report found a deeply disturbing pattern of cultural bias among those responsible for assigning placements to special schools, resulting in the misdiagnosis of dozens of Romani children. In one of the locations researchers visited, around a third of Romani children had been diagnosed with a “mild mental disability”. (Amnesty international report, 2017)
‘The education system in Slovakia is stacked against Romani children from the start, setting them on depressingly narrow trajectory that only serves to exacerbate and perpetuate prejudice and racism towards Roma’ (John Dalhuisen)
Some teachers in Slovakia have begun to learn Romani in order to communicate better with all of their pupils, and move towards a greater degree of integration, and I am optimistic that this will continue and even expand in the future. The European commission is additionally attempting to pressure countries such as Slovakia to effectively integrate Roma into society and to end discrimination throughout Europe. This has been dubbed the ‘Roma Issue’ by The institute for Public Affairs’ ‘A Global report on Roma in Slovakia’. They argue that;
‘This pressure from the international community to solve the “Roma issue” is easy to understand. It is not just that in failing to solve the important questions related to the Roma, Slovakia will cast doubt on the positive steps it has taken towards liberal democracy and a mature economy; nor does the issue merely involve a utilitarian attempt by the European Union to force a demanding solution from a future member state. The most important motive remains the fact that problems related to the ethnicization of poverty, social exclusion, and the marginalization of minorities are very familiar in most post industrial countries. Slovakia too cannot avoid making fundamental changes in the approach it has hitherto taken to the Roma issue.’
Hopefully with the encouragement and support of the states of Europe, systematic discrimination against Roma people living in Slovakia, and in Europe more broadly, can end to create a better integrated society; but many core changes are required if this is to be the ultimate aim.
Links to key sites used-