Brussels, 1 March 2004: The European Roma Information Office (ERIO) is extremely concerned about the recent developments in Slovakia, where cuts of social welfare benefits have triggered in part violent reactions by members of the Roma minority joined by some non-Roma in the eastern parts of the country. The Slovak government, after having ignored serious indications and warnings of a possible social unrest, resorted to the use of police and military force to keep the situation under control.
The recent social unrest is not only the result of economic policy approach which pushes further marginalisation of the most vulnerable groups within the society, but also the outcome of the persisting discrimination and social exclusion of the Roma communities in Slovakia.
International surveys have shown that Roma in Slovakia continue to suffer from widespread discrimination. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance for instance recently noted in its last report, that ”a large proportion of the Roma community continue to be gravely disadvantaged in most key areas of life. … Roma children continue to suffer enormous disadvantage in education, while most Roma are unable to integrate the employment market.” (ECRI: Third report on Slovakia, 27.01.04)
Roma are over-proportionally affected by unemployment; in some communities
unemployment levels are close to hundred percent. Efforts to halt discrimination from the side of the Slovak authorities have remained sporadic and half-hearted. In some cases the authorities have themselves been a source of discrimination rather than an antidote to it.
The current welfare cuts hit a population, which lives under extreme poverty, with frequently no or very poor access to basic public services such as electricity, water, transportation and appropriate school education. The use of military force against a desperate civil population illustrates the political deadlock in a country, where a relevant part of the society - Roma, making up for about ten per cent of the population - lacks of political representation and is excluded from decision-making.
ERIO requests from the Slovak Government to
- Withdraw the extra- police and troops from Eastern Slovakia;
- Address the humanitarian crisis in eastern Slovakia and restore the previous allocation modus of social benefits until a sustainable solution is found;
- Provide a comprehensive report to the international bodies on the recent crisis including on the alleged abuse of police force during the demonstrations and arrests;
- Allow for an international mission to come to Slovakia and investigate into the recent crisis;
- Take appropriate action to counteract discrimination of the Roma in the fields of education and employment;
- Set up measures to assure the reintegration of Roma in the Slovak labour market focussing in particular on job creation schemes and vocational training;
- Cease social segregation of Romani children within the school system and adjust the Slovak school system to the fact that many Romani children grow up in a bilingual environment;
- Strengthen the capacities of the Roma communities via the promotion of higher education for talented young Roma in particular in disciplines which open up a career in public administration and diplomacy for them as well as adult education programmes with a particular stress on the empowerment of Romani women;
- Assure an equal and fair representation of Roma at all levels of political decision-making and administration, in particular on issues which are of particular relevance to the Roma communities.
ERIO asks the European Commission and the European Parliament to
- Request comprehensive information from the Slovak government on the recent crisis and propose the deployment of an international mission to monitor the situation and eventually mediate in the current conflict;
- Maintain their monitoring on the minority and human rights situation in Slovakia and the current candidate countries of eastern Europe even after their entry into the EU and put particular emphasis on the improvement of the situation of the Roma minorities and an end of discriminatory policies and practices;
- Earmark budgets with the specific purpose of improving the situation of the Roma minority in the CEE countries and verify that these budgets are actually used for this purpose;
- Make sure that budgetary discipline does not go to the detriment of social justice and equal participation of all citizens in society.
ERIO asks the EU Commission and the governments of the EU member states to
- Take Enlargement as an opportunity to define the improvement of the situation of the Roma minorities as a key priority and an all-European concern to identify concrete and verifiable measures towards the achievement of this goal; (up to 9 million Roma live in Europe and wish to become equal European citizens)
- Set up appropriate structures at the Union level, which promote this aim;
- Take measures for redressing social inequality with a particular focus on education of both children and adults.
For further information and/or interviews please contact us:
European Roma Information Office
17, avenue Edouard Lacomblé
Tel : 00 32 (0) 2733 3462
Fax : 00 32 (0) 2733 3875