Recent incidents and events have led all political parties to start taking a more populist interest in Roma issues, as if they have only now sprung up in society, but the positive side is that some serious thought is being given to how to resolve the problems of Roma communities, many of which lie at the extreme edge of society.
At a press conference yesterday, interior minister Robert Kalinak was joined by the Government plenipotentiary for Roma affairs Peter Pollak and head of the OLaNO party Igor Matovic (who nominated Pollak to the post). They presented the first part of the Right Way roadmap for dealing with Roma issues and problems, outlining 14 key points by which they hope to make progress in the field of education.
The plan over the next few years is to resolve problems through education by sending the children of some ‘risk’ Roma families to pre-school facilities already at the age of three, for instance. Vocational training looks set to become obligatory for those with bad school results, where older children will be trained in manual trades for three years.
There will be stricter links between school attendance and family or welfare allowances, this designed to deal with the disinterest of many parents about making sure their kids go to school every day. Another goal is to reduce the number of Roma children being sent automatically to ‘special needs’ schools, also as these reportedly cost twice as much as normal schools.
The education package is just part of a whole stream of measures being drawn up at present in an attempt to finally deal with Roma issues in Slovakia, with much of the input coming from recommendations of international organisations. Nevertheless, leader of opposition party KDH Jan Figel referred to the measures as superficial solutions, while others are questioning their practical and financial feasibility.
On the same day, members of the opposition Freedom and Solidarity party (SaS) were climbing up a hill to Reviste Castle to salute the Roma working on their pilot project called “Work, not Benefits”. The plan is to give people a minimum wage in return for doing a job of work, which the state would essentially mediate. If a jobseeker refuses the work, they will lose their benefits and be entitled to just one warm meal a day. Last month the party also put forward a list of 30 proposals of its own on how to deal with Roma issues.
Whatever develops from the various initiatives and plans, the results should prove fruitful as dealing with Roma issues has suddenly gained in strength as a good card for politicians to hold in their hand.