A lot of attention is starting to turn to Slovakia over the issue of how it deals with the Roma minority, with various discussions on the internet and a call by the European Network Against Racism for Slovakia to step up its legislation in the area of racism and discrimination.
Now the UN Human Rights Council has issued a recommendation for Slovakia to bring an end to the segregation of Roma in schools and discrimination of Roma overall. The Council is demanding that Slovakia comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in this respect.
Roma children are often put into schools for children with special needs because of a lack of basic education, regardless of how intelligent they are. This was shown on TV recently as a teacher explained that the Roma children in her class did not even know the names of the basic primary colours. A lot of the time local schools have only Roma children in them, but this is frequently caused also by the almost exclusive Roma populations in school catchment areas.
The level of racism against Roma on the level of the general population is still very high in Slovakia, with those with racist tendencies using the difficult co-habitation with the Roma as an excuse. This can also be seen in a recent discussion on the website Globalvoices.
Even the staff of the Roma Press Agency receive regular death threats. Head of the Roma media centre, Kristina Magdolenova, feels that racists are being encouraged because the Roma are referred to as merely a social group, and that the perception of them as a national minority is fading.
Since becoming independent, the governments of Slovakia have done very little on a pragmatic level to change the situation, both in terms of education of the Roma and of the rest of the population. Essentially, any progress made will be futile unless the Roma communities themselves start to be more pro-active to wipe out the bad reputation they have in Slovak society. The involvement and encouragement of Roma parents is therefore crucial.
There are no easy solutions to the assimilation of certain Roma communities into mainstream society, but progress would certainly be made if more grassroot organisations were established and given more support, and this is an issue that not only concerns Slovakia, but a large part of the EU.
Making sure that all Roma children go to school is a top priority for the European Commission, which presented its proposals yersterday (5 April) for each EU member state to develop a national strategy for Roma integration by the end of the year.