Government and societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. Roma were the second largest ethnic minority with a population of 90,000 according to the 2001 census. Experts estimated that the Romani population was actually between 350,000 and 500,000. The discrepancy was attributed to Roma identifying themselves as Hungarians or Slovaks. Results of the most recent census, conducted in May, were not available at year's end.
NGOs reported racially motivated attacks on minorities (Roma and others) throughout the year, but authorities’ investigation of such incidents varied by jurisdiction. During the year four cases of racially motivated attacks resulting in bodily harm were reported. Roma were singled-out for violence, and police detained numerous individuals for racially motivated attacks against Roma.
Several non-Romani minorities as well as foreigners were also victims of racially motivated attacks. In July a small group of right-wing extremist sympathizers verbally and physically attacked a man of African descent in Bratislava. The man’s girlfriend called police, but because he suffered only minor injuries, the attack was handled as an administrative offense. Eventually, criminal proceedings were initiated on the grounds that the attackers were part of a group that supported the repression of rights and freedoms.
Extreme rightist, nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups continued to hold events designed to intimidate minority groups. Dressed in uniforms similar to those of the Hlinka Guards (the fascist wartime militia), the groups’ members held marches and rallies to commemorate the wartime fascist state and to spread messages of intolerance against ethnic and religious minorities. In the first nine months of the year, the LS-NS organized 13 public gatherings throughout the country. In addition to commemorating historical events and figures associated with the World War II Slovak fascist state, the LS-NS organized anti-Roma public gatherings in locations where there were tensions between Roma and non-Romani population. While the nature of the gatherings was often thinly disguised under such euphemisms as fighting for social justice, security, or equal application of the law to all citizens, their anti-Romani character was sometimes more open, as during a protest against “gypsy extremists and gypsy parasitic criminality" that was held in Zilina in April.
An alleged 2006 attack and subsequent perjury charges against Hedviga Malinova, an ethnic Hungarian university student in Nitra, continued to draw media attention. Two young men allegedly physically assaulted Malinova after hearing her speak Hungarian. The district prosecutor discontinued the investigation after two weeks, concluding that Malinova had lied about the attack. In October 2010 the National Council's Human Rights Committee convened a hearing to question the prosecutor general about delays in the case. In November the ECHR accepted an agreement between Malinova and the government and subsequently dropped the case pending before it. The agreement provided for the government, among others, to express regret over Malinova’s case through a press release. As of year’s end, the press release had not been published.
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, healthcare, housing, and loan practices.
Roma continued to face discrimination in accessing a wide variety of commercial services, including restaurants, hair salons, and public transportation. NGOs asserted that the cases of discrimination reported to organizations operating legal help lines represented only a fraction of discrimination cases in practice. In many cases, Romani individuals from socially excluded communities did not report discrimination and simply accepted refusal of access to commercial services as an everyday reality.
Activists frequently alleged that employers refused to hire Roma, with an estimated 80-90 percent of Roma from socially excluded communities being unemployed. NGOs working with Roma from socially excluded communities reported that, while job applications by Roma were often successful during the initial phase of selection, in a majority of cases, these applicants were excluded once the employer found out they were Roma. Cases of discrimination in hiring were rarely pursued through the courts.
Local authorities and groups forced evictions of Romani inhabitants or blocked them from obtaining construction permits or purchasing land. There were reports of local residents purchasing property to prevent it from being acquired by Romani families.
During 2010 several municipalities, mainly in eastern Slovakia, built walls to create a physical barrier between Romani and non-Romani communities. Local councils often justified such walls as measures to reduce theft and criminality, reduce disruption of the peace, or reduce noise. The walls were criticized for further segregating Romani communities and limiting their access to communal facilities.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in Eastern Slovakia, where they were accommodated separately from non-Romani women and not permitted to use the same bathrooms and toilets. Hospitals claimed that women were grouped according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not along racial lines.
Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational segregation, both in terms of their disproportionate enrollment in special schools but also in schools in some municipalities, which were predominately attended by either Romani or non-Romani children (see section 6, Children).
Anti-Romani sentiments permeated public and political discourse. NGOs engaged in monitoring activities noted that media reports concerning Roma overwhelmingly focused on crime or other problems associated with socially excluded communities. Political discourse also contained sentiments or policies which discriminated against Roma, both in the form of derogatory remarks, such as during election campaigns (see section 3), or through often-populist policies that placed Roma at a disadvantage.
Following the 2010 parliamentary elections, the Ministry of Interior created the position of Advisor on Roma Criminality. Activists criticized the decision for implying causality between ethnicity and criminality. The ministry was also criticized for populist policies that claimed to get tough on criminality in areas bordering socially excluded Romani settlements but failed to address the causes of criminality or tackle crime issues within excluded settlements.
The law prohibits defamation of nationalities in public discourse; however, authorities enforced this law only when other offenses, such as assault or destruction of property, were also committed. There were instances during the year of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma. Inflammatory speech by government officials also continued to increase tensions between ethnic Hungarians and ethnic Slovaks.
The law provides for the imposition of fines on government institutions, civil servants, and legal entities that did not provide information required by law in Slovak. The law authorizes the Ministry of Culture to levy fines of up to 5,000 euros ($6,500) for noncompliance. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech.
During the year the government made efforts to address violence and discrimination against Roma and other minorities, although some observers expressed concern that judges lacked sufficient training in relevant laws and court cases involving extremism and often did not handle cases properly. The government continued to implement its action plan against xenophobia and intolerance, which included monitoring of extremist activities by a special police unit. A commission consisting of NGOs, police, and government officials advised police on minority issues.
During the year the government made only limited progress on its national minority strategy, which incorporated a wide range of education, employment, housing, and social integration policy recommendations from the Romani advocacy community. While the government allocated approximately 200 million euros ($260 million) of EU structural funds to projects addressing the needs of the Romani community, NGOs complained that the funds had not been successfully distributed and the government lacked a comprehensive approach to Romani integration.
In August 2010 the government appointed Miroslav Pollak, a non-Roma with extensive NGO experience in social work, as the plenipotentiary for Romani affairs. The plenipotentiary maintained five regional offices to supervise the implementation of governmental policy on Romani issues, support infrastructure development, and cooperate with municipalities and villages to improve interaction between Romani and non-Romani populations. The Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, and Family assigned specially trained social workers to Romani settlements to assist with government paperwork and to advocate the importance of education and preventive health care. The Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Inequality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance.