Societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. According to government sources, Roma were the second largest ethnic minority with a population of 105,000 according to the 2011 census, a slight increase from the 2001 census. However, experts estimated that the Romani population was actually between 350,000 and 500,000 and hence might form the largest minority group in the country. The discrepancy was attributed to many Roma identifying themselves as Hungarians or Slovaks. At least 150,000 Roma resided in poor, marginalized communities.
According to the census, ethnic Hungarians represented approximately 458,000 of the overall population, a decrease from the 2001 census.
NGOs reported racially motivated attacks on minorities (Roma and others) throughout the year, but authorities’ investigation of such incidents varied by jurisdiction. As of November authorities received 105 reports of violent crimes with a racial or extremist motive, and 27 cases of violence against groups. Roma were singled out for violence, and police detained numerous individuals for racially motivated attacks against Roma. In May a court sentenced two Romani men to 13 years’ imprisonment for a racially motivated attack and death of a non-Romani man.
Extreme rightist, nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups continued to hold events designed to intimidate minority groups. The groups’ members held gatherings to commemorate the wartime fascist state and to spread messages of intolerance against ethnic and religious minorities. In addition to commemorating historical events and figures associated with the World War II Fascist state, the LS-NS and other far-right groups organized anti-Roma public gatherings in locations where there were tensions between Romani and non-Romani populations, as well as marches in Bratislava in October and November, attended by several hundred people. The gatherings often concealed their true nature by claiming to be in support of issues such as justice, equal application of the law, or to rally against anti-social behavior; their anti-Roma character was apparent from banners and speeches displayed and given during the gatherings.
In March approximately 500 LS-NS supporters attended a march in the village of Krasnohorske Pohradie in response to an extensive fire at the nearby Krasna Horka castle, started accidentally by children from the local Romani community. Protesters blamed the entire Romani community and Roma in general for the incident. Police prevented successfully the group from entering the settlement. In April LS-NS leader Marian Kotleba obtained ownership of plots of land in the community where several houses inhabited by Roma were built and announced his plans to “clean up” his land. In September approximately 300 of his supporters attended a gathering in the village, after he called on people to come and help him clean up the “waste” from his land. The police prevented the majority of the group from entering the Romani community; however, they allowed Kotleba, together with a small group of assistants, to enter and survey the land. The LS-NS leader obstructed municipal initiatives to sell municipally owned land to Roma who resided in houses built on the land.
In September the Mayor of Partizanske supported publicly a march for “the rights of decent people,” attended by approximately 300 local residents. The march was aimed against a local Romani community that the non-Roma population perceived to be a source of crime. The march was attended by approximately 200 far-right extremists, who unsuccessfully tried to enter the Romani community.
In general the police responded quickly and peacefully to such gatherings and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
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.
Anti-Romani sentiments permeated public and political discourse. In the run up to the March parliamentary elections, several parties resorted to anti-Romani rhetoric, often painting Roma as a burden on society or referring to “Gypsy parasitism.” Apart from far-right extremists, some mainstream politicians also made remarks that were derogatory or dehumanizing towards the Roma. In July, for example, an opposition MP described Roma living in marginalized communities as belonging to three categories: people, half-people, and pigs. NGOs engaged in monitoring activities noted that media reports concerning Roma overwhelmingly focused on crime or other problems associated with socially excluded communities, or referred to Romani ethnicity in reporting on crimes when the perpetrators’ ethnicity did not warrant being mentioned, while non-Romani ethnicity was not explicitly stated when reporting similar crimes. When in June an off-duty policeman shot and killed three members of a Romani family, NGOs observed a tendency in the media to look for justification for the act. NGOs criticized statements by some political leaders and government officials for emphasizing what they labeled as repressive measures when presenting reform initiatives aimed at marginalized Romani communities.
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 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. In one case a Romani woman was prevented from entering a nightclub, which allegedly stated on its Facebook page that it did not admit Roma. NGOs continued to report cases of police harassment based on ethnicity. A district court in Kosice decided to restart the trial of a group of police officers accused of abusing in 2009 a group of Romani boys ages 10 to 16, arrested for robbing a woman. The accused did not agree with continuing the trial after one of the judges on the panel had to be replaced. Previously, they also had blocked the proceedings by failing to attend court hearings.
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 employers excluded these applicants once they were found out to be Roma. Cases of discrimination in hiring were rarely pursued through the courts. One NGO reported a case where a Romani man was transferred from the job of baked goods delivery man to a different, lower paid position because a customer complained she did not want a “gypsy” delivering her baked goods. In another case, a young Romani man who was serving meals in a cafeteria was replaced by a non-Romani worker allegedly because the customers did not want their meals to be served by a Rom.
Local authorities forced evictions of Romani inhabitants, demolished their improvised housing, or blocked them from obtaining construction permits or purchasing land. NGOs reported an emerging trend where some municipalities labeled illegal homes and settlements as illegal “waste dumps” in order to expedite the demolition process. The Batizovce municipality demolished several homes built on municipal land in June, with a similar demolition close to Presov and a demolition of a large settlement with approximately 150 inhabitants in Kosice taking place in October.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in the eastern part of the country, 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 racial lines.
Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational segregation in terms of their disproportionate enrollment in special schools or their placement in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools, which were predominately attended by either Romani or non-Romani children.
While education is universal and free through the postsecondary level and compulsory until the age of 15, Romani children exhibited a lower attendance rate than other children. Authorities disproportionately enrolled Romani children in “special” schools for children with mental disabilities, with later reevaluations often revealing that those same students would have likely succeeded in mainstream educational institutions. A special school education did not provide Romani children the knowledge or certification necessary to pursue higher education. According to a September 2010 report by Amnesty International, Romani children comprised 85 percent of the students in special schools. Regular schools in the same communities had very few Romani students, especially at the secondary school level. The registered student body of many special schools was nearly 100 percent Roma, according to NGO reports.
The government did not provide data on the percentage of Roma students in special schools, since it did not collect data on ethnicity. As of September there were 413 special schools and 349 special classrooms within regular schools. 25,484 students were enrolled in special schools and 10,433 enrolled in special classes within regular schools in the public education system.
NGOs continued to implement educational programs through community centers operated by local councils to reduce the number of Romani children enrolled in special schools or special classes. These programs included preschool and after-school work to improve basic motor and other skills and habits in neglected children, thereby avoiding their referral to diagnostic centers and ultimately special schools. Social workers also worked with parents in socially excluded families to help them understand the importance of attending a regular school, since Romani children were often placed in special schools with the agreement or at the request of their parents. These projects, however, depended on the good will, initiative, and budgetary resources of local councils and NGOs and did not achieve wide coverage. Reportedly the extra funding that special schools or classes received for each student, compared to regular schools or classes, might have led to an excessive number of children, and particularly Romani children, being enrolled in such special schools and classes.
Romani children from socially excluded communities also faced segregation in regular educational establishments. There were reports of schools having predominantly or almost exclusively Romani pupils from several surrounding municipalities. This meant that, in practice, non-Romani children often attended a different school than Roma from the same area. In some predominantly Romani municipalities the parents of non-Romani children, who preferred that their children attend a different school with non-Roma, further entrenched the segregation of Roma and non-Roma in schools.
Segregated classrooms within mainstream schools were common. Schools often justified the segregation as being in the children’s best interest and often claimed that Romani parents preferred their children to attend segregated classrooms. NGOs reported that many Romani children attended segregated classrooms, not just those from marginalized communities or with special learning needs. In a landmark decision in December 2011, a district court ruled that segregation of Romani children in a school in the eastern Slovak town of Sarisske Michalany was illegal. The court did not agree with the school’s justification that the segregation was in the interest of the Romani children from marginalized communities, given their special learning needs. The school had allegedly implemented segregated access to the playground and, while non-Romani children received a hot lunch in the cafeteria, Romani children received a cold lunch in their classroom. In October the regional court confirmed the verdict and ordered the school to desegregate by September 2013.
At the beginning of the year, the government adopted a National Strategy for the Integration of Roma until 2020, mandated by the European Commission. The strategy emphasized desegregation, getting Romani children out of special schools, hiring teaching assistants, and other measures designed to help marginalized Romani children obtain effective education. In September the Ministry of Education, Science, Research, and Sport launched a two-year pilot project involving 200 schools, which provided all-day educational activities for marginalized children.
In October the government appointed MP Peter Pollak (who kept his parliamentary post), a Rom 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 problems, support infrastructure development, and cooperate with municipalities and villages to improve interaction between Romani and non-Romani populations. The plenipotentiary’s office fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior, which some NGOs thought was inappropriate in view of the ministry’s law enforcement focus. 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.
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 ($6,600) for noncompliance. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech.
While Prime Minister Fico’s first government, a coalition administration with the nationalist party, in 2006-10 engaged in or at least tolerated anti-Hungarian rhetoric, his current government took a more conciliatory tone with its neighbor. In October, for example, Prime Minister Fico met with Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban in the Hungarian town of Pilisszentkereszt, known in Slovak as Mlynky, to open a new cultural center for the local Slovak population there.
An alleged 2006 attack and subsequent perjury charges against Hedviga Malinova, an ethnic Hungarian (who was a university student in Nitra at the time), continued to draw media attention and raise questions about due process. Two young men allegedly physically assaulted Malinova after she spoke Hungarian. The district prosecutor opened, but then discontinued after two weeks, the investigation into the incident. At that time, perjury charges were brought against Malinova, allegedly for lying about the attack. In November 2011 the ECHR accepted an agreement between Malinova and the government and subsequently dropped the pending case. The agreement obligated the government to express regret over Malinova’s case through a press release, which former Prime Minister Iveta Radicova did at the beginning of the year. In June Malinova attended a psychiatric examination ordered by the court in order to ascertain whether PTSD could have influenced her testimony shortly after the attack in 2006. Malinova refused to answer the psychiatrist’s questions, but stated that she would attend any examination she was ordered to attend. The prosecution then requested that Malinova be examined on an inpatient basis at a psychiatric hospital. In August a Nitra district court rejected this request, and in September the regional court confirmed the verdict but also stated that an inpatient examination could be used as a last resort if she refused to cooperate. NGOs criticized the order, insisting that such an examination would not be appropriate for determining the mental health of a person in 2006, and labeled the threat of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital as harassment.