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 over the 2001 census. Experts estimated that the Romani population was actually between 350,000 and 500,000, with an atlas compiled by the UN Development Program in September placing the number at 402,000. Observers attributed the discrepancy to self-identification by many Roma as Hungarians or Slovaks. At least 150,000 Roma resided in poor, marginalized communities.
According to the 2011 census, ethnic Hungarians were 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 September, authorities reported 28 cases of violent crimes with a racial motive or violence against groups. In March the Specialized Criminal Court sentenced a municipal police officer to nine years in prison for shooting and killing three and wounding two members of a Romani family in their home in 2012. The court, however, did not find a racial motive and issued a reduced sentence, concluding the police officer carried out the act under “partial insanity.” The shooting prompted large-scale expressions of support to the police officer from the public, and human rights activists criticized public officials for failing to condemn such reactions. Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities Peter Pollak said the punishment in such cases should serve as a warning to others but added he was not sure whether this verdict would act as a sufficient deterrent.
Extreme rightist, nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups continued to hold events designed to intimidate minority groups. 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-Romani gatherings in locations where there were tensions between Romani and non-Romani populations.
In March, LS-NS supporters organized a gathering in the village of Krasnohorske Pohradie, the latest in a series of gatherings in the village in response to an extensive fire at the nearby Krasna Horka castle in 2012, started accidentally by children from the local Romani community. Protesters blamed the entire Romani community and Roma in general for the incident. During previous gatherings, the police successfully prevented the group from entering the settlement. In April 2012, LS-NS leader Marian Kotleba obtained ownership of plots of land in the community with several houses inhabited by Roma and announced his plans to “clean up” his land. During the year Kotleba continued to organize activities aimed at creating tensions between the Romani and non-Romani communities in Krasnohorske Pohradie and elsewhere throughout the country. The LS-NS leader obstructed municipal initiatives to sell municipally owned land to Roma who resided in houses built on the land. In June the municipality issued a demolition order against one of the houses inhabited by a Romani family on a plot of land co‑owned by Kotleba.
In general the police responded quickly to gatherings against the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
In June approximately 60 police officers, many of them masked, raided Romani settlements in the town of Moldava nad Bodvou, allegedly in search of wanted offenders. NGOs active in the community and local residents reported multiple injuries to residents, including children, who allegedly did not resist. They also highlighted property damage, and criticized the police for not communicating with residents and for conducting property searches without requisite warrants. Many of those injured alleged further beatings at the police station. Residents believed the raid was a punishment for an incident several days earlier, when community residents damaged a police vehicle.
During a hearing in parliament, the police force president insisted there was no link between the two incidents and stated that the raid was completely lawful. The police force president also claimed the police used force because of “active resistance” from the residents, including an axe attack against a police officer. Later reports, however, revealed that the axe attack took place in another settlement, and no evidence confirmed that residents resisted arrest. Human rights activists criticized statements by the police force president, who boasted publicly about the preventive potential of such raids. A subsequent Ministry of Interior’s inspection concluded that the police raid was lawful, but civil society organizations and the ombudswoman express doubts over the conclusions. The Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, with a majority of governing Smer-SD MPs, refused to express concern over the police raid. The minister of foreign and European affairs (who also chairs the Government Council on Human Rights) also failed to speak out critically against the police raid.
The law prohibits defamation of nationalities in public discourse; however, authorities generally enforced this law only when other offenses, such as assault or destruction of property, were also committed. In March the Supreme Court ruled that a pre-election banner used by a far-right political party, which referred to the parasitism of gypsies, was legal. 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 2012 parliamentary elections, several parties resorted to anti-Romani rhetoric, often painting Roma as a burden on society or referring to “Gypsy parasitism.” Mainstream politicians also made derogatory or dehumanizing remarks about the Roma. In February, during remarks to university students, Prime Minister Fico complained about human rights “saints” getting in the way of needed solutions for the Roma. He added that extreme measures, including taking children away from marginalized Romani parents even against their will, could work. Also in February at the Ministry of Interior, Fico repeated that the exceptional situation of the Roma would need serious and exceptional measures.
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. In June the prominent daily Sme launched a web portal devoted to issues concerning the Romani community, which provided generally balanced reporting.
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 that occurred. 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.
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 found them to be Roma. Rejected job applicants rarely pursued cases of discrimination through the courts. One NGO reported a case where management transferred a Romani man from the job of baked goods deliveryman to a different, lower paid position because a customer complained she did not want a “gypsy” delivering her baked goods.
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. In 2012 the Batizovce municipality demolished several homes built on municipal land in June. A similar demolition also occurred near Presov. Demolition of a large settlement with approximately 150 inhabitants in Kosice occurred in October 2012. In April the Batizovce municipality revealed plans to demolish four more buildings.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in the eastern part of the country, where hospital management accommodated them separately from non-Romani women and did not permit them to use the same bathrooms and toilets. Hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by race.
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.
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 re-evaluations 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. Transfer from a special school to a regular educational track was difficult or impossible. According to a 2010 report by Amnesty International, Romani children made up 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 nor did it collect data on ethnicity.
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 programs to improve basic motor skills and to introduce behaviors often lacking in neglected children. These programs aimed to decrease the number referred to diagnostic centers and ultimately special schools. Social workers also worked with parents in socially excluded families to help them understand the importance of their children attending a regular school, since authorities often placed Romani children 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 were not widespread. Reportedly the extra funding that special schools or classes received for each student might have led to more 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, resulting in non-Romani children often attending 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 2011 decision, a district court ruled that segregation of Romani children in a school in the eastern 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 segregated all Romani classrooms and access to the playground; while non-Romani children received a hot lunch in the cafeteria, Romani children received a cold lunch in their classroom. In October 2012 the regional court confirmed the verdict and ordered the school to desegregate by September 2013. An NGO worked with the school director to begin desegregating the school, train teachers, and provide support staff and volunteers. The school director desegregated the playground and the first Romani children enrolled in non-Romani classes. Roma-only classes continued, however, as did segregated access to the cafeteria.
The School Inspection Service, which oversees the quality of education and has responsibility to ensure schools are not discriminating, failed to report cases of segregation. It also failed to condemn such practices and often justified segregation as necessary and not based on racial grounds. In September the minister of interior stated that segregation does not usually exist because of the color of a person’s skin, but because of the behavior of the person. The Ministry of Education admitted that there may be rare cases of discrimination and segregation but insisted that these are due to stereotypes held by specific individuals and are not due to failures of the education system.
At the beginning of 2012, 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 October 2012 the government appointed MP Peter Pollak, a 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 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. The plenipotentiary immediately unveiled a comprehensive 10-pillar Reform Plan, but after a year, most human rights and Roma-focused NGOs criticized the plenipotentiary’s office for failing to implement almost any useful measures. NGOs especially criticized the plenipotentiary’s decision to unveil, as his first and only planned legislative change, a measure aimed at reducing social welfare payments and conditioning some of those payments on community work. Plenipotentiary Pollak insisted he had negotiated progress with other ministries, for example, on limiting the placement of Romani children into special schools. 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 ($6,800) for noncompliance. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech. Members of the community complained that the authorities did not always implement provisions that enabled the use of minority languages in official settings. They also took issue with the refusal by the railways to allow for dual-language train-station signs.
In February, Prime Minister Fico drew criticism after remarks he gave at an event organized by the Matica Slovenska cultural institution. He stated that the Slovak state was not created primarily for minorities, but for the Slovak nation, and that minorities tend to place demands without responsibilities for the state.
An alleged 2006 attack and subsequent perjury charges against ethnic Hungarian Hedviga Malinova continued to draw media attention and raise questions about due process. During the year Malinova was again summoned for psychiatric examinations, as authorities continued to contend that post-traumatic stress disorder could have influenced her testimony. NGOs criticized the order, insisting that such an examination would not be appropriate for determining the mental health of a person in 2006. NGOs labeled the threat of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital as harassment.