According to the 2011 census, approximately 458,000 ethnic Hungarians lived in the country. The law provides for the imposition of fines on government institutions, civil servants, and legal entities that do not provide information required by law in Slovak. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech. In February the Ministry of Transport and Construction started placing dual language signs at train stations serving Hungarian minority populations.
Societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. As much as 53 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities. The UNDP atlas identified 231 segregated rural settlements located, on average, less than one mile from neighboring municipalities.
There were reports of violence against members of ethnic minorities during the year. In February a man attacked a French national in the town of Banska Bystrica while shouting racist abuse, causing injuries to the victim’s face with broken glass. The media reported the attacker was motivated by the victim’s skin color. A Supreme Court tribunal ruled in September the attack was not racist and released the attacker from custody.
Marginalized Romani communities were subjected to controversial police raids. In May the media published a video recording of an April 16 police raid in the Romani community in the village of Zborov. Several police officers appeared to chase, threaten, and beat--using punches, kicks, and batons--numerous community residents, including children and the elderly, who did not appear to be resisting police. Three residents required medical assistance. Shortly after the publication of the video, the police president said the Inspection Service Department of the Ministry of Interior would investigate the incident. The investigation was pending.
NGOs reported racially motivated attacks on minorities throughout the year, but authorities’ investigation of such incidents varied by jurisdiction. In December 2016 the Ministry of Interior Inspection Service Department brought charges against the police officer who commanded a 2015 raid in a Romani community in the village of Vrbnica. According to reports, a group of 15 officers entered the community, allegedly to locate and arrest individuals evading arrest warrants, and severely beat, mistreated, and harassed a number of Romani residents. The investigation was pending. At the same time, the investigation into several other police officers involved in the raid was halted, allegedly due to lack of evidence.
Between December 2016 and March, police investigated several community residents who had testified as witnesses in the previous investigation into a 2013 police raid in Moldava nad Bodvou and charged four residents with perjury. Expert testimony claimed the witnesses had a “Romani mentality,” which the expert claimed made the witnesses inherently less trustworthy.
In May a Kosice district court disallowed the use of a video recording as evidence and again acquitted all of the police officers accused in the 2009 case of police abuse against a group of six Romani boys ages 11 to 15. In 2016 the Kosice regional court overturned the initial 2015 acquittal. The prosecutor appealed the latest verdict, and the case remained pending.
The LSNS continued to organize marches against “Gypsy criminality” and operated patrols on train lines that allegedly experienced crime at the hands of Roma. The patrols refrained from violence, but patrol members--wearing standardized LSNS outfits--intimidated Romani passengers.
Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
There were instances of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma. In September opposition Freedom and Solidarity chairman Richard Sulik said it was a problem that 76 out of 85 children born in the town of Velka Lomnica during the year were Romani and proposed offering free sterilization to Romani women with at least four children.
In July police charged LSNS chairman Kotleba with hate speech for using extremist symbols. In March, Kotleba awarded a charitable donation to a family writing a check for 1,488 euros ($1,800). The number is a white supremacist symbol that stands for “14 words” (“we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) and the numeric representation of double “H” (“Heil Hitler”). Kotleba donated 1,488 euros ($1,800) again in October, to a youth hockey team in Velky Krtis. In January, LSNS MP Stanislav Mizik criticized the president’s selection of state award recipients, labelling them “defenders of gypsies and Muslims,” “fanatics of gypsy traditions,” and criticized some of the recipients because of their Jewish origin. In April police charged Mizik with hate speech crimes.
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in education, health care, housing, loan practices, restaurants, hair salons, and public transportation.
In March the Spisska Nova Ves district court found discrimination in access to employment on the grounds of ethnicity in the 2010 case of a Romani woman who applied for the position of field social worker with the Spisska Nova Ves municipality. Despite the woman’s extensive experience with social work in marginalized Romani communities, the municipality hired a non-Romani woman with fewer qualifications, less experience, and without a grasp of the Romani language. The Constitutional Court overturned lower court decisions and ordered the municipality to apologize and pay out 2,500 euros ($3,000) in compensation.
Local authorities continued to use regulatory obstacles, such as withholding of construction permits, to discourage the legal establishment of Romani settlements. The Kosice municipality announced plans to continue demolitions of apartment buildings in the marginalized Romani district of Lunik IX.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in the eastern part of the country. The 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 and were disproportionately enrolled in “special” schools or placed in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools.
Schools often justified the segregation as being in the children’s best interest; the ombudsperson identified numerous cases where the parents of marginalized Romani children believed their children were made to attend classrooms that were poorly equipped compared with non-Romani classrooms and were sometimes subjected to aggressive behavior by teachers.
In April the Ministry of Education responded to a petition by the mothers of Romani students at an elementary school in the village of Hermanovce, which asked the ministry to end discrimination and segregation of Romani children at the school. The Romani activists and a local NGO claimed that almost 90 percent of Romani children at the school attended so-called special classes for children with developmental disabilities. The ministry stated the government was not obliged to address discrimination in schools because it did not directly cause it and rejected the petition on technical grounds. The ministry similarly argued it is not obliged to adopt measures that would prevent discrimination, yet claimed the government had nevertheless adopted a number of measures to address discrimination in education.
The Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Equality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance.
The law bans the spreading of profascist propaganda and hatred in public, including on social media and hate speech against LGBTI individuals. Justice Minister Lucia Zitnanska noted that investigators often misclassified extremism-related crimes as misdemeanors, carrying mild punishments that fail to act as deterrents. The law allows extremism-related cases to be tried by a special prosecutor at the Specialized Criminal Court rather than at the district court level, where expertise on extremism was often lacking.