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Bulgaria

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Societal intolerance against minority groups persisted, and manifested in occasional violence against the Roma in particular, as well as societal discrimination against ethnic Turks. Political and government actors sometimes condoned or prompted it. Human rights organizations reported that the level of racial discrimination against Roma persisted and increased during the coronavirus state of emergency. Media outlets often described Roma and other minority groups using discriminatory, denigrating, and abusive language, highlighting instances in which Romani persons had committed a crime. Nationalist parties such as Ataka, VMRO, and the National Front for Salvation of Bulgaria routinely resorted to strong anti-Romani, anti-Turkish, and anti-Semitic slogans and rhetoric. In May the UN special rapporteurs on racism and minority issues stated that “racial discrimination and racism within state institutions is a reality,” and called on the government to condemn hate speech and racist and nationalist populism targeting Roma and other minorities.

On May 14, four persons between the ages of 16 and 20 assaulted a 15-year-old Rom, Stefan Stefanov, near a school in Lyaskovets while he was on his way to a local shop. Stefanov subsequently stated that he lost consciousness after the first punch and only remembered waking up later in a park. According to media reports, the attackers’ parents offered to pay Stefanov a settlement if his family withdrew the charges. As of October police were investigating.

According to NGOs, government authorities, pressured by governing coalition member VMRO, imposed ethnically biased measures on Romani neighborhoods during the coronavirus crisis by restricting movement to and from them with police checkpoints even before identifying cases of infection. Local governments quarantined at least nine Romani neighborhoods during the pandemic compared with only three non-Romani communities. NGOs pointed out that while Romani neighborhoods were locked down, which restricted their residents’ access to basic services such as pharmacies and supermarkets, and contributed to higher unemployment, other neighborhoods with the same, or sometimes worse, levels of COVID-19 remained open. After the government lifted the state of emergency in May, VMRO insisted that Romani “ghettos” should remain restricted.

According to the Standing Roma Conference, local authorities disproportionately targeted illegal Romani dwellings for demolition. NGOs frequently petitioned the European Court of Human Rights to order the government to freeze the razing of homes in Romani neighborhoods until authorities provided adequate alternative accommodation for pregnant women, children, the elderly, and sick persons. In August the local government in Stara Zagora demolished 97 illegally built dwellings in the Romani neighborhood of Loznitsa, planning to turn the open space into a pine forest. Residents affected by the demolition told journalists they had been paying taxes on their properties and had no housing alternative, but the municipality had refused to sell them the land and legalize the houses.

The law establishes Bulgarian as the official language of instruction in the country’s public education system but allows instruction in foreign languages, provided that instruction in Bulgarian language and literature is conducted in Bulgarian. The law also permits study of the mother tongue. Local government and school officials reported they were instructed to ensure that primary school classes were conducted only in Bulgarian, even in schools where more than 50 percent of the students had Turkish or Romani as their mother tongue. There were officially approved curricula for the teaching of Armenian, Hebrew, Romani, and Turkish.

According to the National Statistical Institute, the average number of students who learned their mother tongue in public schools declined by nearly 14 percent for a second consecutive year, although there was a 22 percent increase in the number of Romani students studying their mother tongue. However, Romani NGOs claimed there were no students learning Romani and there was no officially approved textbook. The government operates foreign language schools in English, Spanish, German, Hebrew, French, and Italian, but none in Turkish.

On October 14, Kemal Eshref, GERB party regional coordinator and spouse of the deputy regional governor of Shumen, wrote on Facebook that since more than 50 percent of the population in Shumen was Turkish, school instruction in the region should be in Turkish. GERB’s local leadership distanced itself from Eshref’s statement, opposition socialist member of the National Assembly Ivan Ivanov called for prosecutorial investigation, and VMRO National Assembly member Dean Stanchev characterized it as “scandalous provocation, bordering on national treason since it represents an open call to separatism.” After the backlash, Eshref posted an apology on October 17 “to all who felt offended by his previous post,” explaining that it referred to allowing Turkish-speaking students an opportunity to learn their language as part of the elective curriculum.

The law prohibits ethnic segregation in multiethnic schools and kindergartens but allows ethnic segregation of entire schools. Of Romani children, 30 percent (up from 16 percent five years earlier) were enrolled in segregated schools outside mainstream education, according to the European Roma Rights Center. According to the NGO Amalipe, approximately 10 percent of general education schools in the country were ethnically segregated. Romani children often attended de facto segregated schools where they received inferior education. There were instances of ethnic Bulgarian students withdrawing from desegregated schools, thereby effectively resegregating them. Romani NGOs reported that many schools throughout the country refused to enroll Romani students. In March the Blagoevgrad regional court confirmed the Commission for Protection against Discrimination’s sanction on a local school principal for racial segregation and ethnic discrimination. In 2018 the principal refused to enroll new Romani students, arguing that the school had become segregated and she wanted to reverse that trend.

The Education Ministry provided financial support to municipalities that pursued policies for educational desegregation and prevention of resegregation.

According to the NGO Trust for Social Achievement, life expectancy was 10 years lower and infant mortality was twice as high in the Romani community compared with the general population. In addition, one-third of Romani men and two-fifths of Romani women between the ages of 45 and 60 had a disability. Health mediators helped Roma and other marginalized communities improve their access to health care; the National Health Mediators Network employed 245 mediators in 130 municipalities.

According to the BHC, Romani women were routinely segregated within maternity hospital wards. Romani NGOs stated that some municipalities set discriminatory requirements for access to services in order to restrict Romani women’s access to them. For example, the assisted reproduction program in Veliko Turnovo and the one-time allowance for giving birth in Svilengrad both require the mother to have completed secondary school.

NGOs identified an overall rise in the occurrence of hate speech and hate crimes. In September the Commission for Protection against Discrimination opened an inquiry into social media publications alleging the Heaven Hotel in Slanchev Bryag displayed signs advising that the swimming pool was for “white people only” and proclaiming “White Lives Matter.” Hotel owner Georgi Slavov denied to local media the existence of the signs but also expressed regret he had not put them up, since he claimed hotels were allowed that cater to guests based on whether they have children and for gays, so “why not [allow hotels] only for white people?”

Croatia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Constitutional provisions against discrimination applied to all minorities. According to the ombudsperson for human rights, ethnic discrimination was the most prevalent form of discrimination, particularly against Serbs and Roma.

According to the SNV, the Serb national minority faced increased hate speech and anti-Serb graffiti. Serbs were subject to physical assaults especially in Vukovar, where Serb youths reportedly were attacked several times by Croatian youths. The SNV also said members of the Serb national minority faced significant discrimination in employment, and there were unresolved, long-standing issues of registration of Serb schools in Eastern Slavonia and in the justice system, particularly with respect to missing persons and unprosecuted war crimes cases.

On June 13, police arrested six Zagreb Dinamo soccer club fans after a photograph was circulated online of them posing with a banner depicting a vulgar and hateful anti-Serb message. Charges against the suspects were pending at year’s end. Separately, on June 14, Zagreb police reported they were investigating anti-Serb graffiti near a children’s park that depicted a “Serbian Family Tree,” with several individuals hanging from its branches, accompanied by a Nazi SS logo.

The eight parliamentary seats held by representatives of the national minorities became the main partner to the ruling HDZ’s coalition government following the July 5 parliamentary elections. Boris Milosevic, a member of parliament from the Serb national minority was appointed deputy prime minister in charge of social affairs issues and human rights.

On August 12, police confirmed they questioned a man from Perusic, later identified as the mayor of Perusic, Ivan Turic, on suspicion that he threatened a Romani woman with a handgun and shot at her children, allegedly because the woman’s goats entered the man’s field. Turic denied the accusations but confirmed police questioned him and told him to stay a minimum 328 feet away from the family who accused him.

The government and representatives of the Serb national minority publicly delivered positive messages of reconciliation on the 25th anniversary commemoration of Operation Storm in the town of Knin on August 5. In a speech at the event, Prime Minister Plenkovic acknowledged all victims, including Serbs, and expressed regret for war crimes committed by Croats. President Milanovic highlighted the victory, giving credit to the role of those who fought, but stated that unity required “different perspectives.” He acknowledged that crimes had been committed during the war and emphasized the need for better relations with Serbia, pledging to do everything he could do to accomplish that goal and calling on the Serbian leadership to do the same. Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic from the SDSS considered his participation at the commemoration to be a pledge for the future and the first step to reconciliation. Milanovic, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Veterans’ Affairs Medved, and Milosevic attended a commemoration for Serb civilian war victims in the village of Grubori on August 25. At the event Milanovic stated the commemoration was a “debt of honor,” adding that the “murder in Grubori was a moral disaster which harmed Croatia.” Medved declared establishing trust between the majority Croatian people and ethnic minorities was a prerequisite for development and a safe future together, while Milosevic stated the acknowledgement of all civilian victims was a prerequisite for reconciliation [between Serbs and Croats] in the country. On September 28, Prime Minister Plenkovic headlined a commemoration for nine Serb civilians killed in Varivode in the aftermath of Operation Storm in 1995, the first time a prime minister attended the event.

Czech Republic

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

There were approximately 300,000 Roma in the country, and many faced varying levels of discrimination in education, employment, and housing, as well as high levels of poverty, unemployment, and illiteracy. The government introduced some legal measures that were considered controversial and moved the Agency for Social Inclusion from the Office of the Government to the Ministry of Regional Development. The agency lost the capacity to coordinate work with different ministries.

Hate crimes against Roma and minorities continued to be a problem. In September a regional court in Ostrava sentenced a man to five years in prison for attacking and injuring a Romani man in a bar. The court determined that the attack was motivated purely by the victim’s ethnicity. The judgment was subject to further appeals.

Government officials noted problems faced by dozens of Romani Czechs who returned from the United Kingdom during the year, both due to COVID-19 and Brexit. The returning citizens resettled primarily in areas with heavy concentration of Roma, such as the towns of Ostrava and Usti nad Labem, and confronted a lack of housing and social assimilation problems. Anticipating that more Roma would return from the United Kingdom due to Brexit, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs sent a representative to Czech consular offices in the United Kingdom to assist them.

School segregation remained a problem. NGOs reported there are approximately 12 schools that are fully segregated and 70 where more than half of the pupils are Roma. Observers criticized attempts by the Ministry of Education to limit the availability of educational support and to undermine minorities’ interests by amending the implementing regulations of well received 2016 legislation promoting integrated education.

Experts noted that the Education Development Strategy 2020-2030 issued by the Ministry of Education lacks a specific action plan, funding, and delegation of responsibilities. Experts also noted that precise statistics on percentages of Romani students in public schools were missing, hindering the formulation of effective inclusion measures.

Approximately one-third of Roma lived in socially excluded communities and continued to face difficulties obtaining both public and private housing. Unemployment in these communities was 31 percent, compared with 6 percent or less in nearby areas before the COVID-19 pandemic. Some municipalities continued to use a 2017 amendment to the law addressing poverty, which reduced government housing subsidies in areas that cities designated as blighted, to push Roma and other low-income citizens into a city’s periphery. Observers reported that this tool was even used against individual families to move them from their houses. Several senators initiated a constitutional complaint and requested the Constitutional Court to annul certain provisions of the law; however, the case remained pending. A government-funded investment program focused on building new public housing units and providing social services through two projects totaling 1.35 billion crowns ($58 million) continued and was made available to more cities. The Agency for Social Inclusion continued to oppose a shipping-container housing proposal in the city of Most and provided alternate solutions for the Chanov housing division; the city continued with its program, however.

The government took steps to promote Romani culture and heritage. The Museum of Romani Culture received a property in Prague from the Ministry of Culture to serve as the site of a new cultural center. Demolition of a Communist-era pig farm at the site of a WWII concentration camp for Roma in the town of Lety was postponed due to COVID-19 pandemic, although the projected completion date of 2023 remained unchanged.

Roma were the most frequent targets of hate speech on the internet, and authorities took steps to address it. In October a regional court upheld a suspended sentence for a man who posted threatening comments on the internet under a school photo of first graders from a local school. The children were mainly Romani, Arab, and Vietnamese, and the comments suggested sending them to gas chambers. The regional court denied the appeal.

In August police brought charges against an individual for posting an online article about an apartment building fire in the town of Bohumin in which 11 persons died. The article baselessly claimed the alleged arsonist and victims were Roma and used graphic and offensive language in reference to the victims and the incident. Charges carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

In March a court sentenced 13 individuals to suspended penalties (up to 16 months in prison with four years’ probation) for online attacks against Romani singer Radoslav Banga. In 2016 Banga posted on Facebook that he had walked out of the Czech Nightingale music awards ceremony to protest an award given to Ortel, a band associated with the far right. In response hundreds of hate comments appeared on Facebook. One comment called for a “white homeland” and for minorities to be sent to the gas chambers.

Hungary

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Roma were the country’s largest ethnic minority. According to the 2011 census, approximately 315,000 persons (3 percent of the population) identified themselves as Roma. A University of Debrecen study published in 2018, however, estimated there were 876,000 Roma in the country, or approximately 9 percent of the country’s population. The study claimed the 2011 census underestimated the size of the Romani community, since Romani respondents often preferred not to disclose their minority status. To avoid biased responses, the researchers gathered data from municipal governments and from Romani self-government bodies instead of asking respondents to self-report their ethnicity.

Human rights NGOs continued to report that Roma suffered social and economic exclusion and discrimination in almost all fields of life. According to an October 12 report prepared for the Council of Europe by the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, Roma faced discrimination in education, employment, and access to housing and health care.

On May 28, the Mi Hazank party, joined by a few hundred supporters, held a demonstration against what they called “Gypsy crime” in front of the building of the National Roma Self-Government in Budapest. The demonstration was in response to a double homicide in downtown Budapest in which a teenager stabbed two young men. Unconfirmed press reports in some conservative and right-wing media alleged that the suspect was of Romani ethnicity. A Mi Hazank politician claimed, “The majority of perpetrators [of criminal acts] belonged to the Romani minority.” Police prohibited the gathering citing COVID-19 restrictions, but the party maintained that the demonstration was an “act of mourning” outside the scope of the law. Under heavy police presence, some protesters lit smoke bombs, chanted, “Yes, Gypsy crime exists,” and marched to the site of the scene of the killing joined by individuals from far-right paramilitary organizations. In a May 28 statement, the National Roma Self-Government stated that hostile incitement against Roma was increasing and criticized those who hold them collectively responsible for criminal acts instead of acknowledging individual responsibility. On June 1, Romani civil rights activists reported that the Roma Holocaust memorial in Budapest was defaced with the text “Eradicating Gypsies = eradicating crime.”

In a high-profile May 12 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower-level court ruling that ordered 99 million forints (approximately $330,000) in damages be paid to 60 Romani students who were unlawfully segregated by and received inferior education from a local primary school in Gyongyospata for 14 years. The educational authority and local government had asked the court to allow for educational instead of financial compensation, or to lower the compensation amount, but the court rejected both requests. On May 15, Prime Minister Orban called the ruling “unfair” and added: “It serves the law, but it does not deliver justice. From downtown Budapest, where the court is, justice for Gyongyospata is invisible. But we will find it.” The Fidesz member of parliament from Gyongyospata, Laszlo Horvath, called the ruling a “bad decision which disrupts social peace as it unilaterally and overwhelmingly punishes a whole town for the real or assumed grievances of a minority.”

On August 26, the Curia announced its ruling in favor of Romani mothers who were discriminated against in the maternity ward of a hospital in the city of Miskolc. The court agreed with the request by the plaintiff, the European Roma Rights Center, that the hospital immediately terminate the practice of requiring pregnant women’s family members to pay for a hygienic garment in order to accompany them in the hospital room. The plaintiff noted that Romani women were more likely to give birth alone and exposed to the risk of racist abuse and harassment by medical practitioners.

Segregation of Romani children in schools and their frequent misdiagnosis as mentally disabled remained a problem (see section 6, Children). Observers claimed the public education system continued to provide inadequate instruction for members of minorities in their own languages as required by law and that Romani language schoolbooks and qualified teachers were in short supply.

The law establishes cultural autonomy for nationalities (replacing the term “minorities”) and recognizes the right to foster and enrich historic traditions, language, culture, and educational rights as well as to establish and operate institutions and maintain international contacts.

Poland

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year. Several incidents tied to the COVID-19 outbreak occurred in the early days of the pandemic.

On February 28, a bridal store in Warsaw refused to serve two female customers of Indonesian origin because employees thought they might be infected with COVID-19.

On March 25, three men attacked a young Chinese woman who worked at the Silesian University in the town of Sosnowiec. The men surrounded her and shouted “coronavirus” and “China” at her. Police detained one man who was charged with assaulting the woman on the grounds of her national origin, for which he could face up to a three-year prison term.

On November 11, the annual Independence Day March in Warsaw was again organized by a coalition of groups, including the National Radical Camp and All Polish Youth, widely deemed extremist and nationalist in their ideologies. Unlike previous years there were no reports of slogans targeting national or ethnic minorities, but violence occurred mainly between some march participants and police. There was also an incident where participants threw flares at a building displaying a rainbow flag and the logo of a women’s rights group, starting a fire (no injuries were reported).

Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000 to 25,000 Roma resided in the country. Romani community representatives estimated that 30,000 to 35,000 Roma resided in the country.

Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, media, and education.

During the year the government allocated 11.2 million zloty ($2.88 million) for programs to support Romani communities, including for educational programs. The Ministry of Education helped finance school supplies for Romani children. The Ministry of Interior and Administration provided school grants for Romani high school and university students, postgraduate studies on Romani culture and history in Krakow, and Romani-related cultural and religious events.

The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience harassment and discrimination. On February 9, seven men verbally and physically attacked a group of five foreigners from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in the city center of Torun. One of the attackers, who turned himself in to police, was charged with using violence and making threats against others on the grounds of their national identity. On February 18, the man was placed in pretrial detention for three months. Police were searching for other perpetrators at year’s end.

On May 23, a man physically attacked a Ukrainian man and insulted his nationality in a store in the city of Gdansk. Police intervened and charged the man with public insult on the grounds of national identity. The man pleaded guilty and received 10 months of community service.

On June 27, a man attacked a Belarusian security guard in a store in Krakow after the guard asked him to leave the store for not wearing a face mask. The man verbally abused the guard and spat on him several times. On July 2, police detained the man and charged him with public insult on the grounds of national identity, for which he may face up to a three-year prison term.

During the year there were incidents of xenophobic attacks targeting those of African and Middle Eastern descent.

On July 14, two men attacked and shouted racist insults at a man of African descent at a bus stop in the town of Wieliczka. A bystander defended the victim and was also brutally attacked. On July 17, police detained one of the attackers and charged him with public incitement to hatred on the grounds of nationality, inflicting bodily harm, and making death threats. The man was placed in pretrial detention for three months.

On August 2, a group of six men verbally and physically assaulted a group of four foreigners, including citizens of Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia, on a street in Krakow. Four of the suspects were arrested and faced up to five years in prison for violence on the grounds of race or nationality. Police continued to search for the other two perpetrators at year’s end.

Romania

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. Romani groups complained that there were instances of police harassment and brutality, including beatings. Both domestic and international media and observers reported societal discrimination against Roma. NGOs reported Roma were denied access to, or refused service in, some public places. Roma also experienced poor access to government services, a shortage of employment opportunities, high rates of school attrition, and inadequate health care. A lack of identity documents excluded many Roma from participating in elections, receiving social benefits, accessing health insurance, securing property documents, and participating in the labor market. According to the Ministry of Interior, 177,816 persons older than age 14 did not have valid identity documents. Romani rights activists reported that most of these persons were Roma who cannot acquire legal identity documents because they resided in informal settlements and housing. Roma had a higher unemployment rate and a lower life expectancy than non-Roma. Negative stereotypes and discriminatory language regarding Roma were widespread.

In July the “Impreuna” Agency for Community Development released the results of a poll that showed seven in 10 residents of the country do not trust Roma and that 41 percent of respondents did not accept the idea of living in the same city or village with Roma. In March and April, several local government officials publicly claimed cited Roma in particular spread COVID-19, stoking anti-Romani sentiment. Throughout March and April, media outlets regularly alleged that Roma disobeyed COVID-19 stay-at-home measures. News stories specifically highlighting Romani migrants returning to the country from Italy and Spain, countries with high rates of COVID-19 infection, also circulated in local media outlets and social media, often suggesting they might be carriers of COVID-19.

Despite an order by the Ministry of Education forbidding segregation of Romani students, several NGOs continued to report that segregation along ethnic lines persisted in schools.

Researchers and activists reported a significant number of the remaining Romani Holocaust survivors who applied for a pension were denied because of unreasonable administrative barriers raised by the pension offices, problematic standards, lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and Roma, and burdensome requirements. According to researchers, despite historical evidence, in hundreds of cases authorities considered that Roma were resettled and not deported, and consequently granted them smaller pensions.

In April 2019 the driver of a minibus operated by a transportation company in the city of Zalau denied a Romani woman and her two children access to the vehicle and hit her repeatedly with a wooden stick. After she called the 112 emergency line to report the incident, the operator insulted the victim and used racial slurs against her. According to Romani CRISS, the attack was racially motivated. The Civic Union of Young Roma from Romania reported that prosecutors indicted the driver for abusive behavior and the Romani woman for public disturbance. The NGO reported that the indictment against the woman was abusive because her screams were a result of the driver’s violent behavior. As of November the case was pending before the Zalau court.

Ethnic Hungarians continued to report discrimination related mainly to the use of the Hungarian language. Ethnic Hungarians reported that the government did not enforce the law that states that ethnic minorities are entitled to interact with local governments in their native language in localities where a minority constitutes at least 20 percent of the population. There were continued reports that local authorities did not enforce the law that states that in localities where a minority constitutes at least 20 percent of the population, road signs must be bilingual.

The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania reported that in a legal dispute between separated parents over their child’s language of schooling, the Cluj-Napoca Court decided in June that the child, who has a mixed Romanian-Hungarian ethnicity, should be schooled at the kindergarten in Romanian, contrary to the will of the child’s ethnic Hungarian mother. According to the court, an insufficient knowledge of Romanian would damage the child’s ability to perform well once they become a university student considering that most universities in the country offer study programs in Romanian. According to the Department for Interethnic Relations, throughout the March 16-May 14 state of emergency, the government provided Hungarian translations of the state of emergency regulations related to the COVID-19 outbreak with a delay. In several counties with a significant ethnic Hungarian population, government agencies such as public health directorates or police inspectorates did not provide information on COVID-19-related measures and precautions in Hungarian. The Miko Imre Legal Service reported that during a soccer match in March that took place in the city of Ploiesti, supporters of the home team shouted offensive words against the rival team Sepsi OSK, which is based in the ethnic-Hungarian majority city of Sfantu Gheorghe. Supporters chanted “Hungarians out of the country!” and threw objects at some of the Sepsi OSK players, which caused the referee to suspend the match for 10 minutes. In February unknown persons painted the Romanian flag over the Hungarian name of Baia Mare city that was displayed on several welcome signs.

Slovakia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Segregation and societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. A 2019 study by the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Interior, the most recent available, found that as much as 49 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities, a slight decrease compared with the previous iteration of the study in 2013, which estimated that 53 percent of Roma resided in settlements. According to the same study, only 19 percent of the Romani minority lived integrated among the majority population. The UNDP identified 180 segregated rural settlements located outside municipalities and 418 communities on the outskirts of municipalities. The UNDP study found that 61 percent of inhabitants in the 100 largest concentrations of Romani citizens had access to drinking water, compared with 48 percent in 2013.

There were reports of harassment of members of ethnic minorities during the year and reports of violence and excessive use of force by members of the police against Romani citizens.

In April police officers allegedly beat a group of five Romani children trying to leave a marginalized Romani settlement that was placed under quarantine due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the community. According to the Union of Roma in Slovakia, the officers first threatened the children with a gun and then beat them using batons, causing bruises and other injuries. The ombudsperson, the government plenipotentiary for Romani communities, and the Slovak National Center for Human Rights condemned the incident and called for a thorough investigation. The Ministry of Interior’s inspection service launched an investigation into possible abuse of power by a public official.

Ahead of the February parliamentary elections, the LSNS party organized meetings and gatherings in areas with higher concentrations of Romani citizens, rallying voters from the majority against “asocial Gypsies” and “parasites” and promising to “restore order.” There were reports of small clashes between LSNS supporters and antifascist protesters at some of the LSNS rallies, but police mostly prevented an escalation of violence.

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 April former prime minister and chair of the opposition Smer Party Robert Fico criticized Prime Minister Matovic for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, asserting that Matovic was “the prime minister of gypsies” and claiming the COVID tests were made available for Roma but not senior citizens or homes for the elderly.

In August, President Caputova, Prime Minister Matovic, Interior Minister Roman Mikulec, Human Rights Ombudswoman Maria Patakyova, and other government officials attended a Romani Holocaust remembrance ceremony in Banska Bystrica. Media highlighted that this was the first time the Romani Holocaust Remembrance Day was marked by such high-level government attendance.

In February the Slovak Academy of Sciences released a representative survey of majority attitudes toward Romani citizens. When examining stereotypes about Roma, the survey found that most respondents (80 percent) tended to agree with a statement that Roma in the country received undeserved benefits from the social system, and almost two-thirds of respondents tended to identify with openly negative stereotypes of Roma. Only half of the respondents tended to agree with the statements that highlighted the value of Romani culture. The survey also found that respondents identified most with a so-called hostile political discourse, where politicians referred negatively to Romani citizens, particularly regarding work habits and crime rates in Romani communities.

Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, health care, housing, loan practices, restaurants, hair salons, religious services, and public transportation.

In April the government began blanket testing for the presence of COVID-19 in chosen marginalized Romani settlements with a higher recorded number of persons returning from abroad. The government used the military to assist in the testing, arguing the process was necessary to protect public health and safety. Human rights NGOs reported the targeted testing contributed to further stigmatization and anti-Romani prejudice and that there were reports of increased hate speech against Roma on social media. The targeted testing contributed to further stigmatization and anti-Romani prejudice and there were reports of increased hate speech against Roma on social media.

Based on the result of COVID-19 testing in marginalized Romani communities, the government’s chief medical officer ordered mandatory full-area quarantines in five settlements, with armed police and military guards stationed at the entrances to the settlements. Quarantines lasted up to one month in some of the settlements. NGO Amnesty International spoke to residents of the quarantined settlements, who confirmed that no one informed them about the duration and conditions of the quarantine. Authorities reportedly did not isolate persons who tested positive for COVID-19 from other persons in the community. In addition human rights watchdogs reported that authorities did not ensure a sufficient supply of food and medical supplies to the sealed-off settlements, forcing impoverished inhabitants to procure grossly overpriced supplies from vendors offering delivery services. Amnesty International considered the conduct of the government a violation of human rights.

Local authorities continued to use regulatory obstacles, such as withholding of construction permits, to discourage the legal establishment of Romani settlements. Media reported cases where non-Romani persons tried to prevent Romani customers from buying or renting property in “their” neighborhood.

Members of the Romani minority continued to experience obstacles and discrimination in the access to quality health care. A government report released by the Ministry of Finance in January 2019, the latest available, estimated life expectancy within the marginalized Romani population at 69.6 years, nearly seven years less than the general population, and infant mortality at three times the country average. NGOs reported Romani women faced multiple forms of discrimination in reproductive health care, including segregation in maternity departments, verbal harassment, and maltreatment by medical personnel. The hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by race. NGOs continued to express concerns over the way medical personnel obtained informed consent from Romani patients.

Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational discrimination and segregation and were disproportionately enrolled in “special” schools or placed in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools. A government review released by the Ministry of Finance’s analytical unit in January 2019, the latest available, confirmed earlier reporting from the ombudsperson that Romani children received an inferior education compared with their non-Romani peers. The report found a disproportionately high share of Romani children in “special” schools for children with intellectual disabilities (42 percent of all children enrolled) and schools with special classes for Romani children (63 percent). According to the review, only 32 percent of Romani children had received preschool education, compared with 75 percent for the general population, and one-third of Romani children dropped out of the education system before completing elementary school.

School closures during the COVID-19 pandemic deepened the educational gap between children from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, particularly children from marginalized Romani settlements, and children from more affluent families, educational experts pointed out. According to a study conducted by NGO EduRoma, 70 percent of marginalized Romani children did not participate in distance learning, and 60 percent of them had no contact with their teachers whatsoever during the nearly four-month-long closure of primary and secondary schools, mainly because they did not have access to a computer or the internet. Educational professionals warned this interruption in the education of children from disadvantaged backgrounds would have lasting impacts on their future educational and career prospects.

There were reports of racial discrimination and inappropriate language being used against members of the Romani minority at all levels of the education system. In April the regional court in Bratislava upheld a 2016 trial court ruling dismissing an antidiscrimination lawsuit against the segregation of Romani children at an elementary school in the town of Stara Lubovna. The court determined Romani children were not segregated in education even though the school was ethnically homogenous and attended exclusively by Romani children from a nearby marginalized settlement. The human rights NGO Poradna, which initiated the lawsuit, considered the court’s judgment in breach of international human rights law and planned to file an extraordinary appeal to the Supreme Court.

The government’s 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. Since 2017 “extremist” crimes, including incitement towards racial, religious, and ethnic hatred; discrimination on the basis of a deliberate hate motive; defamation of race, nation or belief; founding, supporting and expressing sympathy towards movements aimed at suppressing fundamental rights and freedoms; and producing and disseminating “extremist” materials, fall under the purview of the National Counter-Terrorism Unit at the National Crime Agency and are prosecuted by the Specialized Prosecution Service at the Specialized Criminal Court. Experts credited these specialized law enforcement and prosecution agencies for increasing the number of cases and the conviction rate for perpetrators of “extremist” crimes as well as for raising the profile of the issue in Slovak society.

The law bans the spreading of profascist propaganda and hatred in public, including on social media.

Slovenia

Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons

Members of National/Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups

Two constitutionally recognized national minorities and one ethnic minority living in the country: Roma, Hungarians, and Italians. Other minorities living in the country are not officially recognized, such as Germans, Albanians, Bosniaks, Croatians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, and Serbs. Only members of official minorities are guaranteed special parliamentary seats to represent their communities.

Discrimination against socially marginalized Roma persisted in some parts of the country. Organizations monitoring conditions in the Romani community noted that Roma faced difficulties securing adequate housing in traditional housing markets. Many Roma lived apart from other communities in illegal settlements lacking basic utilities and services, such as electricity, running water, sanitation, and access to transportation. Government officials emphasized that the illegality of settlements remained the biggest obstacle to providing Roma access to adequate housing, water, and sanitation. By law only owners or persons with other legal claims to land, such as legal tenants, may obtain public services and infrastructure (see also section 7, Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation). Ethnic Roma are particularly vulnerable to trafficking in the country.

In the first-ever case brought by the country’s Roma to the European Court of Human Rights, two families living in two separate informal Roma settlements asserted in 2014 that the government failed to offer access to basic public utilities, drinking water, and sanitation and that local authorities had engaged in negative and discriminatory treatment. In March the court found that the government took adequate steps to provide Roma settlements with drinking water and rejected the case. Several groups, including Amnesty International Slovenija and several Roma families, appealed the decision, alleging the court had not considered all circumstances in the case. In September, five judges forming the European Court of Human Rights grand chamber dismissed the appeals, quashed the allegations, and sustained the initial ruling.

Organizations monitoring conditions in the Romani community and officials employed in schools with large Romani student populations unofficially reported that high illiteracy rates among Roma persisted. While education for children is compulsory through grade nine, school attendance and completion rates by Romani children remained low.

Privacy protection laws limited the government’s ability to collect personal data on nationality, race, color, religious belief, ethnicity, sex, language, political or other belief, sexual orientation, material standing, birth, education, social position, citizenship, place or type of residence or any other personal circumstance. This resulted in, among other gaps, a lack of official data about Roma in the country.

The Center for School and Outdoor Education continued its 2016-22 project on Romani education, financed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport and the European Social Fund. The project helped Romani children succeed in the educational system through mentoring and support, including extracurricular activities and preschool education at community multipurpose centers. Although segregated classrooms are illegal, a number of Roma reported to NGOs their children attended segregated classes and that school authorities selected them disproportionately to attend classes for students with special needs. A local NGO estimated that 30 to 40 percent of the students attending special needs schools and classes were Romani, despite the fact that Roma comprise less than 1 percent of the total population.

In 2018 the government adopted the National Program of Measures for Roma for 2017-21 to improve living conditions of the Romani community through 41 specific measures, including improving health-care access; reducing poverty; providing antidiscrimination training; and promoting education, employment, and social inclusion. The Office for National Minorities coordinated this program and monitored its implementation. Although the government consulted Romani community representatives in preparing the National Program, NGOs claimed it focused too much on project-based initiatives and did not adequately consider the Romani community’s suggestions to address systemic issues, such as a lack of electricity, running water, sanitation, and access to transportation. Some Roma community members expressed concern over planned government reductions in funding for Roma communities due to budgetary pressures resulting from COVID-19 that could affect preparation of a National Program for 2022-26.

Local NGOs called on the government to adopt new measures to improve access to housing, education, and employment for Roma. The human rights ombudsman reported elderly Roma were among the most vulnerable individuals and needed additional care and support services. The average life expectancy of Roma is estimated to be 10 years shorter than that of the rest of the population.

A government-established commission to safeguard the rights of Roma continued to function. The commission included representatives from the Romani community, municipalities, and the government.

Representatives of the Romani community participated in a program that improved communication between police and individual Roma through discrimination prevention training for police officers working in Romani communities. As a result of COVID-19, for first time since the program’s inception in 2016, representatives of the Romani community did not participate in discrimination prevention training for police officers working in Romani communities.

The government provided medical equipment to health-care facilities and supported programs, workshops, and educational initiatives to provide best practices for health-care professionals working in Romani communities.

The German-speaking community called on the government to recognize the community as a minority officially in the constitution. The community called on the government to include German as a language of instruction in schools, recognize the minority language in radio and television programming, and provide additional funds to support German culture.

The ethnic Albanian, Bosniak, Croatian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, and Serbian communities also called on the government to recognize their communities officially in the constitution. In 2019 the government established the Government Council for Ethnic Communities of Members of Former Yugoslav Nations in Slovenia as a consultative body to address issues faced by such ethnic groups living in the country.

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