BHHRG

About BHHRG

The British Helsinki Human Rights Group monitors human rights and democracy in the 57 OSCE member states from the United States to Central Asia.
* Monitoring the conduct of elections in OSCE member states.
* Examining issues relating to press freedom and freedom of speech
* Reporting on conditions in prisons and psychiatric institutions

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Local Slovaks and The Roma Population
HITS: 15977 | 12-05-2010, 18:54 | Commentaire(s): (0) |
 (Votes #: 1)

As pointed out, unemployment among ordinary Slovaks in the east of the country is also high. Although there is little evidence of inter community tension, people are, albeit mutedly, critical of the Roma regarding them as lazy, unreliable and untrustworthy. While the Slovak press adopts a responsible line on the subject, their correspondence columns often seethe with anger over what readers consider to be favouritism shown to Roma asking why “they” can’t have fewer children and clean up their act.[1] Their critics point out that Roma lie when they say they have to steal because they can’t afford to buy food alleging that most of the goods stolen were drink and cigarettes and that they get into debt due to the shark like interest rates imposed on them by local money lenders.
Not all of these accusations are false. For example, BHHRG saw an advertisement for something called Expres Financial a money lending outfit outside the Rokoko supermarket used by Roma in Čierna nad Tisou. Usury in these communities has been common for centuries. However, BHHRG was surprised by how few people they saw smoking in the settlements visited – nor were there many cars around, apart from the odd battered vehicle. Signs of the high life were not in evidence.
Because the Roma population is poor, lacks education and has a reputation for being light-fingered - jobs for Roma in the private sector like cleaning hotels and restaurants are not open to them and they remain marginalized and unable to escape the vicious circle of poverty. Much was made of the fact that in the wake of the February upheavals US Steel offered 10 jobs to Roma applicants – the company already employs 70 Roma.[2] But, 70 out of the 24,000 employed by the company is a mere trifle and while US Steel might want the 10 jobs to look like a bold gesture it will do nothing to dent the problem.
Shop assistants in Trhovište and Čierna were unwilling to talk to BHHRG about what happened during the recent protests. In Čierna, local people were also less than keen to direct the Group to town’s Roma settlement. Although some of this awkwardness might be put down to apprehension that talking to strangers might provoke more attacks - the woman manning the state shop in Trhovište that had suffered looting and broken windows when local Roma went on the rampage said that she was still frightened (strach) and glad of the police presence outside the premises as they “didn’t know what might happen next” – BHHRG felt that a sullen political correctness has seeped into local communities who know that criticism of ethnically different groups can lead to accusations of racism.
Most Roma spoken to by BHHRG said that they had no trouble with the police although, again, in Trhovište and Čierna there was indignation that people had been arrested and kept in custody after the attacks on local shops. However, residents in Lunik IX said that the police were afraid to enter the area and particularly unwilling to break up fights that often broke out between groups of Roma youth. As the Group’s representatives prepared to leave, a black leather clad Roma told them they would have to ‘register’ with the ‘authorities’ in Lunik IX if they wanted to remain. It appeared that in the absence of a regular police presence vigilante groups were filling the void.
But, the future for many smaller Slovak towns in this area could be bleak as young people move away to find work leaving behind a burgeoning Roma population all too likely to move into accommodation left empty. This has already happened in the formerly German populated areas of Transylvania in Romania where Roma have moved in and stripped churches and historic buildings of timber, bricks and other often valuable items either for sale or just for firewood. The heritage of the Spiš region (also formerly populated by Germans) could also be threatened if the same development happened there.
Further east, the village of Trhovište is already half-colonized by Roma families which, whether rightly or wrongly, serves to drive the ordinary Slovak population away. More alarmingly, the historic town of Levoča has suffered depopulation and neglect since 1989. A spokesman for the city hall told BHHRG that the many dilapidated and abandoned houses in the town resulted from unresolved issues surrounding restoration of property following the collapse of Communism. As there seems to be no proper legislation covering conservation areas, the municipality has no means to enforce compulsory purchases to restore and refurbish what are, in most cases, important examples of late medieval domestic architecture. A supermarket in Levoča was raided during the recent Roma rioting and there must be a possibility that the town will be colonised in a totally inappropriate way if something is not done for it very soon.
In fact, the social trends in eastern Slovakia are fast emulating those that took place over the past century in Kosovo where the Serb population shrunk to the point where its way of life was barely sustainable. Like the Roma, Kosovo Albanians also have large families and live much less structured lives than their Slav neighbours. And, like Kosovo, Eastern Slovakia is the home to a vast number of cultural treasures which, it is to be hoped, never meet the same fate as those in the Serb province.


[1] See, for example, some of the letters sent to The Slovak Spectator in response to an article by Martina Pisarova, “Roma outbreaks calm, relief demanded” www.slovakspectator.sk 8th-14th March, 2004,
[2] “ US Steel creates job opportunities for Slovak Romanies” Radio Twist, 3rd March 2004
www.bbcmonitoring.co.uk.

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