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
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. 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.
The Roma were overwhelmingly scathing about the government in Bratislava, claiming that none of its members ever came to visit them. The minister responsible for ethnic minorities, Pal Csaky, is an ethnic Hungarian and the Roma were quick to point out that is the only minority he cares about. They claimed that the government had ‘stolen’ money given to Slovakia by foreign donors explicitly for Roma projects and, it is hard not to believe that such allegations are mere idle gossip – EU funds have disappeared into the void in both Slovakia and Romania. For example, in 2001 “Roland Toth in charge of development project funding from the EU has been accused of misusing €330 m. in EU taxpayers’ money”. The minister responsible, Pavel Hamzik, was also dismissed. Part of the problem lies in the centralised way the country is governed. Slovakia’s election law treats Slovakia as one constituency meaning that party lists contain few names that mean anything to local voters even with the addition of a handful of preferential votes. By 2004, like many citizens in the former Communist bloc, Slovak voters had tried out most parties from left to right of the spectrum, most of which had failed to improve their lives in any way.
HITS: 1997 | 12-05-2004, 21:49 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , PR and human rights
Western human rights groups were complaining about the treatment of Czechoslovakia’s Roma minorities as far back as the mid 1980s. When the country split into the Czech and Slovak Republics monitoring of the situation increased under the auspices of the Council of Europe and other EU institutions. At the same time, various cross border Romany NGOs were formed, ostensibly to protect the rights of this large and controversial minority. Funding was made available for a variety of projects, including the EU’s own PHARE project which supported initiatives to improve both living and educational standards for the Roma. On top of this, the Slovak government appointed a minister for Roma Affairs at the time of writing the post is held by Klara Orgovanova, herself of Roma origin. While many of the people involved in NGO work are well-meaning, many projects have been based on the (mis)understanding that the Roma inhabit a quaint, picturesque bohème world strumming the cembalon and speak their ancient Romany language. Mrs Orgovanova’s web page features what purports to be a Romany dance troop regaled in their finest, völkisch costumes as they perform some elaborate peasant dance.
HITS: 1971 | 12-05-2004, 18:45 | Comments: (0) | Categories: Slovakia , World health
It is difficult to say how many Roma live in Slovakia – the number has been put at c.400,000. Slovak government representatives claim that only 30% live in miserable conditions while the remaining 70% - the majority - is fully integrated into normal Slovak life. However, in conversations with BHHRG, some Roma estimated that barely 10% of their population was, in fact, living what might be called a ‘normal’ life. Many Roma families have upward of four children and BHHRG met people with as many as eight young mouths to feed. Nowadays, all these children are likely to live into adulthood – unlike in the past - as the Slovak authorities operate a full vaccination programme within the Roma communities. However, BHHRG noted several examples of children and young people with severe birth defects while the toil associated with endless childbirth and rampant poverty means that Roma women do not live to a great age. BHHRG saw no elderly women – though many who were prematurely aged - during their visits to the Roma settlements in Eastern Slovakia.
A visit to Roma communities in Eastern Slovakia following recent unrest brought about by sharp reductions in social security payments.
Eastern Slovakia Today
As the accession date for 10 new member states to join the EU drew closer in the early months of 2004, worries started to be raised in the British media about the likelihood of mass immigration to the UK from the 8 former Communist accession countries. The tabloid press, in particular, focused on the thousands of poverty-stricken Roma people living in economically disadvantaged areas like Eastern Slovakia predicting that many of them would come to the UK after 1st May thus overburdening the country’s generous but overstretched social security system. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group has reported regularly from Slovakia and, in 1998, was one of the first human rights group’s to visit the now notorious Lunik 1X housing complex on the outskirts of the eastern Slovakian city of Košice where Roma residents had been moved from their previous homes in the centre of town.