Monday, June 01, 2009

Slovakia: Increase in attacks and political racism directed against Jews, Roma and Hungarian minorities

By Pavol Stracansky -IPS
Republished permission Inter Press Service (IPS ) copyright Inter Press Service (IPS) and

The Council of Europe has warned in a report that attacks and political racism directed against Jews, Roma and Hungarian minorities have increased since the far-right Slovak National Party joined the government in 2006.

The report by the Council's European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) says Slovak political leaders have failed to condemn a string of incidents of political racism, including anti-Semitic abuse of MPs in Parliament. The Strasbourg-based Council of Europe is a 47-country grouping independent of the EU, and seeks to promote legal and human rights worldwide.

Minority rights groups are calling on the government to publicly crack down on racism because they say that a perceived tolerance of racist attacks entrenches and encourages racism.

"Politicians need to be standing up, giving condemnation and resolutely acting when there are racist attacks," Stano Daniel from the Milan Simecka Foundation, a human rights organisation, told IPS. "People see a politician making racist statements and may think, why should I be any different?"

The ECRI report heavily criticises the government over a "worrying" recent rise in racist political discourse.

Minority rights groups say the report highlights government reluctance to deal with racism, and the effect of that reluctance on societal tolerance of anti-minority sentiment.

They point to growing anti-Hungarian rhetoric from some senior government figures, and say politicians now freely fuel anti-Hungarian sentiment among the population because they know it can win votes.

"Much of the political racism among Slovak politicians today is focused on Hungarians. Politicians know that saying something bad about Roma is a political 'no-no' as people will be ready to criticise them for it. But attacking the Hungarian minority is very popular at the moment. Politicians know they can win votes with that," says Daniel.

Almost a tenth of Slovakia's roughly five million population is ethnic Hungarian. Many members of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia complain of prejudice in political parties and in society.

The most vocally anti-Hungarian party is the far-right SNS. It became part of a three-party coalition, along with Smer and the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) after the 2006 elections.

It has since seen its popularity soar. In a voter support poll published in Slovak media last week it was the third most popular party, with 9.7 percent support.

Its coalition partner, the centre-right HZDS, has in the past been vociferously anti-Hungarian. While in power in the 1990s it introduced a series of nationalistic laws, including legislation on official languages, widely seen as discriminatory against the Hungarian minority.

The Smer party, overwhelmingly the most popular in the country, has also since coming to power in 2006 adopted increasingly anti-Hungarian political rhetoric. A series of diplomatic conflicts with Hungary has left relations between the two states severely strained.

Minority rights groups say the government is also slow to condemn racism against Roma, Slovakia's other significant minority. The Roma, called Gypsies by some, are a people who are believed to have migrated to Europe from India since the 14th century.

Several studies have estimated that there are about 400,000 Roma in Slovakia. Almost all complain of prejudice at all levels of society.

"There is a general atmosphere in society that this is acceptable," Klara Orgovanova of the independent Roma Institute told IPS. "Politicians need to stand up and condemn it, and to say that it is unacceptable, if this is ever going to change."

"People like Dusan Caplovic, the deputy prime minister for minorities, make comments about Roma suggesting Roma children are all on drugs or that they need to be beaten up by their fathers to give them discipline, which is totally unacceptable," Daniel told IPS. "It just makes the situation with racism in Slovakia worse."

The Slovak government has rejected the ECRI's criticism. While saying it would take note of the report's findings, it said the ECRI had failed to take into account new legislation on anti-discrimination and a new government action plan on tackling racism, intolerance and discrimination.

Dusan Caplovic said in a statement given to IPS: "The report is an example of the critical approach to human rights politics which is common in reports from expert bodies focusing mainly on negative phenomena in individual countries. Protecting the rights of minorities is a long-term, dynamically changing process which has to be constantly refined."
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
Putting principles before profits