Slovak census forms also in Romanes
CER revealed last week that the Slovak government had failed to issue the population census forms in Slovak-Romanes. On Wednesday 17 January, the Slovak government approved the proposal of the Deputy Prime Minister, Pál Csáky, to use population census forms written in both Slovak and Slovak-Romanes for the census on 26 May 2001 in villages with over 20 percent Roma.
The announcement came in response to repeated criticism from Roma organizations. However, before the proposal was made public the support of the Deputy Prime Minister for the initiative had not been entirely clear. The daily Pravda (Truth) on 16 January wrote that Csáky had claimed that no written request had been received to issue the census forms in Romanes. Pravda went on to say that Csáky supported the idea of having the census form printed in both Slovak and Romanes in applicable municipalities, though he also expressed doubts about being able to use Romanes in its present non-standardized form.
According to the Slovak Constitution (Articles 33 and 34), citizens who are members of national minorities or ethnic groups are guaranteed equal opportunities. Specifically mentioned are the rights to promote their cultural heritage and to receive and disseminate information in their mother tongues (Article 34, paragraph 1). Moreover, the law on usage of the languages of national minorities (No 184/1999 from 10 July 1999) enables a public usage of the language of the minority when it composes at least 20 percent of the municipal population, which is the case for Roma in about 57 villages.
Illegal housing could cause census snags
Several Romani leaders in the Slovak Republic have warned that adequate attention has not been paid to the issue of the census in Romani settlements. Romani settlements are concentrated mainly in the eastern part of the Slovak Republic. Often they are de facto illegally built housing, lacking registration numbers, often without water and electricity supply and separated from the rest of the village. Východoslovenské noviny (Eastern Slovak Newspaper) reported on 3 August 2000 that the non-registered housing blocks in Roma settlements officially do not exist. Roma leaders told CER that the administrative non-existence of Romani settlements would enable the population census officers to avoid registering the citizens living there. The proposal of the Roma leaders to participate in the population census as census officers in the Romani settlements was refused as being illegal.
This contrasts with developments in the neighboring Czech Republic, where the population census is due to take place on 1 March 2001. Following the initiative of a Chomutov Romany advisor, Milan Adam, the census will be conducted in Romanes in Chomutov with Roma employed as census officers.
Roma housing package proposed
On 17 January 2001, the government announced a SKK 100 to 150 million (USD 2 to 3 million) package for improving the housing situation of Roma in Slovakia. According to the information available to CER, the reaction of local municipalities varies.
A positive example of trying to change the housing situation of Roma is Spišská Nová Ves, a town in the northeastern part of the Slovak Republic. One municipality official there is working on plans to demolish the Romani settlements and provide decent accommodation for the Roma within ten years. A proposed industrial park, aimed at developing the wood industry, would also secure employment opportunities for 800 people.
According to Východoslovenské noviny (Eastern Slovakia Newspaper), the town official concerned with these projects would like to give Roma the opportunity to solve their own social and economic situation. However, the negative reaction of local authorities, refusing to accept government subsidies and build better housing for Roma from the Romani settlements has also been reported in the eastern part of the Slovak Republic.
Nightmare housing faces demolition
A decision to demolish the 100-years-old St Anna housing complex in Prostějov, a medium-sized town in Moravia, will influence the lives of several Roma families living there. In recent years they have been living in appalling conditions in ground floor flats with no sanitation. As a result of the poor living conditions several epidemics of salmonella and other diseases have spread through the complex.
The municipal authorities have a clear plan how to accommodate the Roma from St Anna. Several Czech dailies reported on 15 January 2001 that those who have paid their rent in St Anna will be offered flats owned by the municipality, while those who have not will be accommodated in a special housing facility.
The biggest worry for the local authorities is those who have not been registered in the town as legal residents. In those cases, says Vice Mayor Alois Mačák, the municipality will not prepare any emergency housing at all, because he can not imagine what would constitute reasonable justification for offering municipality flats to such individuals: "As far I am concerned they can go back to Slovakia, where they came from."
Government restricts housing program
The Roma Press Centre has reported that the Hungarian government has decided to increase the eligibility requirements for the state-financed Roma housing program. Roma families are no longer eligible unless their children attend school and at least one of the parents is employed.
While the first condition will not be difficult to meet, the second condition could create serious difficulties for the long-term unemployed. Although there are no statistics on the rate of unemployment among Roma in Hungary, expert estimates range between 50 to 80 percent.
Aladár Horváth of the Romani Civil Rights Foundation labelled as racist and populistic remarks made by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's while talking about the housing program . Orbán described Roma families as ungrateful and said they were wasting the taxpayers' money. In Orbán's words, "... many new units in Hungary were doomed to the fate of being nicely built [but] then the Roma families moved in and the following year saw the units brought down, with the parquet floor broken up and the windows ruined. One had the feeling that despite giving the taxpayers' money to the needy, no lasting solution was found." Orbán also added that the National Gypsy Self-Government (OCÖ) will only remain in charge of the program if it can guarantee the proper maintenance of the new units.
Eva Sobotka, 20 January 2001
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