Slovakia: Verheugen invited to inspect the situation of Roma
Mikuláš Dzurinda, the prime minister of the Slovak Republic, invited EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen to inspect inter-ethnic relations between Roma and non-Roma.
Dzurinda's aim is to prove to the commissioner that there is no racial discrimination of Roma in the Slovak Republic. The prime minister further stressed that Slovakia must be among the states that will join the European Union in the time period between spring 2003 and spring 2004.
Human Rights Watch Report 2001
According to the international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), even though human rights in Central and East Europe have improved over the course of the past few years, problematic areas remain.
HRW listed racially motivated attacks against Roma in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. The HRW Report reads that "in Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, racially motivated attacks on Roma or foreigners are not subject to special sanctions under law, which provides no express protections against discrimination by reason of ethnic origin or nationality."
Police brutality against Roma was reported in Slovakia, Greece, Hungary and Macedonia. The deteriorating housing situation and living conditions are subject to criticism in the case of Hungary, Slovakia and Greece.
Slovakia: Roma textbook cannot be used in schools
A Romani history supplementary textbook written by ethnographer Arne B Mann will not be distributed in Slovakia. The plenipotentiary stated that Mann lists names of so-called Roma artists that he did not get permission from and that he cannot connect them with Roma culture or nationality.
Daily SME reported that the Roma artists Mann cites could not be consulted anyway because they are all dead. Nonetheless, the relatives of the Roma musicians protested against the use of the names, along with the date of birth and death listed in the textbook because (according to them) the musicians had not claimed a Roma nationality during their lifetime.
The government tried to salvage the book by offering to erase the names, even though the compromise with the relatives was not reached. The relatives made an official request with Vincent Danihel, the plenipotentiary for Roma issues, to take the textbook out of circulation.
Czech Republic: Uhl is gone, long live Uhl!
Petr Uhl, the plenipotentiary for human rights and the chair of the inter-governmental committee for Roma community affairs, resigned from his position immediately after his wife Anna Šabatová was voted deputy ombudsman. Uhl explained that by staying in the position he would face a conflict of interest with his wife's new post.
Uhl said that staying in the position would endanger his wife's independence and that he could be lured to break his loyalty to the government. He is probably the first public servant in the history of the Czech Republic to abide by a standard of avoiding "conflict of interest" in the circle of close family.
Uhl's achievements in the field of Roma issues are significant. He prepared a long-term Roma integration policy document, took it through the difficult process of government nitpicking, and built up inter-ministerial commity for Roma community affairs and the Council for Human Rights. Through recruitment of Roma members of the Inter-Commity for the Roma Community Affairs he facilitated a rich inter-ethnic debate between the Roma community and the government.
Among Uhl's long list of achievements are adoption of a new law on citizenship, a strong campaign against racism, a new law affecting foreigners, a re-socialisation programme for members of extreme right organisations as well as government measures against extremist movements.
Critics of Uhl also exist amongst Roma who point out several cases of his non-sensitive style and controversial approach to his work, which was especially visible back in 1999, during the Matiční wall crises when he failed to mediate between the two sides in dispute. Uhl considers his inability to persuade the government to create a governmental body "Office for Ethnic Equality" one of his greatest misgivings.
Nonetheless, Uhl's successor will have a hard time filling his shoes. According to a well-seated Roma representative it is impossible to find a more controversial figure than Peter Uhl.
Czech Republic: Roma Civil Inititative has new chairman
Members of the Roma Civil Initiative (ROI) voted Štefan Ličartovský their new chairman for the next year. His background as a mediator of civil disputes might help him to unify different Roma organisations and reactivate ROI membership that, according to some sources, fell drastically from 50,000 in 1992 to 150 in 2000.
The only Romani political party in the Czech Republic has been in a deep identity crisis for the past five years. The former chairman, Emil Ščuka, presently the president of the International Romani Union, called upon Roma to be more active in politics. He further said that the future of ROI is in local politics and he would like to see bigger co-operation between ROI and other political parties and the local level. In particular the Senate elections could be a great chance for Romani politicians and leaders.
ROI called upon Roma to proclaim their Roma nationality in the upcoming census poll and explained that the state needs to know the real number of Roma in order to create useful minority programmes.
Czech Republic sets a good example
According to Emil Ščuka, the Czech Republic has solved the situation of Roma in a very positive way and could easily be given as an example of a state with a good Roma minority policy. At the meeting of ROI last weekend in Pardubice, Ščuka told Czech Roma to be more active at the level of local politics. Although it is highly unlikely that Roma would turn to a drastic measure of leaving the country to apply for political asylum, he also mentioned that the calmness among Roma could not be interpreted as a "good mood" of satisfied citizens. According to Ščuka, for a "good mood" among Roma it is necessary for them to find employment.
Hungary: Minorities campaign for Kaltenbach
Hungarian minority representatives have urged President Ferenc Mádl to suggest to the Parliament to re-elect Jeno Kaltenbach as parliamentary commissioner for ethnic and minority rights. Kaltenbach's mandate ends this summer. The minority representatives underlined that although there are many positive developments in the field of minority politics in the neighbouring countries, Hungary still has a long way to go to better protect its minorities.
The representatives also voiced concerns over the fact that nearly a decade has lapsed without any guarantees regarding the parliamentary representation of minorities, and that there is no legislative progress toward modifying the Act on Minorities. The legal and financial operation of institutions, which promotes the cultural autonomy of minorities, also remains inadequate. Minority representatives expressed their fear that the political passivity may harm Hungary's international reputation.
US Senate commission expert criticises Hungary
Erika Schlager, the legal advisor to the US Senate's Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (Helsinki Commission) criticised Hungary during her presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, DC. Schlager emphasised the routine procedure in Hungary of directing Roma children into special schools for the mentally retarded, even if they are mentally sound.
The statement made by the mayor of Csór that "the Zámoly Roma have no place among human beings" is, in Schlager's view, another example of the verbal manifestations of prejudices, and so is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán's call for "firm efforts" with regard to Roma seeking political asylum.
Council of Europe finally evaluates the situation of minorities
After seven years, at its Strasbourg session, the General Assembly of the Council of Europe (CE) re-evaluated the situation of minorities in member states. Several representatives urged the CE to publish, among other things, a country report on Hungary, which is considered classified material at the moment.
Csaba Tabajdi of the Hungarian Socialist Party called the minority protection system of the CE a work in progress. Tabajdi disapproves of what he considers a double-standard in CE policy, citing that it is a prerequisite for new members to ratify CE regulations on the protection of minorities, while several older member states have still not incorporated these regulations into their legal system.
Eva Sobotka, 2 February 2001
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