Roma riots in Slovakia: is there a lesson to be learned for the Czech Republic?|
In neighbouring Slovakia several hundred Romanies clashed with police in
the Eastern town of Trebisov Monday evening. Rocks and empty bottles were
thrown, and several shops were looted. The incident was part of a chain of
protests following the Slovak government's decision to cut back social
welfare. The story has also hit the headlines in the Czech papers, as this
country also has a large Roma minority. As in Slovakia Czech Roma are
among the poorest in society, and the great majority of them have their
roots in Slovakia. Could the same kind of protests also happen in the
For the Czech government the recent emergency in Slovakia is certainly a
lesson in the kind of problems that can result from drastic changes in
social policy. Cseslaw Wellek heads the Office of the Council for Roma
Community Affairs in the Czech Republic. He feels that the huge welfare
cuts were not properly thought through.
"Obviously in my opinion this is an understandable policy if you give
recipients of social benefits alternatives such as job opportunity. But,
when you think geographically where the Roma in Eastern Slovakia live,
there are no jobs. And with their education they even have less of a
chance to find any employment whatsoever in this part of Slovakia. But
that is my personal opinion."
Could you tell me the difference between Slovakia's situation and the one
in the Czech Republic in terms of giving alternatives? Does the Czech
system have something better in place?
"Well, regarding employment I don't think so. The main difference is
we haven't lowered social benefits. The situation of the Czech Roma is in
some ways better than the situation in Slovakia in terms of standard of
living. Here they don't live in settlements and so on. But to be honest
regarding employment the Czech government is not providing too many
alternatives, we still have to work on it. On the other hand we have
certain programmes that are better developed here. For example social
field work, or the pilot project which our office together with the
Ministry of Interior is working on the fight against usury."
Many Roma from isolated rural settlements in Slovakia have migrated to the
Czech Republic in recent years - both before and since the split of
Czechoslovakia. The latest wave of unrest has led to concern that many
more Slovak Roma will want to move to this country. A Czech-Slovak working
group is set to meet on the 5th of March and Mr. Wellek of the Council for
Roma Community Affairs will play an active role.
"Obviously we are concerned with what is going on and if the Slovak
government were to ask us for help we would be ready to give any help that
we possible can."