Societal discrimination against Roma and individuals of non-European ethnicity was common. According to the 2011 census, Roma were the second largest ethnic minority with a population of 105,000, a slight increase from the 2001 census. Experts estimated that the Romani population was actually between 350,000 and 500,000, with an atlas compiled by the UN Development Program (UNDP) in 2012 placing the number at 402,000. Observers attributed the discrepancy to self-identification by many Roma as Hungarians or Slovaks. As much as 53 percent of the Romani population resided in marginalized communities. The UNDP atlas identified 231 segregated rural settlements located, on average, less than one mile from neighboring municipalities.
According to the 2011 census, there were approximately 458,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the country, a decrease from the 2001 census.
NGOs reported racially motivated attacks on minorities (Roma and others) throughout the year, but authorities’ investigation of such incidents varied by jurisdiction.
Extreme rightist, nationalist, and neo-Nazi groups held events designed to intimidate minority groups. In addition to commemorating historical events and figures associated with the World War II fascist state, the LSNS and other far-right groups organized anti-Romani gatherings at locations where there were tensions between Rom and non-Rom populations.
In July far-right groups organized the “For a Decent and Safe Life” protest march in Bratislava. Organizers claimed the event was in response to growing attacks by Roma against non-Roma. The march was a show of support for a television presenter who was dismissed from her job after posting a text on a social media site asking why Roma cannot be shot like pests. In August far-right groups organized the “Against Gypsy Terror in Eastern Slovakia” gathering in Gelnica, allegedly in response to recent killings of non-Roma by Romani individuals.
In November 2013 far-right LSNS Party leader Marian Kotleba was elected governor of Banska Bystrica province. In the past Kotleba praised the World War II-era fascist Slovak state, made frequent anti-Romani remarks, and organized anti-Romani protests. In the period preceding the elections, Kotleba promised to end the “unjust preferential treatment for not only gypsy parasites” and hinted at the creation of militia-style groups to provide security near Romani communities. Following his victory an article in the LSNS newsletter announced that Kotleba’s victory had initiated “real change,” which would not be complete until the country was Slovak, Christian, and white.
Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
In June 2013 approximately 60 police officers raided Romani settlements in the town of Moldava nad Bodvou, allegedly resulting in multiple injuries to residents, including children, and property damage. NGOs and residents complained that police carried out property searches without warrants. The ombudswoman expressed doubts over an initial Ministry of Interior inspection report, which concluded that the police raid was lawful. On January 8, after inviting her to one of its sessions, the cabinet refused to allow the ombudswoman to speak about the Moldava nad Bodvou raid and concluded that the ombudswoman did not follow the necessary procedures in approaching the government with her complaints. The ombudswoman’s investigation found that police violated the rights of individuals in conducting the raid. Following the cabinet session, the deputy prime minister and interior minister chastised a journalist for treating Roma as equally credible as police officers after the journalist noted that testimonies by the alleged Romani victims contradicted testimonies by police officers.
On January 30, the speaker of parliament threatened to relocate the office of the ombudswoman to Eastern Slovakia (where the majority of nonintegrated Roma reside) after parliamentarians from the governing Smer party approved the cabinet’s decision not to hear the ombudswoman regarding the Moldava nad Bodvou raid. The speaker insisted that the ombudswoman should experience for herself the problems associated with “unadaptables.”
In mid-January the regional prosecutor’s office in Presov launched an investigation into the raid. In February the Government Council on Human Rights and National Minorities, an advisory body to the government, expressed support to the Office of the Public Defender of Rights but did not issue a stance on the police raid itself while an investigation into the raid was pending.
In February, Prime Minister Robert Fico visited police officers in Moldava nad Bodvou and stated that he wanted “police officers in Slovakia to know that the Slovak government simply stands behind them.” In August the Moldava nad Bodvou municipality banned the “Moldava Together” music festival, which was organized to promote solidary with the inhabitants of the Romani settlement. The municipality asserted that the settlement did not meet the necessary health and safety standards for such an event. Event organizers rejected the claims, noting that the municipality waited until the last minute to object to the festival, thereby making it impossible for the organizers to address any of the alleged shortcomings.
While the law prohibits defamation of nationalities in public discourse, authorities generally enforced it only when other offenses, such as assault or destruction of property, were also committed.
There were instances of public officials at every level defaming minorities and making derogatory comments about Roma.
During the January parliament session that focused on the ombudswoman’s report on the Moldava nad Bodvou police raid, governing Smer party member of parliament Dusan Munko accused Roma of conceiving children as their main source of income and claimed that 90 percent of Roma were dependent on welfare and crime for their livelihoods. He also suggested that due process was not required during police raids on Romani settlements and compared some of the alleged behavior of Roma to that of animals.
During his campaign for the presidency, Prime Minister Robert Fico highlighted alleged Romani criminality during a radio interview, insisting that more than half of all prisoners were Roma and that Roma often perpetrated violent crimes. Fico also argued that the “extraordinary situation of the Roma needs extraordinary measures,” but that “human rights saints” would impede the implementation of such measures. He also complained about media criticism of the Moldava nad Bodvou police raid.
NGOs engaged in monitoring activities noted that media reports concerning Roma overwhelmingly focused on crime or other problems associated with socially excluded communities. Media reporting on crime also referred to the ethnicity of alleged perpetrators when they were Roma but did not give the ethnicity of alleged perpetrators of similar crimes when they were not Roma. A website devoted to issues concerning the Romani community, launched in 2013 by the prominent daily Sme, provided generally balanced reporting.
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in employment, education, health care, housing, and loan practices. Roma faced discrimination in accessing a wide variety of commercial services, including restaurants, hair salons, and public transportation. In April the Spisska Nova Ves District Court ruled in the 2009 case of a Romani couple that were refused service at a bar because of their ethnicity, awarding them 600 euros ($750) in damages. The NGO representing the victims welcomed the decision to issue damages but concluded that the sum was too low to serve as a deterrent and did not reflect the extent to which the act of discrimination harmed the victims’ dignity. NGOs asserted that the cases of discrimination reported to legal help lines represented only a fraction of discrimination cases that occurred. In many cases Romani individuals from socially excluded communities did not report discrimination. NGOs reported cases of police harassment based on ethnicity.
Activists frequently alleged that employers refused to hire Roma, and an estimated 80 to 90 percent of Roma from socially excluded communities were unemployed. NGOs working with Roma from socially excluded communities reported that while job applications by Roma were often successful during the initial phase of selection, in a majority of cases employers excluded these applicants once they found them to be Roma. Rejected job applicants rarely pursued cases of discrimination through the courts.
Local authorities forced evictions of Romani inhabitants, demolished their improvised housing, or blocked them from obtaining construction permits or purchasing land. In April 2013 the Kosice municipality evicted a Romani settlement in the district of Tahanovce. In August the Kosice municipality demolished apartment buildings in the Lunik IX housing project, which was home to a considerable marginalized Romani community. Former residents relocated to nearby improvised settlements or moved in with relatives. The municipality provided alternative accommodation only to residents who were not in arrears in their payments to the municipality.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in the eastern part of the country, where hospital management accommodated them separately from non-Romani women and did not permit them to use the same bathrooms and toilets. Hospitals claimed they grouped persons according to their levels of hygiene and adaptability, not by race.
Romani children from socially excluded communities faced educational segregation in terms of their disproportionate enrollment in special schools or their placement in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools.
While education is universal and free through the postsecondary level and compulsory until the age of 15, Romani children exhibited a lower attendance rate than other children. Authorities disproportionately enrolled Romani children in “special” schools for children with mental disabilities. Later re-evaluations often revealed those same students would have likely succeeded in mainstream educational institutions. A special school education did not provide Romani children the knowledge or certification necessary to pursue higher education. Transfer from a special school to a regular educational track was difficult or impossible.
The government did not provide data on the percentage of Romani students in special schools nor did it collect data on ethnicity.
NGOs implemented educational programs through community centers, operated by local councils, to reduce the number of Romani children enrolled in special schools or special classes. These programs included preschool and after-school programs to improve basic motor skills and introduce behaviors often lacking in neglected children. These programs aimed to decrease the number of children referred to diagnostic centers and ultimately to special schools. Social workers also worked with parents in socially excluded families to help them understand the importance of their children attending a regular school, since authorities often placed Romani children in special schools with the agreement or at the request of their parents.
Romani children from socially excluded communities also faced segregation in regular educational establishments. There were reports of schools having predominantly or almost exclusively Romani pupils from several surrounding municipalities, resulting in non-Romani children often attending a different school than Roma from the same area.
Segregated classrooms within mainstream schools were common. Schools often justified the segregation as being in the children’s best interest and often claimed that Romani parents preferred their children to attend segregated classrooms. After a regional court in 2012 confirmed an earlier court decision ordering desegregation of a school in Sarisske Michalany, an NGO worked with the school director to begin desegregating the school, train teachers, and provide support staff and volunteers. The school director desegregated the playground and the first Romani children enrolled in non-Romani classes. Despite limited progress most classrooms and certain other parts of the school remained segregated due to opposition from teaching staff.
Amnesty International Slovakia reported that a school in Levoca segregated Romani children in separate classrooms. The municipality denied that any of its schools were segregating Romani children.
The Government Council on Human Rights, National Minorities, and Gender Inequality operated a Committee for the Prevention and Elimination of Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism, and Other Forms of Intolerance.
The law provides for the imposition of fines on government institutions, civil servants, and legal entities that do not provide information required by law in Slovak. The law authorizes the Ministry of Culture to levy fines of up to 5,000 euros ($6,250) for noncompliance. Members of the ethnic Hungarian minority criticized the provision as discriminatory and a restriction on their right to free speech. Members of the community complained that authorities did not always implement provisions that enabled the use of minority languages in official settings. They also objected to the refusal by the railways to allow for dual-language train station signs.
An alleged 2006 attack and subsequent perjury charges against ethnic Hungarian Hedviga Malinova drew media attention and raised questions about due process. In April the general prosecutor charged Malinova with perjury. Her attorney described the charge as an act of intimidation, noting that authorities did not inform Malinova about how she had supposedly lied. NGOs and human rights groups criticized the re-opening of charges against Malinova. The previous government of Iveta Radicova apologized to Malinova in 2011.