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.
There were reports that police severely beat, mistreated, and harassed Roma. On April 2, a group of 15 police officers entered the Romani community in the village of Vrbnica, allegedly to locate and arrest individuals evading arrest warrants as part of a larger police operation in the Kosice region. Local witnesses, including the Vrbnica mayor, reported the raid resulted in physical injuries to at least 19 Romani residents, who did not resist or obstruct police. According to the reports, women and juveniles were among those injured. One resident described how police dragged him out of his house, assaulted him, and let their dog attack his son. Other residents complained that police officers entered homes without warrants. Police also reportedly attacked residents conducting street repairs as part of a community work program. Shortly after the raid, the media published photographs of Vrbnica residents with injuries consistent with baton strikes. According to the regional police director, the raid lasted half an hour and no one was arrested or injured.
On April 6, the Ministry of Interior Police Inspection Service opened an investigation into the raid. As of October the investigation remained pending and no police officers had been held accountable. In July the ombudswoman’s office published a report on the raid based on interviews with residents, which concluded that police violated their rights. According to police, no video recording was made of the Vrbnica raid. At the beginning of May, the president of the police issued an internal directive requiring the recording of police raids in the future. The government plenipotentiary for Romani communities welcomed the directive but insisted it needed to be codified into law.
As of November, authorities had not brought charges against any of the police officers involved in a 2013 police raid on a Romani settlement in the town of Moldava nad Bodvou, despite NGO and ombudswoman reports that had compiled extensive evidence of abuses as well as interviews with more than 50 witnesses. During the year residents of the settlement who witnessed or were involved in the raid claimed they suffered continued harassment by police investigators. The raid, which involved approximately 60 police officers, resulted in multiple injuries and property damage, according to residents, who also complained that police carried out property searches without warrants. During its 55th session in July and August, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern that no charges had been brought against the officers to date.
In February a Kosice district court acquitted all 10 police officers charged in the 2009 case of police abuse of a group of Romani boys. One of the officers recorded the abuse, but the judge presiding over the case disallowed the video as evidence. The state prosecutor appealed the acquittal. During its July and August session, the UN Committee Against Torture expressed concern over the acquittal and the court’s decision to dismiss the video recording as evidence.
NGOs reported racially motivated attacks on minorities 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-era fascist state, People’s Party Our Slovakia, Vzdor Kysuce, and other far-right groups organized anti-Roma, anti-refugee, and anti-Islam gatherings.
In June far-right groups organized a “Stop the Islamization of Europe” protest march against refugees and migrants in Bratislava, attended by approximately 4,000 persons, mainly far-right extremists from Central Europe. The protest resulted in sporadic acts of violence, including a physical attack against a family from Saudi Arabia. After some delay Prime Minister Robert Fico condemned the violence, but earlier he noted that the protesters were “kicking down an open door,” implying his government already agreed to some of their demands, including rejecting compulsory EU quotas for accepting refugees and migrants. A member of parliament from the ruling Smer party, Renata Zmajkovicova, delivered a similar message at a smaller “Against the Islamization of Slovakia” protest in the town of Trnava in September. In August far-right groups organized an “Against Gypsy Terror” gathering in Polomka, allegedly in response to recent killings of non-Roma by a Romani individual.
Police generally responded quickly to gatherings targeting the Romani community and prevented crowds from entering Romani communities or inciting confrontations.
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.
In a communication with the European Commission, the Ministry of Education responded to criticisms that Romani children were disproportionately enrolled in special schools for children with disabilities by asserting that Roma have a higher rate of genetic diseases due to prevalence of inbreeding in the Romani community. The ministry’s letter was part of a communication exchange leading up to the European Commission’s infringement proceedings against the country over continued segregation of Romani children in schools. Slovak and regional NGOs labelled the government’s assertions as racist, discriminatory, and not based on fact. When asked about the case in June, Minister of Interior Robert Kalinak, whose ministry is responsible for the government’s policy towards Roma, also asserted that incest is more frequent within Romani communities.
During the year the parliament approved an amendment to the Education Act, proposed by the Education Ministry, to distinguish between special education needs due to disabilities and those due to socially disadvantaged backgrounds. According to the Education Ministry, children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds will no longer be labeled as disabled, which is a key component for assigning students to special education schools or classes. The ministry also plans to channel some of the financial resources earmarked for socially disadvantaged children to mainstream schools. The ministry admitted special schools may have been motivated to enroll Romani children even when unnecessary because of the special support payment earmarked for socially disadvantaged children. Observers pointed out, however, that the same provisions are already enshrined elsewhere in the law. NGOs also noted that the ministry has not yet admitted that segregation of Romani children is a problem in the country.
Widespread discrimination against Roma continued in 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. NGOs asserted that the cases of discrimination reported to legal help lines represented only a fraction of discrimination cases. In many cases Romani individuals from socially excluded communities did not report discrimination. Discrimination in employment against Roma continued (see section 7.d.).
Local authorities forced evictions of Romani inhabitants, demolished their apartments or improvised housing, or blocked them from obtaining construction permits or purchasing land. In August 2014 the Kosice municipality continued the demolition of apartment buildings in the Lunik IX housing project, which was home to a considerable marginalized Romani community. The municipality announced plans to continue the demolitions in the future. Displaced residents were relocated to nearby improvised settlements that generally lacked basic utilities, including running water or heat, or moved in with relatives. The municipality provided alternative accommodation only to residents who were not in arrears in their payments to the municipality. The municipality also generally failed to ensure that Roma living in improvised settlements had access to adequate shelter or heating during the winter.
The media reported on the growing problem of homeless Roma in the country. Between 2010 and 2013, authorities evicted more than 3,000 people from their housing but provided fewer than 1,000 with alternative lodging. Because of the evictions, the number of illegal settlements in the country was growing each year and more Romani families were becoming homeless.
NGOs reported persistent segregation of Romani women in maternity wards in several hospitals in the eastern part of the country, where hospital management lodged them separately from non-Romani women and did not permit them to use the same bathrooms and toilets. The 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 and were disproportionately enrolled in “special” schools or placed in segregated classrooms within mainstream schools. A 2012 UNDP survey concluded that more than 43 percent of Romani schoolchildren were enrolled in ethnically segregated classes, while the ombudswoman in 2013 found that 88 percent of students in special education classes or schools for children with mild mental disabilities were Roma. Later re-evaluation of Romani children in special schools for children with mental disabilities often revealed that 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.
While education is universal and free through the postsecondary level and compulsory until the age of 15 years, Romani children exhibited a lower attendance rate than other children.
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. The 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 also common. Schools often justified the segregation as being in the children’s best interest and often claimed that Romani parents preferred their children attending segregated classrooms.
Members of the ethnic Hungarian community were concerned over restrictions on the use of the Hungarian language. 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 ($5,500) 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. The prosecution service continued to seek Malinova’s prosecution on perjury charges. In December 2014 the Nitra District Court rejected the charges; however, the prosecution appealed, and in January the Nitra Regional Court overturned the district court’s decision. The district court postponed a September hearing in the case because Malinova, who was residing in Hungary, had recently given birth. Her attorney described the charge against Malinova 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 reopening of charges against Malinova. The previous government of Iveta Radicova apologized to Malinova in 2011.
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.