Anti-Gypsyism in the Czech and Slovak Republics: the Council of Europe remains ‘gravely concerned’

16 October 2015

By Bernard Rorke

Despite some glimmers of hope and signs of progress, two reports published by the Council of Europe last Tuesday (October 13), paint a broader and quite frankly dismaying picture of persistent segregation of Roma in schools and housing, worrying levels of anti-Roma hate speech and hate crime, numerous reports of police brutality, and a general climate of intolerance among majority populations towards Roma in both the Czech Republic and Slovakia.


Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, by now widely respected for his unstinting commitment to justice for Roma communities all over Europe, took the Slovak Republic to task for its failings in a newly published report about his visit there last June.

With regards to the frequent allegations of excessive use of force by police officers during raids on Roma settlements, he was gravely concerned with the lack of follow up investigations. Muižnieks called on the authorities “to ensure that all allegations of ill-treatment committed by law enforcement officers, including those with an alleged racist motive, are promptly and effectively investigated and that adequate, dissuasive penalties are imposed on those responsible.”

The Commissioner met with members of the Roma community of Budulovská Street (the site of one such violent raid) who deplored the fact that two years later no charges have been brought against the police involved, and that the police have done nothing to protect plaintiffs from further encounters with the alleged perpetrators, who continue to carry out routine work in the settlement.

Heartened by the Ombudsperson’s proactive approach in taking up issues such as police abuse against Roma, Muižnieks was very concerned about the lack of support from the authorities for such work. Indeed, the work of the office must at times seem utterly thankless: its reports discredited, recommendations pointedly ignored, and the office itself critically under understaffed and under-resourced.

The Commissioner further expressed his deep concern at the chronic, pervasive segregation of Roma children and very high drop out rates in schools; the lack of access of Roma to adequate housing, segregation of Roma settlements, and mass evictions; and local level manifestations of anti-Gypsyism and hate speech.

He noted with regret that the Slovak authorities have still not taken responsibility for unlawful sterilization of Romani women in the past, and for the future have yet to adopt uniform standards for obtaining free and informed consent in line with recommendations from international bodies.

This stands as a damning indictment of Slovakia and confirms the verdict of one Slovak Roma advocate that the Decade of Roma Inclusion certainly didn’t deliver justice and scarcely made a dent in discrimination: “With or without the Decade or the EU Roma Framework, access to justice within a prompt a timely framework should be a priority, a fundamental right in every democratic society; where the victims can feel that something happened to remedy what is wrong and unjust, to make it right – this is the justice we need – but it’s the justice we don’t have.

Czech Republic

The same day ECRI published its report on the neighbouring Czech Republic. Whilst acknowledging progress made in some areas Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland said: “the continued discrimination of Roma, in particular of Roma children, is a serious concern. I call on the Czech Republic to make a change and act upon our experts´ recommendations”.

The report expressed concern at the continued existence of so many ‘only-Roma’ schools providing a reduced curriculum; and the lack of any targets fixed for transfers of Roma children from practical to ordinary education, and that to date none seems to have been carried out in practice. It concluded that the strategies for Roma integration and for combating social exclusion have had little effect.

“There are positive developments, such as the adoption of anti-discrimination legislation and strategies, but concerns remain, among others, the lack of powers for the Public Defender of Rights to combat racial discrimination effectively, and the persistent problem of Roma segregation”, said ECRI’s Chair, Christian Ahlund. ECRI stressed the importance of a properly functioning independent specialized body to combat racism and intolerance at national level; and its concern about the current discord within the institution where the Deputy Public Defender has openly contradicted certain statements made by the Public Defender.

One of the most astounding things is that among Czechs the use of the term ‘inadaptables’ is considered to be a ‘politically correct’ way to refer to Roma communities. The ECRI report noted that this term is even employed officially:  in September 2014, a public meeting on Safety in the town, coexistence with inadaptables and welfare for housing, at which a senator was one of the speakers, was held in Jablonec. ECRI described the term inadaptable to be extremely dangerous and prejudicial, and strongly recommended that the authorities ensure that it is not used in any official capacity.

The Roma remain the main target of racism in the media, and studies confirm that much of the reporting comprised of news of increasing ‘Roma criminality’ and growing anti-Roma sentiment. The negative portrayal of Roma in a reality TV series called Class 8A featuring a class of 14-year-olds in a school in Brno, has generated heated public debate on the program’s website and social media. It revolves almost exclusively around whether the teachers should be stricter with the Roma ‘slobs’; whether the pupils belong in a practical school, whether they deserve any education at all; and whether they should just be sent straight to manual labour. ECRI is “appalled that this type of show serves no purpose other than to confirm and perpetuate widely held prejudice.”

As for discrimination in housing, the report notes that housing vacancy ads frequently state ‘No Roma’ and this exclusion has led to a business of renting accommodation in hostels or dormitories to Roma at extremely high prices – up to three times the market value of an ordinary flat. The accommodation is substandard and it is estimated that about 100,000 Roma occupy 4,000 such dormitories. Housing support is provided for tenants to pay exorbitant rents to the ‘slumlords’ and “ECRI is astonished that the authorities are complicit in this corrupt and degrading practice, which is contributing further to the segregation of Roma,” and called for a halt to this practice.

The pig farm at Lety stands as one of the most insulting and unresolved issues concerning the problem of official attitudes towards Roma citizens, victims and survivors of the Holocaust. Despite almost two decades of campaigning by Roma activists, despite the fact that Czech Government recognised Lety as a Holocaust site, and despite pressure from international and human rights institutions, nothing has been done to remove the privately owned pig farm from the site. Yet again, ECRI adds its voice to the repeated calls for a solution to be found that removes this insult to the living and the dead.


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