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Commentary: Slovakia's TV Markíza misinforms viewers about "activation jobs"

Detva, Slovensko, 9.2.2013 19:22, (ROMEA)
The flag of the Slovak Republic. Photo:  Archiv Romea.cz
The flag of the Slovak Republic. Photo: Archiv Romea.cz

In the Czech Republic they've elected a president. Lawsuits are being planned against the Slovak President. In Syria the murder continues. In Somalia 29 000 children have died of hunger, while another 300 000 are expected to die there soon. The world is spinning in a crazy dance and the economic crisis is conducting the music, but Slovakia lives for its own internal problems. No one here is much interested in the war in Syria or famine somewhere in Africa.

Here they are more interested in why, 23 years after the Velvet Revolution, they are not living the life promised to them on the town squares. Their wallets are more and more empty and their wages hardly cover their bare existence. Who is to blame?

That is what the ordinary working citizen might be interested in. He turns on the TV and in his heart of hearts hopes that someone on the "magic" little box will finally answer that question.

The media are hard at work. In the evening they broadcast, for example, a report on how "Gypsies" are abusing our fabulous welfare system. A well-informed reporter takes action and goes to the town of Jarovnice, where he finds dirt and disorder. Not one of the 1 100 people involved in the state's "activation jobs" program there are out working on the streets.

Naturally this case is immediately generalized to all Romani people in the country, who, according to this most-watched television station, do not work and are collecting the "activation" benefit for free. I can quote the moderator's words here: "We all contribute to benefits for those people" - understood as "We Slovaks". It apparently does not bother the creators of the TV Noviny program that this statement is a damned lie.

The so-called "activation work" program is financed by the European Social Fund. All it takes is a few seconds to put the term into a search engine and you can verify that information, but why would anyone at TV Markíza do all that hard work? What's most important is high ratings and satisfying the prefabricated prejudice of the average Slovak.

The next day an even bigger lie is told. Allegedly, if we were to abolish the "activation work" program we wouldn't be paying 19 % VAT as we do now, but only 16 %. Once again, no one is interested in the fact that not one cent goes from the Slovak budget towards the "activation work" program. The aim has been fulfilled again: To prove that the evil, lazy "Gypsies" are responsible for it all. If they didn't exist, we would all be living well.

I do not want to argue about whether the welfare system is being abused in Jarovnice. That is what the Labor Office is for. That agency is supposed to monitor whether municipalities are really conducting "activation work" as they should and whether they are upholding all the rules (which are, by the way, established by law, Section 12 of Law No. 599/2003). The state is responsible for monitoring whether municipalities act according to the laws on the books.

Naturally the case of Jarovnice is now being generalized to all Romani people involved in "activation work" here, according to the principle of collective blame, which is the relationship that has been developed toward Romani people by the majority here for centuries.

In the town where I live, I see dozens of people wearing reflective vests every day, working in hot weather, rain, or snow. The vast majority of them are Romani and they honestly work off every single hour under the supervision of a coordinator.

Slovaks are also involved in "activation jobs", but they earn their benefits sitting behind the concierge desk in libraries, recreation centers or civil defense warehouses. That's what I call an equal approach! In my travels around Slovakia, that is the picture I see in almost every town and village. Romani people wearing reflective vests are taking care of maintaining public spaces in the town, of landscaping, of salting the sidewalks or of removing ice.

The technical services in our town have let go all of the people they used to employ to do this work in the past. Why would they employ someone for a normal wage when "unemployed" people will do all of the work for just €63 per month?!

This is really a brilliant business. People performing activation jobs work 80 hours for €63, and what's more, the EU pays them! Is anyone aware that this compensation is only slightly more than half of the minimum hourly wage? That if these people were to work 160 hours, they would be receiving a monthly salary of € 126???

Yet these people at the bottom of the social barrel are not the ones up in arms. It's everyone else who is dissatisfied! All those people who own cars, houses, apartments, who go skiing in winter and to the sea in the summer. The people who are starving, who have no hope for a better life, and who are eking out a living as best they can are not complaining.

The media, and especially the most-watched television channel in Slovakia, are literally inciting people, awakening even greater ethnic hatred of Romani people in them. They publicly lie, as I have described above, and they get away with it. Where is the monitoring body that should be cracking down on such an obvious violation of the rules of journalistic ethics?

Why is even the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for Romani Communities silent? Who will stand up for these people if not the person in whom Romani people have invested the most hope? Do Peter Polák and all of the people on his team not know about this?

All it would take would be a short press release sharply condemning these media practices and correcting matters. Being silent is the worst thing we can do. Backing down in the face of evil means indirectly supporting it! All this talk of "lazy Gypsies" would end if this state were genuinely interested in making sure that no one gets money for free and that everyone earns his bread through honest work.

Once again I will draw on my own experiences here:  The vast majority of unemployed people would like to increase their income through "activation work" at the very least, but they don't get even that chance. Each town has only so much capacity, and not everyone who wants an "activation job" can be assigned one.

Why not make work mandatory? Whoever refuses to work won't get a cent from the state and the problem would be solved.

Why don't our politicians take inspiration from historical examples like Roosevelt's NEW DEAL? Only jobs can resolve the so-called "Romani problem"! Without jobs, nothing will be resolved. The ethnic and social tensions that the media keeps pumping up could rise to dangerous heights and destroy us all in the kind of catastrophe we know of from Srebrenica.

The author was born and lives in Detva, Slovakia. For 10 years he has been writing for the monthly journal Romano nevo lil / Romský nový list (New Roma Magazine). He has also been employed as a street social worker since 2006.

Reprinted with the author's kind permission from his blog.

Braňo Oláh, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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