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May 21, 2019
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Slovak Interior Ministry plans Operational Centers against "inadaptable Roma", community members protest

24.1.2019 11:51
A police vehicle in Slovakia. (PHOTO:  Wikimedia Commons)
A police vehicle in Slovakia. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Krompachy, Slovakia will become the first town where the Interior Ministry tests its Operational Centers project, which involves installing as many as 51 CCTV cameras in the town, the footage from which will be monitored from a single room. The Slovak Interior Minister says the project has been necessitated by what she called "inadaptable Roma" living in Krompachy.

The Interior Minister also said state police patrols will be able to immediately intervene in the locations where criminal activity is most frequent as a result of the technology. "We visited the parts of town where the Romani community lives," Interior Minister Denisa Saková told the TASR agency last week.

"We went to Hornádská and Družstevní Streets, and there is a third area, Stará Maša, where the inadaptable citizens live. The agreement with madam mayor is that we will create the Operational Center for monitoring the camera footage over the coming months in a building that belongs to the town," Saková said.

The minister is also planning to beef up state police patrols in the town. "We have also agreed with madam mayor that we would like to bolster patrols by civil servants," the Interior Minister said.

"We are doing this pilot project in Krompachy and we may be able to download CCTV footage there from other municipalities where inadaptable citizens live, for example, Spišské Vlachy," she told TASR. Subsequently, according to Saková, the Interior Ministry would like to introduce this project in other cities and municipal departments in eastern Slovakia.

Romani people protest

Romani people in Slovakia are objecting to the plan with an open letter to the minister (see the full translation below). In the letter they ask that she stop using the expression "inadaptable fellow citizens" as a designation for the Romani men and women living in marginalized communities.

"Dividing the country's population into the 'adaptable' and the 'inadaptable' recalls the infamous period of the Second World War. The conviction that Romani men and women have the 'blood' of 'inadaptable criminals' was the basis for the Nazi 'solution' to the so-called 'gypsy question'. That solution consisted of criminalizing ethnic groups, then excluding them to such an extent as to dispose of them physically during the Holocaust of the Roma, which was a genocide, and the ban on genocide is one of the most important principles of international law, espoused by all democratic countries worldwide," the Romani protesters have written to the ministry.

"Even if we were to admit for the sake of argument that integration into society and upholding its rules is problematic for some citizens, we are deeply convinced that children in particular can only be categorized this way because an antigypsyist, racialized approach is being taken toward them," the authors state. It is also a problem, in their view, that the vocabulary used by the central administration is frequently taken up by local governments, which are creating different kinds of commissions to "solve the question of inadaptable fellow citizens".

The Romani protesters say that there are plenty of tried-and-true instruments and measures available for integrating the residents of excluded Romani communities without resorting to such surveillance. "Esteemed Madam Minister, using an insulting vocabulary incites hatred and undermines all the well-intended attempts by the authorities that fall within the purview of your ministry. Moreover, it has been verified that measures such as field social work, preschool education, or support for housing and employment all address the causes of exclusion and the concentration of poverty (which you are incorrectly identifying as 'inadaptability'). On the contrary, the incitement of hatred, the division of society, and the criminalization of Romani people in the past led to the biggest tragedy ever to affect our country, and you certainly do not want to head in that direction," the authors write.

Czech public figures also dislike the expression "inadaptable"

The term "inadaptable" is being used in the same spirit here in the Czech Republic. In the past, well-known public figures have also protested against it here, such as Anna Šabatová, today the Public Defender of Rights, and her husband, the journalist Petr Uhl, who sent an open letter together in September 2011 to the Czech Council on Radio and Television Broadcasting urging that oversight body begin an "investigation of the fact that radio and television media outlets - including public broadcasters - have for several weeks now been using the designation 'inadaptables', frequently in order to disparage part of the population, on a daily basis."

Šabatová and Uhl are convinced that the expression "inadaptable" is a concept crucial to antigypsyist, prejudicial discourse. "Czech Television and other media outlets are contributing in a basic way to the stigmatization of Romani people and are reproducing and strengthening prejudices against them through their uncritical adoption of this concept," they wrote.

Michal Heldenburg, who was a lawyer for Czech Television at the time, sent a response on the public broadcaster's behalf. He said Czech Television objected to the letter and disagreed that it was contributing to the stigmatization of Romani people or to reproducing and strengthening prejudices against them.

"Gypsies work at Czech Television," he literally wrote in response. "One even anchors the news."

"Isn't that a specific example of breaking down those stereotypes?" Heldenburg responded. As for the term "inadaptable", he wrote: "Essentially anybody can be designated as such who does not uphold the laws of this country, or who does not behave as he should according to generally recognized rules; and it can also designate any minority who are incapable of and unwilling to adapt to the majority society."

"There is nothing racist about this," the lawyer opined. "Human society functions in such a way that minorities adapt to majorities."

"This means that anybody who does not comprehend this is inadaptable, irrespective of their ethnic origin or skin color," the lawyer wrote. Šabatová said Heldenburg's response was "arrogant, insulting, and avoided the essence of the problem we raised."

"Czech Television, a media outlet that influence millions of people daily, is behaving without dignity," the future Public Defender of Rights objected. Heldenburg's response was also condemned at the time by the chair of the board of Czech Television, Milan Uhde, and by eminent Romani figures such as Irena Eliášová, Karel Holomek and Čeněk Růžička.

 

FULL TEXT OF THE JANUARY 2019 OPEN LETTER FROM ROMANI COMMUNITY MEMBERS

TO SLOVAK INTERIOR MINISTER DENISA SAKOVÁ

Esteemed Madam Minister,

We have chosen this format to ask that you stop using the label "inadaptable fellow citizens" to refer to the Romani men and women living in marginalized communities (Krompachy, 17 January 2019). Dividing the country's population into the "adaptable" and the "inadaptable" recalls the infamous period of the Second World War. The conviction that Romani men and women have the "blood" of "inadaptable criminals" was the basis for the Nazi "solution" to the so-called "gypsy question". That solution consisted of criminalizing ethnic groups, then excluding them to such an extent as to dispose of them physically during the Holocaust of the Roma, which was a genocide, and the ban on genocide is one of the most important principles of international law, espoused by all democratic countries worldwide.

It is also a problem that the vocabulary used by the central administration is frequently taken up by local governments, which are creating different kinds of commissions to "solve the question of inadaptable fellow citizens". An example is the town of Poprad, which last year published a document entitled "Report on separating families and inadaptable citizens during 2017". This document contained statistics about "inadaptable citizens" in Poprad, including children in that designation. Even if we were to admit for the sake of argument that integration into society and upholding its rules is problematic for some citizens, we are deeply convinced that children in particular can only be categorized this way because an antigypsyist, racialized approach is being taken toward them.

For more than 10 years, many instruments and measures have been tested and verified as aiding with the inclusion of the men and women residing in excluded Romani communities, examples of which are municipalities such as Spišský Hrhov, Raslavice, Čirč, Ulič and others. We believe that it is exactly these kinds of positive examples and the use of fair rhetoric when discussing ethnic Roma that are the way forward, and not just so that Romani men and women might hope the situation can be changed, but also so that they might win support from the majority society for including the inhabitants of excluded Romani communities. For example, the representatives of cities and municipal departments should not defend themselves against systemic solutions, but should apply to the Structural Funds for housing programs, social work, or preschool education. Non-Romani parents should not be demanding classes for their children where no Romani children will also be educated, which is to say that Romani children should not be segregated. It is important that Romani people believe that if they do their best, they will have a chance to live a dignified life in Slovakia. They should be certain that if they bring their children for enrollment into preschools, they will not have to give up because the schools claim not to have room, or that if they manage to earn the required education and qualifications, they will not be passed over in favor of non-Romani job-seekers with less education.

A crucial condition for the success of including the inhabitants of excluded Romani communities - which is a priority of the Office of the Slovak Government Plenipotentiary for the Romani Community and for the department administering European funds at your ministry - is exactly the repression of antigypsyism, repression of this distrust of Romani people, and repression of the prejudices against them.

Esteemed Madam Minister, using an insulting vocabulary incites hatred and undermines all the well-intended attempts by the authorities that fall within the purview of your ministry. Moreover, it has been verified that measures such as field social work, preschool education, or support for housing and employment all address the causes of exclusion and the concentration of poverty (which you are incorrectly identifying as 'inadaptability'). On the contrary, the incitement of hatred, the division of society, and the criminalization of Romani people in the past led to the biggest tragedy ever to affect our country, and you certainly do not want to head in that direction.

Respectfully,

Zuzana Havírová, Romské advokacie a výzkumné středisko (Romani Advocacy and Research Center); Jarmila Vanová, OZ Roma media (civic association Romani Media); Viktor Teru, Romský vzdělávací fond Slovensko (Roma Education Fund Slovakia); Andrej Belák, Romský vzdělávací fond Slovensko (Roma Education Fund Slovakia); Vlado Rafael, eduRoma; Katarína Krejčíková, eduRoma; Ján Orlovský, Nadace otevřené společnosti (Open Society Foundation); Šarlota Pufflerová, Občan, demokracie a odpovědnost (Citizen, Democracy and Accountability); Centrum pro výzkum etnicity a kultury (Center for Research into Culture and Ethnicity); Iniciativa Povstání pokračuje (The Uprising Continues initiative); Edita Rigová, SGI (Slovak Governance Institute); Veronika Prachařová, SGI (Slovak Governance Institute); Lucia Kováčová, SGI (Slovak Governance Institute); Anna Dráľová, SGI (Slovak Governance Institute); Lenka Galetová, SGI (Slovak Governance Institute); Martin Neupauer, SGI (Slovak Governance Institute); Peter Kudráč, OZ Rom Podskalky (civic association Rom Podskalky); Lýdia Mirgová, komunitní organizátorka (community organizer); Radoslav Ščuka; Tomáš Peciar; Laura Kovácsová; Tatiana Ondzíková; Veronika Závodská; Michal Riečanský; Kamil Kandalaft; Patrick Kraus; Elena Teplanová; Peter Vittek; Robert Mihály; Eva Riečanská; Hana Fabry; Daniel Kurta; Zuzana Maďarová; Barbora Holubová

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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antigypsyism, Racism, Roma, Slovakia



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