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February 22, 2019
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Slovakia: "Invisible Roma" protest insult by the speaker of Parliament

10.2.2019 9:17
Andrej Danko, speaker of the Slovak Parliament, and Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, vice-chair of the Slovak Parliament (2019). (PHOTO:   TV3)
Andrej Danko, speaker of the Slovak Parliament, and Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová, vice-chair of the Slovak Parliament (2019). (PHOTO: TV3)

A group of Romani figures in Slovakia calling themselves "Invisible Romani Women and Invisible Romani Men" is protesting an insult against Romani people that has been committed by the speaker of the Slovak Parliament, MP Andrej Danko of the Slovak National Party (SNS). Danko recently called MP Lucia Nicholsonová a "little gypsy girl" on television, but her party colleagues are not insisting Danko apologize to Romani people for using the slur, a fact that is also bothering the Romani protest group.

Plagiarism scandal

Danko has been embroiled in a plagiarism scandal that has slowly become like an ongoing soap opera, beginning with accusations that he cheated in his academic work by copying passages from elsewhere and presenting them as if they were his own. "Andrej Danko is a convicted fraudster and liar who acquired his degree in a fraudulent way and is using it in a fraudulent way," MP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová (Freedom and Solidarity - SaS), who is the vice-chair of the Slovak Parliament, previously announced.

"The evidence for that claim is the indisputable opinion of a commission at Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, which eminent authorities of the academic community in Slovakia have identified with," Nicholsonová said. She went on to say that 62 pages of Danko's 73-page thesis are actually texts stolen from other authors without attribution.

Danko is defending himself against the finding. He says he drew from five different works for his thesis, which was written in a "literary" way.

The speaker of Parliament said he considers the opposition's statement that he merely transcribed the passages to be "primitivism" and underhanded. "I was one of the first to write a thesis there," he has claimed.

"Back then there were no rules," the former law student also alleged. The opposition proposed that Parliament take a vote of no confidence in the speaker, but the motion was never discussed because MPs from the governing coalition refused to include it as an agenda item.

Protests during which demonstrators demanded Danko be stripped of his title of "JUDr" (Doctor of Law) were to no avail. For now the climax of the scandal has been Danko saying to the TA3 television station that "I got my degree legally, I am using it legally, and some little gypsy girl from the SaS will not dare attack me."

Insulting his colleague and Romani people

The reaction of the SaS was not long in coming. According to their leadership, "Andrej Danko has insulted Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová not just as a politician, but as a woman and a mother, discrediting himself both as a human being and a politician."

That interpretation of Danko's televised remarks was then joined by several celebrities who commented that the speaker of Parliament insults others in such a way frequently. Now 140 Romani figures have signed an open letter objecting both to Danko and to the SaS interpretation of his remarks.

The Romani community members believe Danko should also apologize to Romani women and men for insensitively referencing their ethnic group as part of his insult. "The SaS party has objected to the remarks by the speaker of the Parliament of the Slovak Republic, and on 30 January they published a challenge signed by more than 100 figures in public life. They call Mr Danko's remark racist and demand that he apologize to Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová. For her part, Ms Nicholsonová said she considers Danko's words to be an insult to her person as a woman, as a mother, and as vice-chair of Parliament. We are startled not to find any sensitivity toward our national minority included in any of these statements calling for sensitivity. Nicholsonová's spontaneous reaction is incomprehensible to us. Why should she be insulted as a woman, a mother, and a vice-chair of Parliament to be associated with our ethnicity? We cannot comprehend the call from the public figures on 30 January either. Will it be enough for them if Andrej Danko apologizes just to Ms Nicholsonová? Have they forgotten about the Romani women and men he has insulted?" the open letter reads.

Insensitivity of those who criticize insensitivity

According to a co-author of the open letter, Jurina Rusnáková, the director of the Institute of Romani Studies at Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, Danko used an incorrect form of address for the Romani nation ("gypsy") as part of his insult. "That's one layer of this entire situation, but it has broader dimensions, because the vocabulary of many politicians vis-à-vis Romani people crossed the line here long ago. Each public remark of this kind, and there are many of them, harms many people and takes away their faith that politicians will approach the leading of this state fairly. This is insensitive, ruthless, and naturally has consequences for how society perceives the position of Romani people. For that reason as well, we regret the fact that not just the politicians, but the other figures calling on Danko to apologize have forgotten about Romani people in their statements," she told news server Romea.cz.

The director said she is also concerned about what the next few months will bring for the Romani community. "Several elections are ahead of us now in Slovakia, and I fear that during the campaigns the politicians will play the Romani card and their vocabulary will be even more crude," she said.

František Kostlán, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Parlament, Politika, Racism, Roma



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