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Some Roma in Slovakia unlikely to use Romanes language census forms

Vranov nad Topľou / Hanušovce nad Topľou, Slovakia, 18.5.2011 14:45, (R)

The Slovak Statistical Bureau has translated its census forms to meet the language needs of several national minorities. In addition to Slovak, the forms are available in Hungarian, Romanes, Ruthenian, and Ukrainian. We asked the supervisor of the census in some of the towns and villages in Vranov nad Topľou district two questions: Are Roma people taking advantage of the opportunity to use the Romanes language census form? Are there Roma among the census commissioners?

The town of Vranov nad Topľou has a population of 23 000, 10 % of whom are Roma, and 80 census commissioners, four of whom are Roma. According to Monika Varčíková, head of the local department of organizations and services, who is also the census supervisor in Vranov nad Topľou, the town selected four Roma people in a precise, responsible way to conduct the census in Roma localities smoothly. She said the Roma census commissioners are educated people who know the specifics of the community. She believes only a minimum of Roma people are using the Romanes language forms.

Alfons Kali, one of the four Roma census commissioners, confirmed that information. "When I reviewed the form in the Romanes language I myself had difficulty understanding some of the phrases, so I showed it to Roma people at the local community center. Each of them had the same problem understanding it. Even though we Roma in Vranov ordinarily speak our Romanes language, we have a problem when it comes to reading it. This is because Romanes was not taught to most of us in school and also because the Roma of each region speak their own dialect and have not mastered literary Romanes," Kali said.

Most Roma, therefore, will prefer to use the Slovak language form during the census, while only a few will prefer the Romanes language form. As far as registering their Roma nationality is concerned, Kali's experience from the census 10 years ago was that only a few dozen Roma people did so. In his view, this low number had to do with a lack of awareness and unfounded concern that the nationality would then be listed on identification cards, which might cause people problems. However, he believes that this year many more Roma people will not be afraid to register their actual nationality. He explains the change by saying that during the past 10 years, awareness has grown among Roma people of the need to proclaim their Roma identity.

"Things have moved forward. We already have schools where Romanes is taught now in municipalities where large Roma communities live, there are Roma mayors in charge. The Roma are sensitized to this issue, mainly the young generation," Kali said.

Hanušovce nad Topľou has a population of 3 690. Officially 900 persons of Roma origin live there, but the actual Roma population is presumed to be larger. The municipality is divided into 11 territorial segments. Vice-Mayor Martin Tkáč said that since no one lives in two of the segments, the town hall established only nine census districts. There will be nine census commissioners, one of whom will be Roma and who will conduct the census of the locality where Roma people live.

"We know the census will be more demanding for them in particular, and if they need to they can turn directly to me for assistance," Tkáč said. He wasn't able to say whether the Romanes language forms will be taken advantage of, but believes the Slovak ones will probably be used. He also couldn't predict how many Roma people will register their real identities.

The municipality of Hlinné in Vranov nad Topľou district has a population of 1 459 people, 950 of Roma origin. There will be four census commissioners, one of whom is Roma. Monika Jánošová, the local census supervisor, says the Romanes language forms will probably not be used. In her view, Roma people will not understand some of the terms in the Romanes language forms because they speak their own distinct dialect. She was unable to estimate how many Roma people will register their actual nationality.

Gwendolyn Albert, Roma Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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