Slovak Govt Commissioner for Roma Communities: State must aid Romany language development
Every nation has a fundamental right to its own language. For 20 years, Roma people in Slovakia have been trying to exercise that right, as guaranteed them by the Constitution of the Slovak Republic and the Language Charter.
Immediately after the Velvet Revolution, it seemed democracy might manage to transform the position of Roma in society, and the legislative conditions for such a transformation were created in 1991. In practice this meant the creation of the Romathan Theater, the first Roma media outlets, and the first schools in which the Romany language was taught. However, these were only stopgap measures, because the fact that the Romany language needed to first standardize its written form was somehow overlooked.
According to experts on the issue of Roma education, the recent language law in Slovakia, drafted by the political party MOST-Híd, which aims to implement the use of minority languages in localities where minorities comprise 10 % of the population, will be of merely formal significance as far as the Roma are concerned. Even though the Romany language was officially standardized in 2008, no meaningful steps have been taken since then to introduce it as a language of instruction in the schools. This means the knowledge of the literary form of the Romany language in the Roma community is almost zero.
"The problem is that almost all of the schools where the Romany language and Roma studies are taught are private. There is only one such state-run school, and this really shows us we have very few people endeavoring to create a Roma national school system. Such a thing does not exist at the moment in Slovakia, there is no Roma national school system. What does exist are schools teaching the Romany language," says Irena Adamová, director of the Private Pedagogical and Social Studies Academy in Košice.
In recent years, schools with Romany language instructors have taken part in an experimental examination of the Romany language curriculum. The project not only examined the Romany language, it also created basic methodological texts for its instruction in the schools. There has not yet been a broader application of the project's outputs.
According to Kateřina Ondrášová of the Slovak Education Ministry, that application has not yet occurred because even though the Roma national minority has the right to be instructed in their own language, members of the minority have never asked the relevant authorities to provide such services. Roma educators may use the already existing norms to instruct the Romany language as a foreign language, and all other subjects are instructed in the official state language. For some subjects, there is also the option of receiving instruction in the national minority language.
"We have created the legislation, so what else is lacking? We must complete the basic pedagogical documents, based on the experimental examination, we must train teachers, and we must write the textbooks," Ondrášová says. The problem, in her view, lies primarily with the availability of teachers, since appropriate textbooks are expected to be ready soon.
Rastislav Rosinský, director of the Roma Studies Institute in Nitra, confirms there is a lack of people to teach the Romany language in schools: "The Roma national minority has the absolute right to have its own national school system. The question is who will teach the language. Ideally, the Roma themselves would teach it." According to Rosinský, in recent years dozens of Roma have graduated from the Roma Studies department at the University of Nitra, but very few have gone on to work in the school system.
Roma activists are asking why the standardization of the Romany language has so far been just a formality and what the state can do to put the Romany language on an equal footing with other languages in practice. According to Slovak Government Commissioner for Roma Communities Miroslav Pollák, language development is a state matter. "If we consider that this state is located in Central Europe, which traditionally has meant that more than one nationality lives here, more cultures co-exist, more languages are spoken, then naturally the state must go the route of development, protection and support. That includes the Roma people, Roma culture, the Romany language. However, if that language is really supposed to start to be used, then the beginning is in school. The state, therefore, must make sure national minority schooling has really been included in the legislation, and the Roma will have to decide what they want their national schools to look like. This all lies ahead of us, and the state can help with all of it," Pollák says. In the recent past, the state has mainly emphasized Roma media working in the Romany language, which currently fulfill the outreach function as disseminators of the literary language.
At the international level, Roma linguists have gone much further than this. At a 2009 conference in Zagreb, the International Romani Union convened a congress which declared 5 November to be the "International Day of the Rromani language (Rromanes)" and called on international institutions and the governments of various countries to support the development of the Romany language. An initiative to create a unified Romany language also exists the international level today. "We have one Romany language, not dialects - the standard Romany language is taught in the schools. If words in use are found to differ, then synonyms are sought," says George Sara of Romania, who is a college instructor, Roma studies scholar, and linguist.
The editors of the Roma Media Center (MECEM) have called on Slovak Prime Minister Iveta Radičová to have the state start taking more action on the issue of protecting the Romany language. The editors want the state to build institutions guaranteeing the development and equal status of the Romany language in Slovak society.