On the 23rd anniversary of the Velvet Revolution I found myself reading article after article on the Slovak Spectator website. The first was an article about the forced sterilizations of Roma women and the fact the the doctors involved have neither been prosecuted nor removed from their duties. I find it completely shocking that Slovakia only passed a law requiring informed consent for sterilization (and several other invasive procedures) as recently as 2004 and are relying on this to dismiss as many claims as they can. According to the article, “The ECHR has ruled that several hospitals around Slovakia violated Roma women’s right to freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and their right to a private and family life. Human rights organisations say the Slovak government should start dealing with these issues – firstly by taking responsibility for them.” The article outlines the treatment of Roma women in clinics and hospitals and sheds light on the way that they are often segregated and mistreated simply because of their ethnicity. Many Roma women have been forcibly sterilized in many European countries, not only Slovakia and it breaks my heart. Family is such a major part of Roma life… children are held beyond value and it seems most traditional Roma women would never say anything like “we can’t afford another child” or anything about “unwanted children”. When a Roma woman becomes pregnant, everything is done to make sure both mother and child remain healthy and that the child is born well. The mother is supposed to be kept in a good mood, have any food she longs for, and she is not allowed to see horrible or “unclean” objects like certain animals, puppets, or more these days to watch horror movies, some animated movies, or sometimes even news or other shows. Sterilization crushes women’s spirits and souls and…. destroys their family.

The second article I found is discussing “Roma reform” and the authors of the “Right Way” program, who argue that currently crimes go unpunished if the person does not have enough money to pay the fines and that, “Such a situation might be partly resolved by limiting the benefits received for ‘material needs'”. In short, they are indicating that the majority of such crime is committed by Roma people and that limiting their access to social welfare will resolve the issue, not only that but “the education, social and legal system does not protect teachers from aggressive behaviour of pupils or their parents. This, according to the reform, discourages teachers from teaching children from “problematic” environments. Therefore the reform proposes to modify the form and amount of social benefits received by families based on the behaviour of their children at school”. In other words, Roma are unruly and unable to be safely educated, as well as being thieves and criminals and further limiting the amount of money they receive will solve these problems…

Are these people serious?

Both of these articles hint at the levels of discrimination faced by Roma in Slovakia. Forced sterilizations, discriminatory (and bigoted) language in reform aimed purely at Roma…. and the third article, on the “official launch of Roma Reform” seems to further indicate that the problem with the educational system and the Roma is not the educational system itself, but rather how to deal with Roma children… At least this last article included a somewhat rational voice in that of Alexander Mušinka, of the Institute of Roma Studies at Prešov University.

These articles seem to highlight one of the major oversights of many of these programs aimed at “integration” of the Roma: lack of participation by Roma themselves. They continue to characterize us based on a set of social values that they deny to us. They force us to live in poverty – stigmatized and ostracized – and then blame our children for lack of participation in school. Trust me, when you’re starving and your house is riddled with mold and you have to collect wood for a fire and scrap to sell for the few pennies you can to buy food that won’t even feed your family, there isn’t much of a chance to focus on going to school. Yes, education is a right – but it is also a privilege. When will governments realize that in order to be educated, Roma children need better living circumstances. This will only happen when adequate attention is paid to the plight of Roma at all levels of society and when adequate solutions are formulated that do not blame the Roma for the conditions in which they are forced to survive.



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