The Definition of “Discussed” (Winter 2014)

It happened on June 19, 2013, just 25km outside Košice, where at the time I was wandering the Old Town streets, thinking just how well Europe’s Capital of Culture had spruced itself up for the year-long programme of cultural festivals and events taking place.

But just to the west, near the town of Moldava nad Badvou, a very different face to Slovakia was showing itself. That morning, Slovak police raided the Roma community of Budlovska. To relay the subsequent events are not the purpose of this blog post. Suffice it to say that as a result 15 Roma were detained and several were injured (although the man the raid intended to find was not then found). Some Roma were seriously enough injured that they required hospital treatment. Further information about that day has been reported (although, outside Slovakia, perhaps not widely enough), including by the Economist (which also further details the wounds certain Roma received)

Robert Kaliňák, Slovakia’s Interior Minister, insists that such actions by police are and were justified. But Slovakia’s Ombudswoman, Jana Dubovcová, appointed by the law to defend human rights, found evidence of unlawful detention and violation of human rights on and after the day in question by police, and accordingly put her findings in a report before a parliamentary committee.

And so begins a saga as embarrassing for Slovakia as the events of that day in June appeared brutal. 400 Roma journeyed to Bratislava from Eastern Slovakia to give their testimony before a parliamentary committee that refused to hear them; that same committee prevented Jana Dubovcová’s report from being heard before the government.

Give Jana Dubovcová credit. She tried every means in her power to be heard. To ensure procedures were put in place so there would be no repeat of June 19 2013, she wrote to the chief of Slovakia’s police and most recently addressed the cabinet itself (Prime Minister Robert Fico apparently lectured her on not following procedure, skirted the core matter of police brutality and said that the police are answerable to the Interior Ministry, not the cabinet; Youtube videos also film him avoiding the questions of the sme.sk reporter and accusing the newspaper of being undemocratic).  The Interior Minister’s thoughts?  Dubovcová was abusing the police crackdown at a Roma settlement for political purposes and was also violating the law, Kaliňák is quoted as saying on http://spectator.sme.sk.

And yet the issue was listed as “discussed” by the government. Even though it was not heard.

On Radio FM, Zuzana Wienk, Director of the Fair Play Alliance, who does a weekly report on the latest scandal within Slovak politics, perhaps summarized the matter best said that the government must have come up with an interesting new definition of “discussed.”

And it seems the police brutality remains uninvestigated.

People may say it is not the place of a blog that is essentially about Slovak travel and culture to discuss political issues. I disagree. When it involves the persecution of the Roma (which some estimates put at as high as a fifth of Slovakia’s total population), a people which, should they be permitted, could form such a wonderful part of Slovak culture: then it is not just my place but the place of every decent human being to speak out.

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