Slovakia's Roma integration strategy
Zuzana Kumanová, Daniel Škobla Русский/Russian
The new Slovak strategy for Roma inclusion stresses the need to remove residential segregation.
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - 24 May 2012 - The process of European integration has encouraged a general interest in the protection of ethnic minorities and the struggle against social exclusion in Central and Eastern Europe. This was clearly reflected in the agenda of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in the 1990s.
The importance given to the integration of ethnic minorities was also notable in the European Union (EU) agenda of the 2000s: ‘political’ criteria for EU accession were applied as an instrument to positively influence policies on minority issues in candidate states, and the Lisbon Strategy attributed significance to the social cohesion of both individual societies and the EU as a whole.
While the European minority protection requirements have stimulated important legal and institutional changes in individual states over recent decades, this external pressure has been perceived by many as neither a genuine point of support for the inclusion of marginalized Roma nor a motivation for the political empowerment of Roma.
As a function of revitalized European aspirations for the protection of ethnic minorities, the European Platform for Roma Inclusion was set up in April 2009 to co-ordinate and develop policies for Roma integration and to stimulate exchanges among EU member states, international organizations and Roma civil society.
The first meeting of the platform approved the 10 Common Basic Principles on Roma Inclusion as a tool for the design and implementation of actions. The role of the platform was recently enlarged and reinforced when European leaders (based on a proposal put forward by the European Commission in April 2011) agreed on the EU-level Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies.
In response to this proposal, the Government of the Slovak Republic adopted the National Roma Integration Strategy (NRIS) of the Slovak Republic up to 2020, in January 2012.
While the initial stimulus for the drafting of the strategy was external, its purpose became genuinely internalized by all relevant stakeholders in Slovakia. Preparation of the national strategy was driven by the idea of supporting Roma integration into society to the maximum extent possible.
Given the complexity and ambivalence of the issues related to the Roma, the policy measures were aimed at supporting both the identity of the Roma people and the social inclusion of marginalized Roma communities — a segment of population stricken with extreme poverty.
The most important and innovative aspect of the NRIS is the fact that it was devised using a ‘bottom up’ approach involving representatives drawn from state administration, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local stakeholders.
This participative process has the following aims: to build a shared understanding of the main problems; to develop an understanding of the main causes of these problems; and to develop a shared vision and methods for achieving this vision.
While the Slovak Government’s Office of the Plenipotentiary for Roma Communities was appointed as the co-ordinating body for the process of developing the Slovak National Roma Integration Strategy, representatives of the self-governing regions with the highest concentration of marginalized Roma were consulted in the process of drafting the strategy.
The office held several meetings with NGOs, with the Association of Towns and Villages of Slovakia (ZMOS) and with representatives of individual Roma communities. The development of the Slovak National Roma Integration Strategy has been supported by UNDP, the World Bank, and the Open Society Foundation.
As the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies called for synergies among the policies in four critical fields (education, employment, health and housing), the Slovak Roma Integration Strategy has drawn substantially from the identically structured revised National Action Plan of the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 (adopted in August 2011).
The revised action plan provided the basis for the National Roma Integration Strategy and became an inherent part of it. This enabled the document to be more clearly focused on defining long-term objectives, provided that the medium-term objectives are met by 2015.
The National Roma Integration Strategy comprises a theoretical framework, a socio-economic analysis, and a description of the monitoring and evaluation methodology. The main policy principles, promulgated by the NRIS, are as follows: de-stigmatization, integration and de-ghettoisation.
These principles are binding and, according to the strategy, must be observed in the preparation of any legal acts and measures in the area of Roma policies. Besides these overarching principles, the Nationale Roma Integration Strategy also defines the rules for policy implementation: solidarity, legality, partnership, complexity, conceptuality, sustainability, equality, responsibility and accountability.
The strategy also asks policy makers to take into account regional heterogeneity and intra-ethnic diversity while making their decisions.
In contrast to previous strategies or policy documents related to the Roma in Slovakia, individual policy areas in this document have sought to benchmark the current state (based on statistical indicators) and to define quantitative goals to be achieved by 2020.
A precondition of progress measurement includes a regular monitoring mechanism: each year the National Roma Integration Strategy requires a monitoring report to be prepared in which the individual governmental ministries evaluate measures and policies employed.
What are the four main policy areas formulated in the National Roma Integration Strategies?
Education: access to schools with good-quality standard education should be provided for everyone, including pre-school, primary, secondary and higher education. Special emphasis should be placed on the elimination of ethnic segregation. While dropping out of education early needs to be prevented, attention should be also given to the facilitation of a smooth transfer for students from school to work. The document calls for the introduction of policies that will eliminate the grave disparities in the levels of education between the Roma and the majority populations.
Employment: access to labour opportunities needs to be improved, with special emphasis being placed on non-discriminatory access to the labour market. Active labour market policies and programmes, training for adults, and support for self-employment should also be implemented. The general objective is to decrease disparities in employment and unemployment rates between the Roma and the majority populations.
Health: the objective is to support access to public health care, including preventative health care and health education, and to decrease the disparities between the state of health of the Roma and the majority populations.
Housing: special emphasis is placed on access to public or municipal housing and the need to eliminate residential segregation. Financial resources from both the government and the European Regional Development Fund should be made available for this. The most important aim is to eliminate shacks and illegal dwellings and to improve the infrastructure of Roma neighbourhoods, thus decreasing the disparities between the Roma and the majority populations regarding access to drinking water, and to sewerage and energy networks.
Other key areas such as non-discrimination, financial inclusion and public awareness-raising were also covered. Financial inclusion means both the increase in financial literacy and access to regular banking, as well as reduction of households’ debts and the elimination of ‘usury’ among the communities.
The authors of the National Roma Integration Strategy are fully aware of the negative public attitudes towards Roma and are determined to achieve positive change in order to render the policies effective.
The chief strength of the National Roma Integration Strategies lies in the fact that it is required by the European Union. Among other things, this might mean that some of the financial resources for individual programmes will be covered directly by EU funds and thus mitigate pressure on the state budget.
A requirement for reporting back to the European Community and monitoring of progress also creates an important accountability framework that was inconceivable in previous strategies and policy initiatives.
The authors of the National Roma Integration Strategy also emphasized that it is an open document, to which new specific action plans can be added by way of government resolutions. At the same time, decision-makers will have at their disposal quantitative data provided by the strategy.
In this way, the strategy can be a kind of ‘cookbook’ prescribing the methods and methodologies for achieving common objectives. In general, the National Roma Integration Strategy of the Slovak Republic can be considered a genuine opportunity for the improvement of the living conditions of the Roma.
The country as a whole can benefit from equal opportunities, not just Roma, since the disadvantages of Roma exclusion are very high and are to the detriment of society as a whole.
Zuzana Kumanová is the Director of the unit for strategies, analysis and regional coordination at the Office of the Plenipotentiary of the Slovak Government for Roma Communities.
Daniel Škobla is UNDP Europe and CIS poverty and social inclusion officer.
- Iker Casillas encourages young people in Uzbekistan to volunteer
- Post-2015: The voice of young Kosovo
- Integrative social protection: A review of some national experiences
- Eurasian economic integration between Minsk and Vilnius: Problems, prospects, and UNDP’s role
- Montenegro reconfigures its energy strategy
Gender equality in the Caucasus
- >> See more infographics