According to video footage released by his office, Slovak President Andrej Kiska presented his “Report on the State of the Republic” to the National Assembly on 14 June, assessing the state of the Slovak economy as positive and saying there is potential for Slovakia to further develop even as he criticized the state’s inability to resolve its most burning issues, which causes growing mistrust among the citizenry in state institutions and representatives. The report, among other things, touches on the growth of extremist sentiment in society and the situation of Romani people in Slovakia.
“One of the chapters of shame in the story of the Slovak Republic is the fate of our excluded Romani communities. Romani people are not a part of our country’s success,” the President told the legislature.
“We, as the majority population, have not even invited them to become a part of our success,” Kiska said in his speech. “Many of them are vegetating, from one generation to the next, in squalid settlements with high unemployment, poor health outcomes and high crime rates.”
“We [non-Roma] don’t even want to have anything to do with [the Roma],” the President said, emphasizing that unless Romani people are included as part of society, Slovakia will never make any progress. “If the Romani people are not prospering, Slovakia will not prosper for long either.”
Kiska said he believes the resolution of this problem to date has failed due to a lack of clear aims, no enforcement of compliance or coordination of the institutions responsible, and no political will. The President urged local and state administrations to make firm decisions to solve the problem and to set themselves honest goals.
“Positive examples are rather local anomalies, not the consequences of concentrated, honest endeavors by local communities, municipalities and the state. It is thus no surprise that the relationship between the political elites and the Romani minority is frequently symbolically dominated by tough talk about law and order and an ‘iron hand’ designed for the angry majority-society audience,” the President said.
“This has gone so far that extremists have become, for a part of society, the political force considered the most qualified vis-a-vis the ‘Roma issue’,” Kiska explained. In that context, the President also emphasized the necessity for a change to Slovak political rhetoric.
“Let’s stop talking about the ‘Romani problem’ and begin working on how to make the most of ‘Romani potential’,” the President said, adding that he believes financial resources also exist for such solutions. “By the end of 2020 Slovakia will have had EUR 450 million available to it from EU funds designed especially to improve the life situations of Romani people in excluded communities.”
“We know what the basic aims are – improving the Romani population’s educational achievements and the quality of their housing. Here I would underline that with the clearly established co-participation of Romani people, and through their own self-help, that means demolishing these huts, settling land ownership disputes, and then investing into more dignified housing and infrastructure,” Kiska said.
The President also proposed a cabinet minister be designated for the Romani agenda. “I offer for your consideration the idea of having a cabinet member directly tasked with this agenda, because the politically-weak plenipotentiary [on Romani issues] has limited options,” he said.
Kiska also said he sees one of the causes of the growth in support for fascist movements as the feeling of some in Slovakia, primarily the less privileged, that they have been forgotten, and he called for politicians to do their best to listen to their citizens and actually solve their problems. He closed by rhetorically asking whether “The choice of the extremists, in the case of some voters, is not actually a call for aid to which we must not remain deaf.”