Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
According to the 2002 census, there were 3,246 Roma in Slovenia; other estimates are much higher, for example 3,000-10,000 (ECRI). Most Roma in Slovenia speak Romani. Roma face discrimination and exclusion from all spheres of life.
The constitution provides special status and rights to Roma community, which is to be regulated by law. A law is in draft, but there have been considerable delays in adopting it. Slovenian authorities make a distinction between autochthonous and non-autochthonous Roma, i.e. Rom who have traditionally lived in Slovenia and Roma who have arrived recently, in large part due to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia. This distinction makes it unclear who has what level of protection, and has been used by a number of authorities, especially local, to delay taking measures to improve the situation of the Roma.
Roma are underrepresented in public affairs at the national level. They do not have any seats in the National Assembly, although they are recognised as an ethnic group by the constitution, similarly to Italians and Hungarians who have representation. Roma are dispersed throughout Slovenia, and some 20 municipalities with highest Roma concentrations are required to have one Roma councillor each. However, the effective participation of these Councillors, and by extension Roma communities, in local government needs to be improved. At the national level, there is a Commission for Protection of Roma.
Roma came to the Balkans in the 13th century and have lived there ever since. Roma have always been viewed by others as second class and faced discrimination and prejudice. During Tito’s rule, Roma were in a relatively better position than before or after. Soma Roma have always lived in Slovenia, some came during communist rule to work, and some were displaced by the 1990s wars.
Authorities have taken steps in recent years to improve the situation of the Roma. This includes projects aiming at the integration of the Roma in spheres such as housing and education; these projects are more often developed with Roma participation. Differences from locality to locality, with some local authorities resisting to make improvements and in some Roma, especially non-autochthonous Roma, are in particularly bad socio-economic position.
Despite improvements, poverty is widespread among Roma. Roma are excluded from different aspects of social and economic life, including employment, housing and education. Some estimates put Roma unemployment at 80 per cent (Advisory Committee’s on the Framework Convention Opinion on Slovenia). Such high unemployment is for a range of reasons, including inadequate education and hidden discrimination. Access to housing is problematic with many Roma in substandard conditions, including informal settlements. Access to education is problematic, with children participating in primary education, if at all. The practice of putting Roma children in schools for children with special needs is being tackled at the central level, but in some cases it persists and within mainstream schools children are put in special study groups, which get inferior instruction.
Roma participation in public life is limited. More action needs to be taken to support Roma culture, particularly through allocated funding for cultural activities, inclusion of Roma contribution to Slovenia in the curricula, and teaching of Roma language.
Updated June 2015