Stamping out discrimination in Slovakia

30-01-2004

A dispute over an anti-discrimination law - or rather the lack of one - is keeping politicians busy in Slovakia. European Parliament officials have warned Slovakia and other states who are about to become members that if they do not approve anti-discrimination legislation by the end of the year, they may face sanctions from the Brussels.

Children of two elementary schools, one a Roma, one non-Roma eat lunch in the same canteen, but in separate rooms, using separate cutlery and plates. Impossible in the 21st century, you will most probably think. However, it is real and present in one Eastern Slovak town. It is a clear case of discrimination of the Roma children, however, not an illegal one. Igor Urbančik, from the section of human rights and minorities at the Slovak government office explains:

"Discrimination as such is prohibited by the Slovak constitution of the Slovak republic. But as of right now there is very little application of the general principle of the ban on discrimination into every day legislation. The overall effort of the government is to introduce specific measures that combat discrimination into everyday law, so that they can be actually used by citizens. "

A draft of an anti-discrimination law was presented to Parliament in October 2003. It was not passed because of lack of political support. The main argument against the law was that it would eventually pave the way for adoption rights for homosexual couples. A slightly modified draft should be put before Parliament in the spring of 2004.

"The draft that is on the table would be a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, that would prohibit discrimination almost on all grounds. Race or ethnic origin, sex, age, physical handicap, and based on religion, political views and based on sexual orientation."

The draft gained support from many Slovak NGOs. Jana Juranova, from the feminine cultural magazine ASPEKT and Laco Durkovic from the People against racism NGO say the law is inevitable:

"The anti-discrimination law is saying to the society, yes we know that discrimination is possible, many being are living in it and it's against the law. We must learn to see it and change it. The meaning of the law will also be education one and it will be the consciousness raising law."

"I think that in Slovakia there is a lot of discrimination and it is absolutely necessary to have a law which will speak against discrimination and which will tell us what we can do about it."

Slovakia is not alone in its fight against discrimination - other countries in central and Eastern Europe are facing similar, if not bigger, problems. But Urbancik says it still has to be tackled in Slovakia:

"Slovakia actually has been very good in terms of trying to come up with solutions to question of discrimination, because it was one of the first countries to actually propose specific laws that could target discrimination. Our Czech and Hungarian colleagues have used the Slovak law as the bases for their new laws."

If the anti-discrimination draft is passed next time round, amendments to maybe as many as 80 already existing laws would have to be made instead, to bring Slovakia in line with the EU's 2 anti-discrimination directives.

"These 2 directives will come into force in Slovakia as of May 1st, the day Slovakia enters the EU. And if the Slovak republic does not implement them into it's national legislation, we could face sanctions form the European Commission."

The anti-discrimination draft should prevent situations such as the one with the separate school canteens. However, some experts say that the draft law is still 10 years ahead of the attitude of the general public - and that education and public awareness campaigns are also needed for the legislation to be effective.

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