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Slovakian report
by Euro Reporter
2015-03-17 10:17:19
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Slovakia’s ‘container schools’ worsen segregation of Roma children from society

slovenia_400_01For the villages of north-eastern Slovakia’s Kežmarok district, nestled beneath the snow-capped High Tatra Mountains, winter can be icy cold. On a recent visit it wasn’t the weather that sent shivers down our spines, but the grim reality that many Romani children are still being segregated in local schools. We returned to five villages in the region last week after a previous visit in 2012 to see if anything had changed for Romani residents there, three years after a landmark judgment found that a school in Slovakia discriminated against Romani children by segregating them from their classmates. Sadly, the only change has been from bad to worse. It seems that after the 2012 court ruling condemning unlawful segregation of Romani pupils, not only has the separation continued, but it is actually taking on even more severe forms. Not only are Romani children being segregated in different classes but in some cases they now face the prospect of attending “container schools”, where they are completely cut off, not just from their peers, but from almost anybody from the non-Roma population. In the context of settlements, placement of schools and other services is tricky and risks leading to isolation. Most of its residents are not in formal employment and don’t really have reasons to leave them but for schools and occasional doctor’s visits.

The container schools are built from material resembling shipping containers and consist of a large one- or two-storey building with flat roof and inner space limited to corridors and classrooms. Costing 200,000 euros each, they are much cheaper than building brick and mortar schools. Although some of the mayors we spoke to were concerned about adequacy of the containers for the cold climate in the High Tatra region, the main problem of this project is the location of these schools. An inevitable result of placing them directly to Romani settlements or neighbourhoods will be ethnic segregation. The pupils will rarely go outside the settlement and most of their social relations will be contained in them. In a cruel irony, nowhere was the worsening segregation more visible than in the village of Ostrovany, where the 2012 judgment originated. The village doesn’t have its own mainstream school and Romani children were enrolled either in the local special school or in a mainstream school in the nearby village of Šarišské Michaľany. It was this school that the court found to have violated anti-discrimination legislation in 2012. According to Romani parents and children, three years on, Romani pupils continue to be separated from their non-Roma classmates in this school. In addition to this, the municipality of Ostrovany plans to build a “container school” directly in the settlement. Once the school is opened, the children will be effectively cut off from the rest of society.

Although the 2012 ruling addressed the situation in only one village, Šarišské Michaľany, Romani children have been segregated in Roma-only schools and classes in many locations in eastern Slovakia. Instead of dealing with this unlawful situation upfront, in 2013 the authorities introduced the so-called “container schools”. It was supposed to be a quick fix to the problem of low school capacities and the high number of incoming, mainly Roma, pupils. In the past two-three years, some of the schools to which the children used to commute started fusing outright to register new Romani pupils using the capacity argument. This further accelerated the panic on some of the villages resulting in a decision to quickly construct their own schools. Needless to say, this problem is hardly a new one. It has been mounting over the past decade while the authorities have failed to tackle it. Last week we visited four of the six villages in Kežmarok district which have been affected by low school capacities. In three of them, “container schools” were already up and running. Like schools most anywhere, the sound of children’s laughter and conversations filled the air during the breaks. But the striking feature of these schools was their ethnic homogeneity – all the children were Roma. In one case, in the village of Stráne pod Tatrami, the Roma children are cut off from the society outside of their settlement, as the school was built directly in their settlement. Plans are already under way to place “container schools” in at least three other Roma settlements in other locations.

Some of the parents we spoke to worried that separation from non-Roma will affect the quality of their children’s education as well as their future prospects. “When the children finish the 9th grade here, they don’t continue at a secondary school. Had they been together with the non-Roma, they would have been more ambitious,” one Romani mother, Marika, told us. “If all the classmates of our children are another Romani pupils, how can we expect them to mingle and integrate with the non-Roma once they move on to the secondary school?,” Imrich, whose children attend a high school in the town of Kežmarok, asked us. Indeed, the physical separation has consequences reaching beyond education. Jozef lives in a settlement nearly two kilometres away from the village of Rakúsy. The settlement is becoming more and more isolated from village life, he explained: “We have a community centre, a church. We go to the village only when we need to arrange something in the municipality.”

Until June 2014, a Milan and his friends in the fourth grade were bussed daily from Stráne pod Tatrami to a municipal Roma-only school inside a building in the town of Kežmarok. Milan lives in a settlement 500m from the village, so the bus ride was a rare opportunity to meet non-Roma people. In September 2014, a container school was opened in his settlement. While the boys were generally happy that they have it closer to home, Milan told us he misses his rides to the town. In the villages we visited, most residents are Romani. Most of the non-Roma enrolled their children in schools elsewhere, which led to the local schools becoming ethnically homogeneous. Although the authorities spoke of “segregation” many times during our conversations, they did so only with dismissive and sarcastic undertones arguing that segregation was inevitable due to demographic trends. As if equal treatment for all ethnicities was not a legal obligation but some form of luxury. Sadly, such an approach significantly contributes to an environment where complete ethnic separation becomes a reality.


Energy security and prices of top importance for Slovakia

MAROŠ Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission for Energy Union, considers the European Energy Union to be  the biggest energy project since the Coal and Steel Community recalling the precursor of the European Union established in 1951. The commissioner introduced the ambitious plan based on five dimensions on February 25 in Brussels. He  believes that the current energy system in the European Union is unsustainable in the long term and that the European Energy Union should solve the situation. The Slovak Spectator disc ussed the different aspects of the Energy Union with Šefčovič as well as other energy topics.

TSS: From which countries do you expect the biggest dislike or criticism of the Energy Union project and which countries would welcome it the most?

Maroš Šefčovič (MŠ): I hope that this project will gain wide support within the EU. On the other hand, I’m sure that when it comes down to individual legislative proposals discussions will not be easy. What I see as the biggest challenge will be the pressure on changing the national mindset for adoption of decisions to a regional or even European one, to persuade ministers of energy as well as finances that joint [energy] solutions are economically more advantageous, more effective and that simply in the end they will mean not only lower prices but also more saved money in state budgets. This will be kind of a general challenge for discussions we will need to have with each member country. Each country has its own specific features and I’m sure that there will be something for each country that it would really like and something that will obstruct it.

TSS: What changes will Slovakia have to implement in respect to the Energy Union?

MŠ: Certainly at question would be how to set energy prices, especially for industrial companies. These often point out that energy prices in Slovakia are high. Already in the past we have very intensively communicated with energy intensive companies. These require guarantees that there will be no carbon leakage, what means that there are conditions created for them to stay here. I think that this will be a challenge also for the future because Slovakia is one of two or three of the most industrial countries in the EU, even the most industrial one according to some indicators, thus energy prices will be what Slovakia would consider as a priority. The second priority will be to secure sufficient energy security because Slovakia is one of the countries that is nervous each summer or autumn of what will happen in winter. Thus these will be two priorities that will be of key importance for Slovakia.

TSS: The Energy Union is a very ambitious project while its price or related costs have not yet been mentioned.

MŠ: During the time being it is very problematic in any way to estimate these. This is because at question is a complex change of energy management and because there are many factors involved. Of course, some of them are under our control. For example, I estimate that the level of support schemes for various renewable energy sources is annually about €120 billion. Another factor which I can mention is that investments needed for changes of the energy infrastructure because of obsolescence and smartening of the grids are estimated at as much as €1 trillion. Actually, we should do this anyway, but the question now stands how we can do it more effectively on the joint European basis. Of course, citizens and business people will especially assess the quality of energy services they will get, what the impact on the business environment will be, how many new jobs also thanks to the energy union would be created, etc. So, these are things which are very difficult to quantify now, also because of our high energy imports as one year ago nobody expected that the price for one barrel of crude oil would decrease to USD 50. Thus there are a lot of variables and because of this I think that what would be important is setting of the trend and those policies and to have a complex change in the approach to energy management.

TSS: Slovakia has also one project, which may increase energy security in the EU, Eastring, connecting western Europe and the Balkans via Slovakia. How do you perceive this project?

MŠ: Slovak representatives introduced the Eastring project in Sofia on February 9. The aim of the meeting was, on one hand to analyze what we can do for south-eastern European countries and their interconnection with central Europe. This means that we discussed 14 projects of energy interconnectors which have been on the table for some years already, but which, alas, have not been carried out yet and how the EC can help, either via financing or creation of a better atmosphere between individual countries in order that they inter-connect faster. Simultaneously, there were also introduced initial ideas from these countries about how they can contribute to a better integration of individual energy systems of these countries. The Slovak delegation introduced the idea of Eastring. Now the talks will continue on the level of expert groups with the aim to work out an action plan by June. It should guarantee that each country in this region should get the chance to gain, in this case gas, from three various sources. But this needs much better interconnection. Eastring is one of the projects which will be discussed on an expert level.

TSS: Do you see it is as an alternative to the transit of gas via Ukraine?

MŠ: It will be necessary to assess this whole matter in a very complex way. I think that it would be necessary to look for an optimal solution which would keep gas transit via Ukraine and which would also respect new Russian plans to transit part of gas supplies via Turkey. Thus there are many more other interests and therefore it is necessary to put these projects on the table in order that they are assessed on the expert level.

TSS: How do you perceive the cancellation of the South Stream which Russian President Vladimir Putin announced in December? Do you consider this project as over?

MŠ: Basically here we can get navigated by those many times reiterated statements from the side of the Russian Federation and the head of Gazprom that the South Stream project is over and the project of the Turkish stream was introduced. The project is now also discussed by the Turkish side and I believe that we will discuss it also on the EU level. Let’s hope that the situation, especially in eastern Ukraine would improve also because of the project of the Turkish stream in the parameters in which it was introduced, I believe, cannot work in reality. This is because of long-term contracts Gazprom has signed with individual suppliers in which not only the volume of gas to be shipped, but also the points of supply are set and this is certainly not the Greek-Turkish border. This means that this will be a very complex discussion to which we will have to return.

TSS: The energy consumption in the EU decreased in 2013 to 1,666 million tonnes of oil equivalent, which means to the level where it was at the beginning of the 1990s. Compared with 2006, when the energy consumption in the EU reached its highest level, it decreased by 9.1 percent. What reasons do you see behind this decrease?

MŠ: I see several factors behind this while the decisive one is that the EU was in a very difficult economic cycle. This means that production stagnated; the economy did not develop in the pace as it should have. On the other hand I think that gradually measures for improving energy efficiency began to bring results. But this is still not enough and we have huge space for improving energy efficiency, when for example, we spend 40 percent of energy on cooling and heating of our buildings. When we compare it abroad, for example, Asia has taken a lesson from the development in Europe and has implemented energy efficiency measures into new construction codes without any compromises. Also we in the EU will have to push for something like this. Our indicative target is to increase energy efficiency by at least 27 percent by 2030. But I believe that there is room for  a greater improvement, it is only necessary to set up those mechanisms so that municipalities and others are not afraid, in order that the measures are available and in order we are able to explain to them better about how much these measures, after being carried out, would reduce their energy bills. 


Slovakia to send ammunition to Iraq for fighting Islamic State

SLOVAKIA will provide ammunition for the Iraqi military as part of efforts to aid its struggle against the Islamic State. The shipment is already prepared to be sent, Defence Minister Martin Glváč said after the government session on March 11, adding that the ministry is currently dealing with some legislative technicalities. The Defence Ministry last October announced that apart from ammunition, it would also offer humanitarian aid and demining training to the Iraqis.     

Neighbouring Hungary is also considering sending around 100 soldiers. The unit would provide patrol and protection tasks in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan.Slovakia is not sending any troops to this mission so far. “We haven’t been asked for such assistance," said Glváč, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “We have prepared a list of things we are willing to help with, and to donate,” Glváš said, according to the SITA newswire. He added that ministry is holding talks with the US Embassy to Slovakia.

Last autumn, Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajčák mentioned also the possibility of assisting with the training of the Iraqi army. “We are aware of our responsibility, as this is a threat that does not concern just us – so we won’t close our eyes,” he said in September 2014. The Defence Ministry has offered  de-mining training at the Trenčín-based Centre of Excellency for Decommissioning of Explosives. Ministry spokeswoman Martina Balleková told the Denník N daily on March 11 that so far, Iraqi government has not responded to the offer. 


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