Engaging the Roma community in the political party process in Slovakia
It is difficult to estimate how many Roma live in Slovakia; when the census is taken many Roma say that they are of Slovak or Hungarian nationality. In 2013, a special census by the UN Development Programme produced the Atlas of Roma communities in Slovakia 2013, which estimates that there are 400,000 Roma living in Slovakia, representing 7 %–8 % of the total population of 5.4 million.
Furthermore, the Atlas indicated that Roma communities live in 1,070 municipalities and towns in Slovakia, approximately 37 % of the total number. Some Roma live in impoverished groups in settlements, while others form part of the majority society. According to sources, in many municipalities today Roma represent the majority of the population, and in many districts Roma births form the majority. Overall, the Roma population represents close to 15 % of the working-age population in Slovakia.
Yet despite the relatively high presence of Roma in Slovak society, their representation in the different levels of politics is very low. A Roma representative was elected to the national Parliament of the Slovak Republic for the first time in 2012. At the local level, fewer than 2 % of the elected deputies are Roma, the result of the most recent local authority elections in 2014. The level of participation of any minority—in this case the Roma—mostly depends on the circumstances (in terms of education, communication and societal tolerance and acceptance) determined by society and by politicians. How should society respond to this situation, and what might be done by government?
The journey of Slovak Roma towards political and legal equality
The first systematic attempts to organise the Roma go back a long time. A pan-European Roma conference took place in Kisfalu, Hungary as early as 1879, but, even then, such activity was not welcomed by the government.