Roma integrate in one Slovak town—and everyone benefits

Two Roma employed by the municipal enterprise in Spissky Hrhov, Slovakia, show that the “whole community” approach to democracy and human rights begins at the local level

Like other small towns in this mountainous region of Slovakia, Spissky Hrhov faced tremendous uncertainty in the aftermath of the democratic revolution of 1989 and Slovak independence in 1993. People rejoiced in the overthrow of communism. But with a moribund economic base, no evident means to attract investment, and ethnic divisions, Spissky Hrhov seemed consigned to economic subsistence and social conflict.

For Spissky Hrhov’s sizable number of Roma residents, the situation was particularly dire.

Read More…

NDI Changemaker: Through the Barbed-Wire Fence Toward Democracy

I grew up in the capital of what is now Slovakia, right on the river that borders Austria. I remember being near this very river, peering over to see what was on the other side. A barbed-wire fence sat between the two countries, a literal and figurative separation between democracy and the “Iron Curtain” that laid itself across Central and Eastern Europe at the time. The presence of the fence is something that I have since held in my mind; it was and continues to be a part of my daily reality - something continuously propelling me toward democracy.

Read More…

Fighting for Ethnic and Religious Tolerance in Central Europe: Muneeb’s Story

Muslim in faith, Czech at heart: Muneeb leads fellow participants from the Czech Republic and Slovakia at a recent NDI gathering on joint responses to growing religious and ethnic intolerance  

Muneeb has a quiet reserve that gives way to a beaming smile when you ask him about his work and life. A long-time resident of Brno, the capital of the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, Muneeb’s English is halting, so he is quick to turn to Czech, his everyday language for three decades. Muneeb is married, a father, and runs the Czech Center for Muslim Communities. He reserves his native Arabic for family and spiritual matters.

For Muneeb and other longtime residents of Muslim faith—many if not most Czech citizens—the refugee crisis has lifted the curtain on some unpleasant realities. The unprecedented wave of humanity from the greater Middle East has elicited sympathy and aid from many quarters of Czech society. But many express fear about what the presence of foreigners means for their safety and identity—although few if any refugees have actually set foot on Czech soil, much less settled there.

Read More…

Slovakia: Democracy from Below, Not from on High

Recent anti-Roma speech throughout Europe, including in Slovakia, negatively impacts Roma children like these, photographed by Nadezhda Mouzykina in a segregated Slovak settlement. 

Editor's Note: Stanislav Daniel, NDI Roma Political Participation Program Alumnus and Coordinator of Romani Early Years Network, contributed to this piece.

Slovakia’ ruling SMER party convened its annual congress in December. Although a social democratic party now in power for a number of years, the congress had the unfortunate political trappings of a populist, right-wing gathering. Instead of pronouncing on poverty and inequality and other issues important to all citizens, the party chose instead to scapegoat Slovakia’s most vulnerable constituency—the Roma—as public support for a far-right political alternative grows.

Read More…

Who Are the Roma? A Personal Reflection

Left: a Slovak Roma activist at an NDI advocacy training. Top Right: Roma Children in a segregated Slovak settlement. Bottom Right: Youth activists at an NDI training on media and Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) in advocacy. 

April 8 is a special day. It’s a day when more than 10 million Romani citizens worldwide celebrate their rich culture, traditions, and heritage. And this year, it marks exactly 45 years since the First World Romani Congress, which took place in Orpington, England. On April 8, 1971, 23 representatives of nine countries and numerous observers formed the International Roma Union - an organization to represent Roma policy and interests worldwide - and adopted an official Roma flag and the Roma anthem, Djelem, Djelem.

But who are the Roma?

Read More…

Partnering with Roma Activists to Evaluate Political Mainstreaming in Slovakia

In two days the world will celebrate International Roma Day, which highlights the issues facing Romani people around the world.
Over the last decade, with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), NDI has supported Roma political candidates, civic activists and elected officials as they seek to increase their participation in civic and political life.

Read More…