Progress over Roma issues slow
The Roma community in Slovenia is afforded special status, which also entails ringfenced funding. However, some of the issues the Roma are facing such as poor living conditions and poor job prospects have been persisting over the years despite the efforts and money invested to tackle them.
The Roma community is estimated to number between 7,000 and 12,000. Most live in the northeastern-most region of Prekmurje and in Dolenjska, Bela Kranjina and Posavje in the southeast. The most acute issues are in the southeast.
A government report on the community's position last year that has recently been sent to parliament shows that state funding for Roma-related activities increased to €15.5 million in 2022, which compares to €8.8 million in 2021 and €EUR 8.6 million in 2020.
The increase in funds was attributed to changes in methodology used to assess the funding needed, and additional funds made available to municipalities where Roma settlements are part of official records.
Poor school attendance, job prospects
The report notes that poor school attendance remains a burning issue. Last year, the Education Inspectorate opened over 220 non-attendance procedures.
The Education Ministry finds that its attempts to mitigate the situation by hiring Roma teaching assistants proved very successful, especially in kindergartens.
The ministry has been advocating that Roma children start kindergarten at least two years before starting primary school. But in Slovenia, the childcare benefit is 20% higher for parents of children under four when the child is not in kindergarten, which discourages some parents from enrolling their children in kindergarten.
In terms of employment, the Labour Ministry reported that nearly 3,500 Roma were included in employment policy measures last year, 7.5% more than the year before. A few hundred were included in other similar programmes, the report says.
Nearly 270 got jobs last year, while almost 90 were participating in public works and similar employment programmes.
Poor education remains the most significant hurdle in employment of the Roma, as well as poor work experience and low motivation to get a job, the Labour Ministry said in the report.
Meanwhile, social activation programmes for women are assessed to have been very positive. The programmes were funded by the EU and carried out in Novo Mesto, Črnomelj, Maribor, Lendava and Beltinci. They included over 330 women, of whom 120 got a job, started looking for a job or started a training programme.
The Council of the Roma Community, an umbrella organisation, believes that employment would require concrete solutions, above all in the southeast.
The council suggests hiring young, educated Roma by public institutions that provide assistance to the Roma, as well as assistance to Roma entrepreneurs and an increase in the number of Roma involved in public works programmes.
Housing and security issues
The Health Ministry reported that the Roma population remain reserved about using healthcare services. Many do not even have a GP and turn to emergency wards when they need medical assistance. This frequently leads to conflicts with the staff, other patients and among the Roma.
Housing, above all illegal Roma settlements, remains a major concern as well. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning said in the report that municipalities have the tools to include the settlements in their spatial plans.
Meanwhile, Human Right Ombudsman expects the government to draft an emergency bill that would enable, at least temporarily, access to potable water, bathrooms and electricity, to those living in illegal settlements.
Addressing parliamentary Home Affairs Committee on the matter on 13 September, Ombudsman Peter Svetina demanded that a list be created of all Roma settlements that are impossible to legalise or fit with utility infrastructure, and that systemic solutions be found for these communities.
Touching on security in the report, the Interior Ministry said the police work had produced the wanted results, but issues remain. On the one hand, the community is disinterested in preventive activities, and on the other, there has been positive response to problem solving through multi-disciplinary teams and security councils.
The hours-long debate on the parliamentary committee, where MPs aired their views and different officials offered their insight, showed concern over the lack of progress. Many argued the situation had worsened over the past 30 years.
Janez Doltar, the acting director of the Government Office for National Minorities, highlighted as a success a kindergarten in Pušča, a Roma village outside Murska Sobota, which opened in 1962, but said that "60 years of progress have been lost" in some other areas.
Jožek Horvat Muc, the president of the Roma Community Council, said that more concrete and active involvement is needed in addressing the community's issues, as well as listening to the proposals that come from the Roma.
Ombudsman Svetina warned that the "absence of measures at the national level is leading to local communities taking matters in their own hands".
He said he had "a lot of information about troubled cohabitation", adding that the special protective status the Roma have under the constitution does not absolve them of accountability for illegal acts.
MPs Predrag Bakovič of the junior coalition Social Democrats (SD) and Maja Bah Žibert of the opposition Democrats (SDS) both said that tensions were rising in southeastern Slovenia.
"People feel powerless, they are starting to self-organise, which is not good," said Baković, with Bah Žibert underlining that changes are needed.
Differences over solutions
In August, eleven mayors from southeastern Slovenia tabled a bill, supported by more than 31,500 voter signatures, to change four laws to encourage parents who receive welfare to send their children to school.
The bills would make welfare conditional on regular school attendance, demand basic education for a driving licence, and encourage the unemployed to get a job. The changes mainly target Roma families.
While the opposition expect the government to consider the solutions, Tamara Vonta, an MP for the ruling party, argued repression never produced the desired results.
The committee passed several resolutions, including one drafted by the Freedom Movement and the Left proposing that municipalities that receive Roma-related state funding start reporting on the use of these funds to make sure they are used purposely. Both opposition parties, as well as the SocDems voted against this.
This year, 25 municipalities with Roma population will get €6 million, with Doltar saying that these had not been distributed effectively, because the amounts did not necessarily reflect the size of the Roma community in individual municipalities. Moreover, the funds are often not used the way they should be.