Romany evictions in Slovenia cause outrage


A situation similar to that in the Czech Republic has developed in Slovenia where what's been described as "a bit of a scuffle" between Roma and local residents in the small town of Ambrus in central Slovenia has erupted into a dispute of national dimensions. The Slovenian government decided to step in and relocate the Roma community. That's been met with both approval and outrage - and the consequences are still being sorted out.

Although problems have been brewing between Roma and local residents of the town of Ambrus for a while, things dramatically escalated after a man was attacked by members of the small Roma minority. Roughly 300 locals gathered together and demanded the government take action, suggesting the Roma be transplanted somewhere else. The group also announced it would boycott local elections (expected November 12) until their demands were fulfilled. Locals said they were tired of problems with the minority, which numbers around thirty. Aljoz Sinkovec, the head of the local community in Ambrus:

"We want harassment, terrorising, attacks on the elderly to stop; we want them to get civilised. This is what we want. And it would be a better life for them as well if this happened."

After some locals threatened the community and Roma fled into a nearby forest, Slovenia's interior minister, Dragutin Mate, arrived in Ambrus to deal with the dispute. According to the government, the Roma were living above a spring that provides fresh water for roughly 7,000 people in the area and that a sanitary inspector had declared the area "unsuitable for habitation." In line with this, Mate announced that the community would in fact be transplanted out of the town - to the audible joy of local residents. Interior Minister Dragutin Mate:

"Our suggestion is that the Roma community stay here overnight. Tomorrow morning they get their things ready and will be moved, temporarily, to a different location. The government will find a solution in 2 to 3 weeks for their new homes. They won't be in a village, but it will be in a more isolated place, near a road, in a forest, where they can live according to their customs."

Criticism was swift. Slovenia's Human Rights Ombudsman Matjaz Hanzek said the relocation of the Roma represented the end of the rule of law. Representatives of the Roma community in Slovenia vowed to take the issue to European institutions. The Slovenian chapter of human rights group Amnesty International also insisted that relocation was not the answer, stressing that Roma needed to be included in society. The roughly 30 Roma from Ambrus - half of them children - were temporarily moved to a former refugee center in the Slovenian city of Postojna, where they share one kitchen, toilet and bathroom among themselves. One member of the community, Mirko Strojan, spoke to reporters about the events leading to his transfer to Postojna:

"The minister said just three weeks, and after that they will find a new location and new homes. I got scared because there were a lot of people against us, and there were only four of us males."

The head of the Novo Mesto Roma society, Zoran Grm, said the location in Postojna was not fit for living and warned that the transfer set a dangerous precedent. Indeed, shortly after the move, a regional civil initiative announced it would ask the government to move a settlement of about 600 Roma out of Zabjak, in the municipality of Novo Mesto. The government may find itself now stuck with more problems than before.