April 15, 2024

Columbus Post

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Lunik IX – that's life in Slovakia's most underrated Roma district – News

Lunik IX – that's life in Slovakia's most underrated Roma district – News

On the outskirts of Košice in eastern Slovakia, around 6,000 Roma live in a settlement that was once built for 2,500 residents.

You stand out as an outsider in a Lunik IX ready-made housing estate. Adults give suspicious glances and children look curious.

Concrete bars were planned on the outskirts of Kosice in the 1970s. 2500 people should live here. Soldiers, police officers and Roma. It was a failed integration project.

Some children come to school hungry.

Twice as many people live in Lunik IX today. All of them are Roma, a third are children. People here are very proud of the children who attend the local primary school. His choir made it to a nationally televised talent show.

Choir director Ontrej Ferko says it's been a long road. “Roma children are especially considered musicians, but most parents do not encourage their children. You cannot. Many are poor. Some children even come to school hungry. Music lessons are not a priority.

A commitment to a better future

Nikola Horvatova also went to school in Lunik XI. Today, the 24-year-old works as a school assistant. He mediates between Roma children, Roma parents and non-Roma teachers.

Harvatova says the students want to help one day have a better life, that they — unlike their parents — aren't dependent on social welfare, and that they learn to manage money.


School assistant Nikola Horvatova wants to leave Lunik IX.

srf/Roman Fillinger

There is iron determination in the young woman's eyes: she wants to get away from Lunik IX. She knows that things are hard for Roma like her everywhere in Slovakia.

For example, she says she experiences discrimination when she goes shopping. “I can assure you that the store detective will follow me until I pay at the checkout.”

Officially instituted discrimination

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srf/Roman Fillinger

About half a million Roma live in Slovakia – even though only about 100,000 people in the country identify as Roma. Because being Roma is stigmatized – and members of this ethnic group are discriminated against in Slovakia. This has been criticized by human rights organizations for a long time. And even recently The EU Commission is suing Slovakia: the Bratislava government is not doing enough to combat the exclusion of Roma in the country's schools, according to Brussels.

Leaving is still only a plan, Horvatova still lives with her family. Three rooms should be enough for more than ten people.

Yet life in Lunik IX is better today than it was in her childhood, the young woman insists. “We don't have water or electricity. Now we usually have both.

Only faith brings progress

When it comes to Lunik IX's improvements, Marcel Sana's name always comes up. The 45-year-old grew up in Lunik IX, has a doctorate in social work and has been mayor of the district for ten years.

A dump in front of a dilapidated building.


Electricity and water are available here only if paid in advance – but regularly.

srf/Roman Fillinger

The changes were only possible because he gained the trust of the city government, he insists. Because of the trust, more money flowed into the area. From the city treasury and from EU funds.

No improvement in vision

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Places such as Lunic IX, which are exclusively Roma and where there is no social mixing, often arose as a result of the expulsion of Roma to other places. In Kosice, illegal Roma settlements near the city center were destroyed decades ago, and residents were evacuated to Lunik IX. At the same time, more and more non-Roma – or Roma who had achieved a certain level of progress – moved away from Lunik IX. The government did little to prevent this ghettoisation of the Roma.

Much of what can be done to try to break the vicious cycle of poverty, isolation and poor education must be done at the local level. For example, Roma children can be integrated into mixed schools. But at the local level, interest in Roma issues is often low. This can be seen, for example, in the fact that Slovakia does not collect much EU funding aimed at improving the situation of Roma. According to Peter Pollock, the only Slovak Roma in the European Parliament, it is often politically harmful for local politicians to advocate for Roma issues. If they did, they would be accused of being pro-Roma.

With this, Sana initially paid off the debts – key word: build trust. He also installed street lights and surveillance cameras to ensure safety.

to take responsibility

Mayor holds residents accountable: In the past, water and electricity were often shut off to entire blocks due to non-payment of bills by individual households.

Today there is always water and electricity – but only for those who pay in advance. Although it works well, Lunic IX is a problem area. Unemployment is high, poverty is high and there is no social mix.

So even the mayor plans to one day move away from Lunik IX with his family.

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