Visiting Slovakian president Ivan Gašparovič has been getting an earful from Amnesty International and numerous Icelandic politicians over what they allege is institutionalized discrimination against Roma children. His foreign minister has denied that any such mistreatment is official policy.
Upon Gašparovič’s arrival at parliament yesterday, he was greeted by a throng of protesters – among them Reykjavík mayor Jón Gnarr. Their complaint is that Roma children are often put in segregated schools, separating them from other children, based solely on their ethnicity. They are also supposedly given sub-standard education. 60% of Roma children are put into schools for children with special needs, despite comprising only 10% of the population. Davíð Þór Jónsson, the chairman of Amnesty International in Iceland, pointed out that this is because a child’s intelligence is measured by whether or not they can speak Slovakian.
Not only protesters, but also Icelandic president Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, foreign minister Össur Skarphéðinsson and other Icelandic politicians raised the issue with Gašparovič.
Mikulás Dzurinda, Slovakia’s foreign minister, responded that there is no institutionalized racism in Slovakia, pointing out that the government of Slovakia passed a measure called “Steps to end segregation in education,” which is aimed to integrate Roma children into better schools and end segregation. Amnesty is concerned that the measure doesn’t go far enough, as school officials still have the power to simply refuse to implement the measure.
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