About the projectFor over a decade, twelve European countries have been promising to improve living conditions for Roma in the European Union. Slovakia was one of them. That decade ended in 2015. The goal was expressed as follows:
“The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005–2015 is an unprecedented political commitment by European governments to eliminate discrimination against Roma and close the unacceptable gaps between Roma and the rest of society. The Decade focuses on the priority areas of education, employment, health, and housing, and commits governments to take into account the other core issues of poverty, discrimination, and gender mainstreaming.” (http://www.romadecade.org)
Some of the achievements of the Decade are open to question and it is hard to say what real improvements the Decade brought for those I worked with during my project.
In 2012, I was on assignment in Moldava nad Bodvou, where I was working for the second time with a marginalized and segregated Roma community. After that assignment I decided to continue to document different Roma communities in the area for a longer time with no concrete plan or idea of how long the project would take or where it would take me.
I wanted to see for myself what the settlements were really like and also how daily life there would change over the seasons. I visited and revisited five communities between 2013 and 2016 in irregular intervals.
Some Roma communities I worked with are completely isolated from the majority population; others are not separated from the majority population by any physical distance whatsoever. Every Roma community I have visited is different from the next and has its own special way of life, its own dynamics and hierarchical structures. I spent time with the people living in each one and listened to their stories, problems, pleasures, and hopes for the future.
There were field workers, social workers, priests, and volunteers—both Roma and non-Roma—who took me with them and introduced me to the communities. The project also contemplates the perspectives of those working with the Roma in the settlements and of some mayors of the villages where the settlements are located.
Often media reports on Roma-related issues contain half-truths and clichés that reinforce fears and isolate the Roma further instead of contributing to their integration. For many Roma and their families daily life is a constant struggle for survival. Unemployment rates are extremely high, many inhabitants have low levels of education and often the Roma face discrimination because of the color of skin and their different attitudes towards life.
“Roma were here in the past, we are here now and we will be here in the future. So we have to find a common language and a way to live together”, says Irma Horvathova, a field worker and founder of the "Slumdog Theater" in the settlement of Moldava nad Bodvou, a Roma herself.