Rise of far-right sparks fear amid Slovak Roma

Brezno — Five little Roma boys braving the February chill in just T-shirts kick around a football in front of a ramshackle building in Brezno, central Slovakia, as their worried parents look on.

Dasa Bucekova, a 40-year old mother of two, has had trouble sleeping since Marian Kotleba, an ultra-nationalist known for anti-Roma vitriol, was elected governor of the sleepy region of Banska Bystrica two months ago.

“We’re worried that he’ll come and kick us out of our homes,” Bucekova, who has no running water and shares one bedroom with her husband and children, told AFP.

“He calls us parasites living off benefits, but I would gladly work if he offered me a job,” she added.

Tough economic times have triggered a rise in far-right extremism across Europe and eurozone member Slovakia is no exception.

Kotleba, who has neo-Nazi roots, is gaining political traction by casting Slovakia’s large and impoverished Roma minority as a scapegoat for, rather than victim of, a sluggish economy.

Around 60 percent of Slovakia’s 400,000 Roma — in a country of 5.4 million people — are fully integrated in society, according to the labour ministry.

The remainder live in abject poverty in some 650 shanty towns without electricity, sewage or running water, mostly located in the south and east of the country where salaries are low and one in four people is unemployed.

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