Global Policy Forum

Gypsies Want Global "Nation" to Fight Exclusion

Agence France Presse
July 25, 2000

Gypsy leaders from some 40 countries opened a conference in Prague Tuesday vowing to declare a global Roma "nation" to strengthen their unity in the face of widespread social exclusion. Some 250 Roma delegates, gathered for the first such meeting in a decade, will notably discuss how to help Roma emigrate from ex-communist countries to richer countries in western Europe, officials said.

They will also agree new statutes for the International Romany Union, which is organizing the four-day meeting in the Czech capital. The last such meeting was held in Warsaw in 1990. "The new statute will highlight that we are a nation, in Europe and in the world," Union chief Emil Scuka told AFP.

The congress, gathering Romany leaders from Europe, Africa, Australia and Latin America, is being held in the headquarters of Radio Free Europe (RFE), the US-backed broadcaster.

Other top agenda items include the fate of gypsies in Kosovo. Czech deputy foreign minister Martin Palous and US ambassador to Prague John Shattuck attended the opening ceremony.

One recent report lamented that gypsies still face impenetrable walls of social exclusion and discrimination in Europe, 10 years after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. "Ten years after the Iron Curtain fell, Europe is at risk of being divided by new walls," said the report by Max van der Stoel, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's High Commissioner on National Minorities. "Front and centre among those persons being left outside Europe's new security and prosperity are the Roma," said the OSCE official, warning that gypsies face what amount to "pogroms" in some countries.

Under communism, gypsy communities were protected from total social and economic exclusion by safety nets which ensured that everyone had equal rights to basics like education, housing and employment. In the free-market world which has steamrollered across eastern Europe since 1989, many have become virtually total outcasts.

Romany communities suffer widespread discrimation and abuse in many countries, notably in southern and central Europe where the benefits of economic growth have starkly failed to trickle down to many areas. In Slovakia for example, while the capital Bratislava has all the modern amenities of many western European cities, some Roma in the east of the country live in dirt-poor conditions reminiscent of the Dark Ages.

The choice of Prague for the meeting is symbolic: the Czech Republic has faced repeated criticism of its treatment of its Roma minority recently, notably from the European Union, to which it is seeking entry.

Participants will include the self-declared "King of the Romanies," Florian Cioba, who announced earlier this week that he plans to propose the creation of a "Romany European parliament" at the Prague congress. "We should have our own institution, European, capable of representing us on all levels," he said, while giving no details of how members of parliament would be elected or how individual countries would be represented.

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