Gypsies feel the lash of everyone's hatred

Racist attacks and discrimination increase across Europe

Jonathan Steele

Saturday April 8, 2000

The plight of Europe's Gypsies has worsened dramatically in recent years, with increases in racially motivated attacks against them, and rising levels of unemployment, evictions, and even exclusions from their home towns, according to a major new report.

The study, by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), also says that, in spite of greater awareness of Gypsy, or Roma, issues, the number of Roma representatives in national parliaments has dropped.

Prepared by Max van der Stoel, the OSCE's high commissioner on national minorities, the report came out yesterday on the eve of Roma day, which marks the anniversary of the first international Roma congress in 1971, when Gypsies managed to succeeded in putting their problems on the international agenda.

The report deals mainly with the countries of central Europe with high Gypsy populations: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, but it also highlights problems in Italy, France, and other western European countries.

It looks at some appalling racial attacks, including a skinhead raid last June on a Gypsy camp near Naples. The camp was burned down, apparently in a revenge attack, after a Gypsy car-driver had seriously injured two girls riding on a motorscooter.

In Bulgaria, 14 Gypsies died between 1992 and 1998 while being held in police custody or as a result of police shootings. Many more have been beaten by police, but there have been few attempts by the authorities to investigate.

The worst violence has occurred in Kosovo in recent months where tens of thousands of Gypsies have been forced to flee their homes and take refuge in camps guarded by international troops.

The collapse of communism across the region and the fall in living standards led to widespread joblessness, with Gypsies often the first to be fired.

Drops in income forced some Gypsies to sell their homes. Others were evicted from state-owned flats when they were privatised and their former owners took them over. Private landlords often refused to let to Gypsies.

In some places they were even expelled from municipalities. In 1997 Gypsy families were banned from settling in, or even entering, two villages in eastern Slovakia, Nagov and Rokytovce, capping what one mayor called a campiagn "to get rid of local Romanies".

In 1998 the mayor of Evosmos in Greece ordered the eviction of 3,500 Gypsies from an area that had been their home for 30 years.

The report highlights one encouraging development - a housing project in Kremnica in Slovakia for Gypsies and non-Gypsies. Jobless people participated in the building of homes under the leadership of the town's non-Gypsy mayor.

Education is the trickiest area, because of constant arguments over when segregated schooling is justifiable. In the main, the use of "special schools" has been aimed at excluding Gypsies from mainstream education, but the report mentions one school in Pecs in Hungary run by Gypsies, and aimed at developing a Gypsy intelligentsia.

The report condemns involuntary segregation but says that European governments should consider supporting pre-school programmes for Gypsy infants and "booster" programmes for Gypsies in ordinary schools.

Gypsy parents repeatedly said that they wanted better access to school for their children and blamed poor attendance not on "Roma values", but on children's experience of racism when they did go to school, the report says.

Mr van der Stoel recommends several measures, from better training for the police in Gypsy issues, including the recruitment of Gypsies into the police, to laws providing for higher sentences for crimes motivated by racism.

Original article