Gypsies in bid for world recognition

Justin Huggler

26 July 2000

Prague - The world's gypsies intend declaring themselves a nation and calling for international recognition at the end of their first big congress for a decade, which began yesterday in Prague. It also aims to draw attention to the plight of Kosovo gypsies, who have been persecuted by Serbs and Albanians.

As Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, called for the European Union to set a date for admitting the next wave of candidates from East Europe, the gypsies, or Roma, were demanding that the EU do more to overcome bias against them in candidate countries.

Most of the world's 15 million gypsies live in the former Warsaw Pact countries of East Europe, where they are subject to discrimination described as amounting to pogroms. The congress is being held in Prague because of the treatment of Roma in the Czech Republic, where a village built a wall to separate its gypsy and non-gypsy communities.

EU countries fear a wave of gypsy refugees fleeing such discrimination and are demanding that candidate countries treat them better. But the International Romany Union says that is not enough. Sean Nazerali, adviser to thesecretary-general of the Romany Union, said: "Migration is just a symptom of the economic despair of the Roma." The union said gypsy unemployment in the Czech Republic was above 70 per cent and in Romania 90 per cent.

Mr Nazerali said: "We are calling on the EU and other ... organisations to make their financial support to Eastern Europe conditional on some of it being channelled as loans, to establish Roma businessmen."

But the gypsies are looking for more than economic assistance: they want the EU, and the world, to recognise them as a nation.

Original article