Victims of the European Revolutions
The increasingly difficult situation of the Rom and Sinti (Gypsy) communities in numerous countries of the world, but in particular in Eastern Europe, is one of the most disturbing side effects to have emerged in the wake of the revolutions that swept through these countries only a year ago. After successive waves of persecution, followed by the holocaust of World War II, which cause the death of more than half a million Rom and Sinti men, women and children, and the total absence of human rights during the Communist dictatorships, approximately 15 million Roms and Sintis are now the object of the most blatant racial discrimination.
These people do not benefit from the protection of their collective liberties in any country, and despite repeated appeals by the Romani Union, the organization of the World Romani (Gypsy) Congress, to the United Nations, the European Council and the Commission of the European Community, no action has so far been taken to secure their most basic rights. In the opinion of the Romani Union, further postponement of the defence and protection of the Roms and Sintis could have serious consequences for its people.
The dangers they presently face in Eastern Europe are numerous. In Romania, where about three million Roms live, they are subjected to indescribable social misery; they are also the target of physical violence and are terrorized by Romanian nationalist groups. Two Rom villages were recently burned down in the communes of Cosa Voda and Cogalnicean.
Many incidents, sporadically reported in the Yugoslav press, demonstrate the judicial, social, political and physical insecurity experienced by the Roms in Yugoslavia. Similar occurrences, ranging from racist propaganda and racial discrimination to physical attacks and terror, have taken place in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries in Eastern Europe. Their situation in Albania is unknown.
The increasingly critical position of minorities within these countries, amongst which the Roms and the Sintis have always been the least protected, is aggravated by the rising tide of extreme nationalism and the threat of civil war. It is provoking the emigration of a growing number of Roms and Sintis from Eastern to Western Europe in search employment and a more secure environment.
Given this situation, the Romani Union has again launched an urgent appeal to international and European bodies to convene a conference to discuss the fate of its people throughout Europe. Given that the Council of Europe and the European Commission have already passed resolutions compatible with its aims, the Romani Union is pressing them to go further and translate their resolutions into concrete programme of action. Stressing the gravity of the problem, the Union argues the need for an organization comprising representatives of the European Community, the Romani Union and other specialists who can create a programme and secure Community funding for its implementation. Representatives of the Romani Union have already secured approval for their project from the German government through its representative in the Council of Europe; promises of support have also come from the German and Swiss embassies.
One area which any program should tackle without delay is the teaching of their mother tongue to Rom and Sinti children. The Romani Union has started to standardize the language, making it easier to teach. Literacy in their own language will, in the long term, provide a more solid base for the integration of Rom and Sinti children.
Founded in 1971, the year of its first congress in London, the Romani Union has, so far, no permanent headquarters nor funding.
At the time when the problems of the Roms and the Sintis are most severe, this remains a severe handicap to their work. If the reduction is rising national and ethnic conflicts in Europe, especially Eastern Europe, is to be achieved without the tragic consequences of delay, financial as well as moral and political support for the Romani Union, as for its people, is a matter of urgency.
Dr. Rajko Djuric is president of the Romani Union. He lives in Belgrade.
Translated by Moris Farhi.
Donate or Volunteer