Romani (Gypsy) culture and social issues.
Making Romani Rights a European Issue

by Jeremy Druker
Activist calls for a European-wide solution as 'added protection' for Roma

Dismayed by the slow progress individual countries have made in tackling the problems faced by Roma, Romani activists increasingly call for international organizations to take a stronger role in combating racism and guaranteeing Roma rights. Nicolae Gheorghe has lobbied the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe, and the European Union, calling for Roma to be recognized as a European minority rather than a national minority of specific countries. Gheorghe is a senior researcher at the Institute of Sociology in Bucharest and coordinator of the nongovernmental organization Romani Crisis-the Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies. Gheorghe spoke to Transitions on 12 December [1998] during an international conference, The Roma Community and Multiethnicity in the Countries of Central Europe: a European Problem, held outside of Prague under the auspices of the Czech Foreign Ministry.

Transitions: You have spoken of the possibility of new momentum in countries aspiring to the European Union, because governments know they will have to improve the situation of Roma. But how much can they really do if the economic situation remains poor in so many places?

Nicolae Gheorghe: That's right if we think of the main issue as that of unemployment or poverty. There are difficulties. But we believe the issue that can be addressed and solved is that of combating discrimination and racially or ethnically motivated violence.

There is still a debate. When we complain about discrimination against Roma and poverty and unemployment being a result of past and present discrimination, the governments answer with the so-called social problem approach: there is poverty because Roma are not educated, [because] they are not skilled, and so on. As long as they formulate the problem in such terms, there will be no solution. Economic factors make it difficult to solve the problem in this way--it will be a long-term approach. But there is a short-term approach that can be taken: acknowledging the discrimination and the ethnically motivated violence--which is not yet the case--and trying to improve the judiciary so as to condemn these kind of ethnically motivated attacks, to develop better prosecution in order to deal with the racial component of these attacks, which also is not yet the case. The media are very much contributing to  reproducing the prejudice. Of course the media are not under the control of the state, but still the state has its own, let's say, "educative" tools in relation to the population. So for this you don't need big money. ... What the European Union is asking of states that are preparing for accession is to prove this willingness to address the issue, and to try to implement [changes] so that the Roma are treated [according to] the rule of law.

Transitions: Could you explain more about the push for a European convention on Roma rights?

Gheorghe: It's a proposal launched [in 1994] by Romani nongovernmental organizations, especially by the Roma National Congress. We have slowly promoted it in the OSCE, and there were two OSCE meetings that acknowledged this proposal. There remains a lot to do on our side, on the side of Romani nongovernmental organizations, and there are different versions about what this European convention on Romani rights might look like. Some organizations want it to be a legally binding document among the  states that will give protection to Roma, but this is a quite complicated process.  I am for the position of a politically or morally binding document--something that can be done quickly in the OSCE. It would be like a catalogue of rights that have to be implemented in the case of Roma, as part of general human rights, and then some specific instruments to [enforce these rights] in the case of Roma. I am working on this document.  I think next year in June we will present the first version, and of course there will be debate.

Transitions: Is the feeling behind this that the European Convention on Human Rights isn't enough, that you need a document that will specifically target Roma?

Gheorghe: No, it is enough. The problem is that still we are in this awareness-raising process. People are not aware enough that the general rules in the European Convention on Human Rights are not  implemented or respected in the case of Roma. So [Roma] need the added protection. ... I favor a moderate version that deals more with instruments, with tools to implement general provisions--not to create new provisions only for Roma. That would be difficult, and it's still controversial among Roma whether we need special status or whether we would like to be treated simply in a non-discriminatory way.

Jeremy Druker is a staff writer and the syndicate coordinator for Transitions magazine.
This article originally appeared in the January 1999 issue of Transitions and is reprinted by the Patrin Web Journal with permission.
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Posted 07 January 1999.

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