SECURITY & COOPERATION IN EUROPE:
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION
HARD TIMES AND HARDENING ATTITUDES:
THE ECONOMIC DOWNTURN AND THE RISE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST ROMA
SOCIOLOGIST, FILMMAKER, PROJECT MANAGER,
EUROPEAN ROMA RIGHTS CENTER
SENIOR PROGRAM MANAGER, ROMA INITIATIVES,
OPEN SOCIETY INSTITUTE
ADVISOR ON ROMANI ISSUES, OFFICE OF DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS,
THE HEARING WAS HELD FROM 2:03 P.M. TO 3:43 P.M. IN ROOM 1539 LONGWORTH HOUSE
OFFICE BUILDING, WASHINGTON, D.C., [ERIKA B. SCHLAGER, COUNSEL FOR
INTERNATIONAL LAW, CSCE], MODERATING
TUESDAY, JUNE 9, 2009
REPRESENTATIVE ALCEE HASTINGS (D-FL): Ladies and gentlemen, if you don’t mind,
I’d like for us to come to order. Obviously this is a briefing and I’ll say to
our presenters, who I’m very grateful that they have taken of their time to
come here and be with us, that I have to leave here and go to a Rules Committee
meeting and so I’m going to be with you for a while. But in light of the fact
that it’s a briefing, if you would please continue and then staff will advise
all of us of – and I believe the ranking member Mr. Smith is going to be here
and perhaps he will carry on and any other members that come.
I thank all of you for coming to this briefing. And I like this title: “Hard
Times and Hardening Attitudes: The Economic Downturn and the Rise of Violence
against Roma.” In 2005, the European Parliament estimated that there are 12 to
15 million Roma in Europe. And as such, Roma constitutes Europe’s largest
ethnic minority and unfortunately, they remain one of its most marginalized.
This year, we are making the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism –
marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism. In most respects,
that’s a very happy anniversary, but in the past 20 years, too few of the
fruits of democracy have reached the Romani community. I know there’s been
some progress. Significantly the lifting of the Iron Curtain has I think
improved opportunities of Roma to have better contacts across borders,
according Eastern and Western Europe, to work together to meet the challenges
that they must face in defending their basic human rights.
As a matter of fact, I had an opportunity to witness that firsthand about three
months ago in Brussels. It was ironic. We were having a conference on African
diaspora issues right next door to the Roma community that was having their
conference. Today it seems those challenges are as great as ever. Two months
ago in Hungary, Jeno Koka went out his front door to go to work at the same
factory he had worked at for decades and was shot to death in front of his own
home. His 84-year-old father is a Holocaust survivor.
In the Czech Republic, even as we hold this briefing, two-year-old Natalie
Sivakova is still fighting for her life in intensive care after her home was
fire-bombed, leaving her burned on over 80 percent of her body. In February,
also in Hungary, five-year-old – and I’ve read another article where it said he
was four-year-old – but a too-young child, Robert Csorba and his father, were
riddled with bullets to prevent them from escaping their fire-bombed homes.
These deaths are absolute tragedies and appear to be part of a larger and
escalating pattern of deadly violence against Roma.
Now, I look forward to hearing from each of our panelists today on what they
believe are the causes of this spike in violence, whether their countries or –
in their countries, whether they witness the same spike and if not, what they
can tell us about it and what the implications of these trends are and what
OSCE countries ought to be doing about this.
I want to welcome and introduce our four witnesses and their full curriculum
vitae on the table outside. And they all are going to appear single panel in
this order. First we have Katalin Barsony from Hungary, who is a sociologist,
filmmaker and project manager at the Budapest-based Roma NGO Romedia
Foundation. Stanislav Daniel, from Slovakia, is a research consultant with the
Budapest-based European Roma Rights Center, covering issues relating to the
Czech Republic and Slovakia. Isabela Mihalache, from Romania, is senior
program manager at Roma Initiatives, an Open Society Institute program in
Budapest. And let me express appreciation here to the Open Society Institute
for facilitating the availability of these three witnesses.
Finally, we are joined by an old friend – not old in age, but old friend of the
Helsinki Commission, OSCE and that’s Andrzej Mirga. Mr. Mirga serves as OSCE’s
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights’ advisor with
responsibility for Romani issues. In that capacity, he works to promote the
full integration of Roma into the societies they live in, while preserving
In point of fact, Mr. Mirga was one of four Romani nongovernmental activists
who testified before the Congress in 1994 – 15 years ago, before a committee
and that headed by my good friend Tom Lantos, whom we miss very much. It was
the first time Roma had ever testified before any congressional body, but,
thankfully, not the last. Mr. Mirga has appeared before for the Helsinki
Commission as well and we are very glad to have you back. And I thank all of
you for coming such a long way to be here.
I would also like to thank the ambassadors who are here from the Hungarian
Embassy. The ambassador and I have had an opportunity to meet and began
developing a relationship and getting to know each other. The ambassador – the
Embassy of Poland is represented, as well as the Embassy of Slovakia and the
Italian Embassy are also here.
I would that the Turkish Embassy had had an opportunity to be here. An article
that came across my desk today – and I don’t know whether you young witnesses
are privy to it; it’s not a particularly recent event, but it’s reported on May
18th that Turkish bulldozers raised a thousand years of Roma history. And I
have some rather poignant pictures reflecting that series of events. And I’d
like to add into the record, the statements of Senator Cardin, the chair
co-chair of this committee and my statement condemning those actions as we do
This is a particularly important briefing and I’m hopeful that we will continue
to be able to help our friends to get the point across about what is
transpiring in these various areas. So Ms. Barsony, we will begin with you.
KATALIN BARSONY: Thank you, Sir Hastings. Thank you very much for inviting me
to testify before you today. It’s a privilege to speak to you about the
situation of Roma in Hungary.
As the economic meltdown is gradually turning into a larger social crisis
across Europe, insecurity is bringing dormant fears and prejudices out in the
open in often violent forms. In the past two years – have been more than 50
violent attacks against Roma in Hungary, ranging from in broad daylight to
murders by arson or shootings, attacks which the Roma consider are based on
racist motives. According to the most common NGO estimates, there are about 12
million Roma in Europe. In Hungary, there are about 800, 000 Roma, meaning
that one Hungarian citizen in 15 is Roma.
In Hungary, more than a 100,000 Roma live in slums on town and city outskirts,
separated from the rest of the population. There are at least 630 segregated,
Roma-only classes in Hungarian schools, where the quality of education is much
lower than for other children. Statistically, the average percentage of
mentally challenged in children within the Hungarian population is 20 percent,
while Roma children represent 60 percent of the mentally challenged young
population and are consequently placed into institutions for the mentally
When it comes to employment, around 80 percent of Roma are unemployed and are
therefore excluded from Hungary’s employment market. Constant fear of
discrimination, harassment and violent attacks mean that Roma from all strata
of our society live in a state of constant terror and are forced to exclude
themselves from the mainstream society. Racism against Roma is widespread in
public discourse. While there is only so much a state can do to regulate
private actors, the public authorities are not without responsibility in
creating this situation
While Romaphobia is common in European societies, the outburst of its most
violent forms on a regular basis is directly linked to the hardening tone of
Hungary’s political and social discourse regarding Roma. The murder of a
popular handball player, Marian Cosma, by a few Roma men led to an extensive
media coverage stressing the ethnicity of the suspects and ultimately to the
radicalization of the whole social discourse about crime in Hungary.
As the story of the murder itself progressively disappeared from front pages,
the debate about “Gypsy crime” remained at the center of Hungary’s public
discourse. In a deeply polarized political climate in which extreme
vilification of the “other,” in terms of political choices, is the norm and
with the effects of Hungary’s economic crisis being increasingly felt on a
day-to-day basis, the outburst of anti-Roma sentiments were set to take
increasingly violent forms.
The debate about “gypsy crime” was accompanied by the implementation, in a
growing number of villages with many Roma inhabitants, of a regulation under
which social benefits are granted only for a given amount of communal work.
The debate about the constitutionality of the measures was accompanied by the
wide appearance in the media of another division in our society: that one – the
worth and the unworthy poor, the Roma being stereotyped as “welfare cheats,”
Roma women being accused of breeding for profit.
The extreme polarization of our country’s political discourse and the effects
of the economic crisis have resulted in everyday discrimination being
accompanied by bouts of deadly attacks on Roma, including Roma children.
In the United States, you have known a militant organization whose avowed
purpose was to protect the rights of and further the interests of white
Americans by violence and intimidation, an organization which had a record of
using terrorism, violence and lynching to murder and oppress African-Americans,
Jews and other minorities. While Ku Klux Klan militants were wearing white
costumes and conical hats, our country’s Hungarian Guards march through towns
and villages wearing black military-style uniforms, professing to promote
public safety by curbing “gypsy crime” and defend the interests of “the
physically, psychically and mentally defenseless Hungarians” against Roma.
In the past year alone, there have been seven deadly attacks on Roma in
Hungary. The Ku Klux Klan used to burn crosses in public spaces to intimidate
their victims. Two weeks ago, in Hungary, gasoline was poured and put on fire
in the shape of a huge swastika in front of a Roma family’s house.
These intimidation tactics which have particularly traumatic psychological
effects on the Roma, who were systematically persecuted and murdered during the
Holocaust, accompanied by deadly attacks on private houses typically occurring
during the night have thrown Hungary’s Roma into a state of hopeless terror.
While it became clear to the authorities during the past months that the
murders of Roma in different parts of the country were connected to each other,
we still have no information whatsoever as to the backgrounds of the
Tatárszentgyörgy, Tiszalök, Pátka or Nagycsécs gun and Molotov cocktail attacks.
The failure of the authorities to effectively investigate these crimes and to
protect the safety of villages and neighborhoods where death threats are
constantly being issued against Roma are leading Roma communities to form their
own defense and patrol the streets to protect their homes and their lives.
Mutual fear of the other on each side of this conflict and the feeling on all
sides that the public authorities are unable to deal with a worsening social
crisis are leading to a situation in which trust in Hungary’s politicians and
even the country’s institutions is quickly disappearing.
But while according to the most recent polls, the Hungarian Guard and its
political wing, the Jobbik Party, their growing support in the population and
can rely on an extensive network of ideologically likeminded civil
organizations, the Roma hardly have the means to organize and represent their
interests on any institutional level. The increasing of social conflicts in
Hungary means that we find ourselves on a slippery slope towards severe damage
to Hungary’s democratic credentials.
And let me go over just shortly with my conclusions and recommendations. The
trust of Roma in our institutions depends on the ability of Hungarian
authorities to fully enforce requisite legislation that underpins the
democratic principles upheld in our constitution. And the proper functioning
of Hungarian democracy depends upon a robustly vibrant Romani community
representation with empowered Roma civil organizations that can hold
governmental and state agencies accountable for the apparent deficits in doing
their jobs properly.
To this end, Hungary must implement an effective law enforcement and political
response to acts of violence and hate speech directed against Roma. Public
officials engaging in hate speech must be dismissed. Private actors engaging
in hate speech must be condemned. Hungary and the European Union have to take
joint responsibility for ensuring the protection of the rights of Roma and
their social and economic integration. The European Union must recognize that
the problems faced by Roma communities are the legacy of hundreds of years of
government policies fostering discrimination and exclusion, some of which
continue to this day.
Hungary should end de facto segregation in schools of Romani children in
schools and end the segregation of Romani men and women in healthcare
facilities. Hungary must design, fund and implement effective programs to
ensure that school completion rates, employment levels and health indicators of
Roma people rise to the same level as the majority population.
And now I ask the United States that the United States should consistently
condemn acts of violence and hate speech directed against Roma. The United
States should offer law enforcement support, investigate and prosecute hate
crimes against Roma. And United States should consistently refer to Roma
issues in its bilateral discussions, particularly with regard to Hungary,
Italy, Romania and the Czech Republic. The United States should engage through
the USAID in the development of a stronger Roma civic society voice for an
effective Roma representation at both national and pan-European level. Thank
you very much for listening.
REP. HASTINGS: Thank you very much, Ms. Barsony. We’ve been joined by
representatives of the Romanian Embassy as well. And they certainly are
We go now to Mr. Daniel.
STANISLAV DANIEL: Honorable, Mr. Hastings, dear distinguished ambassadors,
representatives of embassies, ladies and gentlemen. As was mentioned before, I
work for the European Roma Rights Center. And we get more and more work every
day being informed on increased anti-Roma violence. I have a dream: One day
there will be someone knocking on my door and saying there is nothing else to
do; nothing more to do and I can go home and look for another job.
Unfortunately, before that happens, we have to walk a long way.
In the area of the entire Romani racism, as in many other fears, the Czech
Republic and Slovakia have a very similar history. The entire Romani attitudes
are historically deeply rooted. And I can say with confidence that positive
attitudes towards Roma are highly exceptional and at the individual level.
Both countries can be characterized by increasing acts of racism and extreme
violence against Roma, including the practice of course of sterilization, which
continues to do this day, as well as persistent segregation in schools and
housing and discrimination against Roma in all sets of life.
There are, however, some differences between these two countries, most
significantly in the political dimension of the entire Romani racism. On the
Slovak political scene, the spectrum can be more or less seen as a gray scale.
Rarely do politicians make openly racist statements about Roma, but on the
other hand, rarely do politicians defend Roma. Even politicians speaking about
Roma integration often try to find the root cause of Romani exclusion amongst
Roma themselves. They are described as a group exhibiting negative social
behavior needed to be taught positive social values and behavior.
But in April 2009, graphic video footage from Kosice in Eastern Slovakia was
released of police officers torturing six Romani boys by forcing them to beat
each other, strip naked and kiss each other. Mainstream Slovak politicians
responded publicly that such acts of the police cannot be tolerated. However
the strength of their denunciations was tempered by repeated references to the
alleged crime committed by the minors and statements that this type of
treatment cannot be tolerated because one day it might happen to normal people.
In all such public acts, Slovak politicians contribute to the continuance of
the negative image of Roma in society. Despite this, the extreme acts of
violence against Roma that occurred in Slovakia in the ’90s and early 2000 have
not yet occurred.
In the Czech Republic, one can see parties and politicians being openly
racists, as well as those defending Roma. And extreme acts of violence
targeting Roma have recently occurred. The National Party has utilized clearly
racist anti-Romani and incite-full (ph) messages in their European Parliament
campaign, the most horrifying in light of Europe’s not-so-distant history being
spot-aired on the Czech national television calling for a final solution to the
Roma problem, as well as many other advertisements on getting rid of the
parasites, using the symbolism of a white sheep kicking out the black sheep.
In January 2008, the party established a paramilitary national guard to protect
the interests of the country. A second party, the Workers Party, has
increasingly been utilizing the image of Roma as dependent on social welfare,
on the taxes of the working class, as a key component of its political
propaganda in the last year and a half. The Workers Party mostly campaigns in
towns with Romani ghettos focusing on the non-Romani working class and where
their meetings are often attended by members of the autonomous nationalists and
neo-Nazi group National Resistance.
Expressions of hate speech against Roma and Nazi-era symbols are very frequent.
Both parties appear to be strongly supported both by ordinary citizens as well
as by the neo-Nazi skinheads and are growing in strength at the local and
regional level. At a demonstration organized by the worker’s party in 2008
during which police had to stop a sizable group of the neo-Nazis. Neo-Nazis
attacked the Yaniv Romani neighborhood in the Czech town Litvinov – the
non-Romani inhabitants of Litvinov cheered the neo-Nazis on, shouting at the
police, let them go.
In an increasingly hate-filled atmosphere, violent racist attacks against Roma
involving Molotov cocktails have taken place in two different locations in the
Czech Republic and the Pasa (ph) Roma. In one case a two-year-old Romani girl
sustained third-degree burns, over 80 percent of her body.
There is currently a tendency to relate the recently increased levels of entire
Romani violence to the global economic downturn. Yet the ERRC would argue that
it is in the political sphere where the major responsibility lies, though the
economic crisis likely is an environment in which ordinary people are more
susceptible to the influence of racist politics. It is also clear that the
growing strength of racist political messages, which gain substantial exposure
at the national level create a climate conducive to more violent expressions of
At the same time, national governments appear unprepared or unwilling to
respond with enough force to quell this frightening trend. Most significantly,
investigations of violent racist crimes committed against Roma are ineffective
and rarely lead to prosecution of perpetrators. Indeed, the Czech media
reported last week that no suspects had yet been identified in either of the
Molotov cocktail attacks and that investigations was not – investigation was
not going well, as the owner of the car linked to the first crime were cleared
of any wrongdoing.
In contrast, the last week – three Romani men were found guilty of a racially
motivated assault on a non-Romani citizen man – non-Romani Czech man and
sentenced to four years imprisonment. The ERRC highly appreciates Mr.
Hastings’ condemnation of the destruction of a thousand-year-old Romani
settlement, Sulukule, in Turkey. We, however, need more such political
commitments. And especially we seek politicians to enforce and end the
discrimination of Roma, especially monitoring the current discrimination,
implementing positive action to cope with existing inequalities, looking for
solutions on both European level and national levels.
We also seek for law enforcement and political response to acts of violence
against Roma. I would like to use this opportunity to also speak about some
recommendations to what the United States should do. First, the United States
should consistently condemn acts of violence and hate speech directed against
Roma. We would also like to see the U.S. offer law enforcement support to
investigate and prosecute hate crimes against Roma. We would like to see Roma
being – Roma issues being put on the bilateral political agenda, particularly
with regards to Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic. And we would like to
see Roma issues put on the European agenda, not just through the OSCE but more
importantly through the EU. Thank you for your attention. I’m ready to answer
any questions. Thanks.
ISABELA MIHALACHE: “You Gypsies.”
REP. HASTINGS: Please.
MS. MIHALACHE: “You Gypsies, you get out,” followed by strong beatings and
kickings in the door of our apartment for half an hour until they realize there
was nobody home. Me and my family could hear the mom’s anger and feel its
hatred towards us from very close – a neighbor’s apartment who helped us escape
the fury of some hundreds of Romanians who are reacting to the general
anti-Roma sentiments throughout the country in the early ’90s.
I was 14 and I could not understand why people had so much hatred against us,
to the point that they wanted to see us killed, me and my whole family. I
stopped going to school that week for fear that something bad could happen to
me. When I started going back to school, I was looking at my colleagues and
asking myself if some of their parents were part of the attackers because the
police started no investigation on the matter.
Similar but more aggressive attacks in Kogolichano (ph) left some of my
relatives without a house. They had to flee in various cities in the country
for months before they returned and discovered their houses burned down and
were destroyed the European court of human rights found Romania guilty of
several violations in four cases concerning anti-Roma programs that took place
in Romania at the beginning of the ’90s, among them, failing to provide
adequate redress to the victims of widespread ethically motivated violence.
One week ago, on Sunday night, May 31st, in a locality in Harghita County,
Sanmartin, a few Roma allegedly beat up two Hungarian non-Roma in a dispute
over where the Roma were grazing their horses. One day later, one of the local
Romani family’s houses was set on fire. Approximately 100 Hungarian non-Roma
started a protest loudly stating that the gypsies steal from them. According
to the mayor, 60 to 70 Roma persons left the settlement due to what happened
last weekend. The national council for combating discrimination is
investigating the case as we speak and we do hope to have more information
about the situation in a couple – in the next days.
But the point is that Romania doesn’t seem to have learned from its recent
history and legislation alone does not prove – it proves it’s not a guarantee
of human rights protection. Violence, attacks and hate speech against Roma are
still often used as a common currency against Roma. The greater problem even
is not – is that when Roma rights-violations occur, non-persecution of
perpetrators is the norm. At the other end, when Roma commit crimes, the media
are prone to identifying alleged perpetrators as gypsies and the political
discourse, likewise, regards the crime from an ethnic angle.
Roma remain to date the most deprived ethnic group throughout Europe. We have
been living in a constant climate of human rights abuses and social exclusion.
Institutional forms of racism, segregation, forced evictions and coercive
sterilization and state impunity are atrocious human rights violations that are
still being tolerated by the international community against clear rights and
political commitments undertaken by governments.
According to the European Union Fundamental Rights Agency, data in a focus
report on Roma that was published in May this year on Bulgaria Czech Republic,
Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. On average, one in four Roma
respondents were victims of personal crime, including assaults, threats and
serious harassment at least once in the previous 12 months, while one in five
Roma respondents were victims of racially motivated personal crime, including
assaults, threats and serious harassment, at least once in the previous 12
The recent increase of extremist attacks and incidents of racially motivated
crime against Roma across Europe are alarming and serious, but making a
simplistic causal connection between economic crisis and the degradation of
Roma rights is dangerous and counterproductive. Evidence shows that despite
change in political regimes and fluctuations in wealth, Roma rights and Roma
economic situation have remained constant. Roma remain untouchable from
economic reforms and human rights protection legislation.
I would rather say that the danger for minorities in times of economic crisis
is from becoming scapegoats of government impotence and of a certain political
climate. A real threat to Roma is not the economic crisis but the general
climate of impunity which encourages and justifies by its nature further human
rights violation against Roma and a failure of governments to effectively
address the social exclusion of Roma to date.
The unpopularity of Roma in Europe, alongside with racial hatred and anti-Roma
sentiment was magnified and gained legitimacy also inside the European Union
and member states adopted discriminatory legislation and policies against Roma.
A referenced country in this respect remains one of the founding members of
the European Union – Italy – which has sharpened its policies in Roma exclusion
The Berlusconi government introduced a new concept in anti-Roma political
rhetoric: Roma equals security threat. Failing to integrate its Roma-Italian
citizens under previous governments, the Italy under Berlusconi adopted a new
rhetoric relating rising crime to uncontrolled immigration singling out
immigration of Roma origin originating from Romania and exacerbating fear and
hatred of Italians with longstanding prejudices and stereotypes with Roma while
raising tensions among Roma from Romania and Roma from former Yugoslavia.
On 21st May 2008, the Italian government adopted an emergency decree, the
so-called nomad emergency decree, proclaiming a state of emergency and enacting
a series of measures targeting Roma and – (inaudible) – individuals directly
and indirectly. These measures were accompanied by racist political
statements, which suggested that Roma, both Italian citizens and non-citizens,
were criminals or should be expelled from Italy and that all Roma camps were to
be closed down.
On September 14th, last year, deputy mayor of Treviso, Giancarlo Gentilini, a
member of the right-wing Northern League party, at the festival of the people
of Padania acclaimed before thousands of Italians, “I want a revolution against
the Italian immigrants. I want streets cleaned of all of these ethnicities
that are destroying our country. I want a revolution against the nomads,
against the gypsies. I have destroyed two camps of nomads. I want to eliminate
all of the children of gypsies that go and steal from the old people. I want
double zero tolerance. Maroni says zero. I want double zero.
On February the 15th this year, the Italian senate approved the draft law,
number 733 dealing with public security. The draft law was amended by the
chamber of deputies with Prime Ministers Berlusconi using a vote of confidence
in order to ensure that the amended version was passed. The security package
will return to the senate where it is expected to be approved in mid-Junes,
which is in a couple of days this year. This new security package, together
with other recently adopted legislation, contains provisions that are directly
targeting migrants and minorities affecting them disproportionately.
This package and other new laws make immigrants’ presence in Italy without
appropriate legal status a criminal offense and encourages healthcare providers
to report illegal immigrants seeking health care to immigration authorities.
But I would say that it’s obvious that Roma are being made scapegoats of
government importance, a lack of redressing the socioeconomic status of Rome
throughout Europe. The threat is becoming even greater with the recent EU
election results where the far right made gains in 10 European Union member
states. It is too early to predict its effects at this point, but it seems
that extreme-right politicians have just bought themselves new passports to a
new wave of democracies where a new form of Nazism and fascism are being made
respectable by the European citizens.
I would say it is imperative four countries to respond promptly to cases of
violence, crime and hate speech against Roma. Both Italy and Romania must
implement an effective law enforcement and political response to acts of
violence and hate speech directed to Roma. It is imperative for these
countries to put an end to discrimination. Italy must end deliberate policy of
segregating Roma into ghettos and other countries where ghettos exist must
implement adequate housing programs that put an end to spatial segregation. It
is imperative for countries with significant Roma population to adopt and
implement positive measures. Both Italy and Romania have to design, fund,
implement effective programs to ensure quality education, employment and
quality health care for Roma.
It is imperative that the European Union acknowledges its responsibility to
integrate Roma for the adoption of a common European policy for Roma. And
there is a great need for joint international efforts to better integrate the
50 million Roma throughout Europe. What the United States should do? The
United States – it is committed to protecting and promoting the human rights of
Roma through bilateral relations and through involvement in organizations such
as the United Nations and the organization for security and corporation in
Europe. And we think that immediate actions need to be taken by the OAC and
the United Nations to curb the new wave of extremism and Roma racism by
supporting the establishment of an intergovernmental taskforce on Roma racism.
The United States Congress has an important role to play in advancing human
rights and promoting good governance and democracy. It should consistently
condemn acts of violence and hate speech against Roma and should support law
enforcement to investigate and prosecute hate crime against Roma. The United
States should hold the government of Italy accountable to their obligations and
the Universal Human Rights norms and international human rights instruments for
failing to protect the human rights of their Italian Roma citizens and of other
Roma immigrants and Roma EU citizens.
The United States should coordinate human rights activities with important
allies, including the European Union and regional organizations; should address
Roma issues in their bilateral meetings with government leaders and foreign
ministers; should actively support through USAID the establishment of human
rights NGOs in Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.
The United States should be involved in broad awareness-raising campaigns aimed
at changing attitudes at stereotypes against Roma to promoting Roma role models
and successful integration projects on Roma.
I think that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has an important record in Roma
diplomacy. Attitudes towards Roma in Europe might be improved if State
Secretary Hillary Clinton would be involved in a diversity campaign supporting
solidarity and a better cohabitation with minorities such as Roma throughout
Finally, I think it would make a great difference if the United States makes a
reference to the plight of the biggest ethnic minority in the European Union,
the Roma, at tomorrow’s EU-United States summit in Slovania by pointing to the
need towards greater human rights protection and integrate minorities within
our societies. Thank you very much.
REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA (R-CA): Thank you. And our next witness will be
the gentleman from Poland, Mr. Mirga.
ANDRZEJ MIRGA: Thank you, Mr. Chair, distinguished members of the U.S.
Congress, ambassadors, guests here.
My first testimony here on the Roma and Sinti issue was in ’94 when I was an
associate of the project on ethnic relations based in Princeton, New Jersey.
Then, shortly after the fall of the communism, Roma and Sinti faced troubling
times in Europe. The transition toward democracy in market economy that was
welcome by most and beneficial to many was accompanied by the rise in both
ethnic consciousness and nationalist tendencies.
In some post-communist countries Roma and Sinti have been victims of both, of
the often difficult transition to market economy and as a first – and is the
first to lose their livelihood – and of nationalist agendas that have been
often singling them out as a scapegoat. In the early ’90s, Roma and Sinti were
the target of a number of attacks – the most violence in the Romanian village
of Hadareni that left three Roma men dead and led to the destruction of the
homes and property of many others.
Such outburst of violence against Roma, coupled with their dire socioeconomic
conditions have created a strong impetus to immigrate westward. But many Roma
and Sinti who have sought asylum in the West have met with similar threats
there and violence against them has led – brought more deaths.
Today, 15 years after my first appearance here, my testimony made very similar,
but the point I want to make is that the situation has changed. As the senior
advisor on Roma and Sinti issues, I see the situation today differently from
that in the early ’90s and in many respects more than just what we were dealing
with then. In the early ’90s, there was a wave of mainly impromptu committed
violence against the Roma and Sinti in Europe. The nature of the transition
period contributed to this as democratic institutions and the rule of law had
yet to take root in the countries that had only just rid themselves of
What we are witnessing today is the deliberate and organized use of the hate
speech and violence targeting Roma and Sinti in a number of countries. It is
easy to identify those kinds of phenomenon as anti-Roma hate speech is promoted
openly by a number of political groupings. There are those who think that
violent acts targeting Roma and Sinti can also be traced to some of those
parties and groups. Also concrete evidence has been difficult to obtain in
cases of a murder. The police and courts, which are usually slow or resistant
to recognize the Russia bias of these attacks often compound the problem.
Official data from the monitoring of hate crimes committed against the Roma and
Sinti by participating states in the OSCE region remains limited. This is not
of course meant in any way to disregard serious manifestation of discrimination
and violence against the Roma committed by actors like public officials and
law-enforcement offices, but this is not the focus of our discussion today.
In their submission to ODIHR, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland identified
crimes committed against Roma as notable examples of hate crimes in their
countries. The response from the Czech Republic even identified Roma as a
group most vulnerable to hate crimes, but only nine participating states
reported collecting data on hate crimes against Roma. Croatia, Czech Republic,
Latvia, Republic of Moldova, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland.
What characterizes this – the groupings behind this crime? They deliberately
use hate speech and eventually violence as a tool to attempt to gain a place in
mainstream politics. Why this approach has so far met with only limited
success, anti-Roma elements were part of the platforms that helped a number of
political parties gain seats in the weekends’ elections to the parliament,
European Parliament. These groupings revived demons from the past, like
fascist symbols and language. They play on people’s insecurities in hard times
and manipulate their feelings by challenging their grievances against easily
recognizable targets like Jews or Gypsies.
They are more visible today than in the past, as they have learned that
anti-Roma rhetoric can pay off politically and attract votes. These groups and
parties are dangerous because their strategy is to mobilize the segment of
society that may not be willing to openly voice these ideas but agree with them
all the same. The result of elections to the European Parliament demonstrate
that parties can use anti-Roma rhetoric but also anti-immigrant,
anti-minorities rhetoric to gain greater representation, a fact that could play
an important role in future national elections and potentially pose a danger to
social cohesion and stability.
There is no direct evidence of correlation between the current economic crisis
and incidents of hate crimes. Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical body,
recently released data on the economic – economy of the 27 member states that
will illustrate this point. GDP gross of the EU fell by 4.5 percent year in
year in the first quarter and countries like Baltic states have seen an even
more dramatic fall. But despite the real economic difficulties faced by many
countries, only in a few we have seen a rise in violence against the Roma.
There must, therefore, the other factors behind what we are witnessing.
A key factor is the deteriorating social and economic situation of Roma and
Sinti. This fits anti-Roma prejudice and stereotypes that can – that are
easily exploited by groups and participatory dimension. Second, political
discourse has been deteriorating as more populist, racist and extremist views
are allowed to circulate without raising outright or condemnation by public
Finally there is often a spark that ignites the fire. The rise in hate speech
and violence against Roma and Sinti in Italy and Hungary can be traced back to
concrete incidents sometimes promoted by Roma themselves. But the situation on
the ground was already highly combustive. If the deterioration – deteriorating
social and economic situation of Roma and Sinti is one of the factors behind
the rise of hostility, hate speech and violence, of which they are targeted,
how has it happened? What has been done or not done to improve the situation
of Roma and Sinti since I sat here 15 years ago.
ODIHR’s recent status report released in September 2008 on the implementation
of the action plan on improving the situation of Roma and Sinti within the OSCE
area provide a stark answer to this question. The general conclusion from our
assessment is that there has been little tangible progress in most areas of
concern. There is no sign of positive breakthrough in any of the areas and
it’s a movement – in some areas, it has been actually backward.
Significant gaps remains between Roma communities and mainstream society in
areas such as housing, education, employment, access to public services, or
justice. There is a lack of proactive approaches by government in that – in
the national, regional, or local levels, as well as a lack of measures to
ensure the sustainability of policies by providing adequate financial,
institutional, or human resources.
Although there are some positive recommendations and good practices being
piloted at the local level, this has not been translated into countrywide
practices. The status report outlines disturbing trends with regards to racism
and intolerance against Roma and Sinti, including against Roma and Sinti
migrants. They face a growing dependency on social welfare, police violence,
forced evictions and ghettoization.
Roma and Sinti issues continue to figure only marginally on government’s
political agenda and then often only when tensions threaten to escalate into
violence. The clear conclusion is that neglect is no longer an option. States
have to demonstrate real political will and take vigorous action to close the
gap between the majority and minority. Otherwise, the conditions, which remain
for continuing or even escalating tensions and violence against the Roma will
At the end, I would like to say what ODIHR contact point is currently doing
this regard. Combating racism and discrimination is essential to what we –
what the contact point does and this is an element of many of the provisions of
the OSCE action plan. The contact point has paid constant attention to the
issues – racist violence, hate crimes against the Roma, tensions and crisis
To access such incidents and the human rights situation of Roma firsthand, the
contact point has made a fact-finding visit to Romania in 2007 to look into
issues of cases or incidents where police use arms against Roma and cause some
deaths to Roma victims. In Italy 2008, to look into the special emergency
decrease in the situation of Roma violence there, it is currently preparing a
field assessment to Hungary at the end of June following a number of attacks
against Roma and killed there.
We are also concerned and we are looking into the situation of Czech Republic,
Slovakia and other countries of the region where we are facing or we are
witnessing the rise in the extreme groups – anti-Roma rhetoric and violence.
Thank you for your attention.
REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH R. PITTS (R-PA): Thank you for your testimony. Ms.
Mihalache, at the end of your testimony, you enumerated several policies that
you would recommend for the U.S. government. I don’t see that in your written
testimony. Could you highlight the two or three most important policies to
MS. MIHALACHE: Well, the most important ones I would refer to is the fact that
the United States has actually to hold countries accountable to their
obligations under universal human rights norms and international human rights
instruments and that there is a need for the United States to address Roma
issues in bilateral meetings. I think this is very – would be – it’s very
important. And it’s also important to involve in awareness-raising campaigns
because – because of the increasing attacks of Roma lately throughout Europe.
I think there is a need for changing attitudes through promoting successful
integration projects and Roma role models. And this could be easily done
through engaging in exchanges of best practices with other governments that
have managed to have some successful projects.
Now, I’ll give here the example of Spain. If you look at – Spain has the
single integration initiative in Roma employment and it has been successful so
far. And what they are trying to do now – through structural funding, what
they are trying to do now is also add to that component and look at education,
how to retain kids, Roma kids in education and to promote their higher
education. So this is where I would see the involvement and support of the
United States and the diplomatic level in trying to exchange best practices and
to refer to the Roma issues at different meetings is the one that I mention
tomorrow, the very important one.
REP. PITTS: Given the recent violence impacting Roma communities, do you know
if there have been any attempts made by law-enforcement officials to ease the
tension between the majority and the Roma communities?
MS. MIHALACHE: Maybe my colleague, Katalin Barsony, would like to address that
in relation to Hungary because this is the country where we had most recent and
a lot of attacks against Roma to refer to the –
MS. BARSONY: Let me highlight one case especially. I’m sorry to say that
there is a growing tension between majority and minority population, for
example, in the case of Hungary. And this is basically the result of – that we
still don’t know any clear testimony, we don’t know basically what happened in
these cases, why these seven people have been killed. We don’t know any kind
of clear information about the – who committed these crimes.
And just a case – a case which happened in Pécs, 2008, February, that on the
9th of 18th November, 2008, a hand grenade was thrown into a Roma housing,
which – killing the parents on the spot. The two children, a three- and a
five-year-old were taken into hospital in a state of shock and with major
injuries. In this case, the Hungarian government saying in one case, Pécs, the
policy have already produced results. This is the only case. The supposed
offenders have been arrested recently. In the case – the racist motive can be
excluded as the victims and the suspects belong to the same community.
I would like to highlight that there is still not finished judicial procedure
that we are able to highlight that the suspects belong to the same community
and this is racial profiling which is quite common from the side of the
Hungarian authorities and the Hungarian police and public officials. So I
would keep this opportunity to say that I think as it was said in the Hungarian
media many times in Hungary, that there is a kind of organized small group of
militant people beside these attacks and that’s the only thing that we know
until now and we do not have any more information in the other attacks, like
Nagycsécs, Tiszalök. We do not have any more information on the cases.
MS. MIHALACHE: Mr. Chairman, if you allow me, I would like to add that in the
case of Italy, with a program that have happened last year and the year before,
the ones in Naples and throughout other cities as well, that has been no
perpetrator that has been found to this date. So the law enforcement,
basically, failed to come up with – with responses in those cases. And there
have been 40 to 60 programs in Italy so far against Roma, but we don’t have any
single perpetrator that has been found guilty.
REP. PITTS: Are there any specific government policies that you feel have
encouraged racism against ethnic minorities?
MS. MIHALACHE: In Italy, yes, indeed. The decrease on security that the
government has adopted in 2007 targeting directly Roma and immigrants, I think
that kind of fueled the anti-Roma sentiments and basically justified and
legitimized programs and racist attacks against Roma. Not to mention that a
lot of the politicians made a lot of statements against Roma and that elections
have also been gained based on the populace and anti-Roma statements. So then
the result is very clear, in my view, that the way government decided to deal
with the Roma issue and with immigrants led to attacks and programs against
Roma throughout Italy.
REP. PITTS: Now, I think all of you are from post-communist countries. Have
older so-called consolidated democracies provided any useful examples for
respecting the human rights of Roma?
MS. MIHALACHE: Unfortunately this is something that we still look forward to.
And we have, like, a reality check with old Western countries who are members
of the European Union to actually see that same problems of discrimination and
exclusion take place also in countries such as Germany, in countries such as
France, where the integration of Roma – it’s still a hope and an objective and
also cases of violence happen and take place a lot in Germany.
So unfortunately there is now a best country that we could look at and then
there is the Netherlands where the number of Roma population is up to 6,000 and
that might be maybe, although it’s a small number, you can see that the Dutch
government is very much willing to be part of a process of Roma integration in
what now exists in Europe. The Roma integrated platform, a process whereby the
European Union is trying to put together governments to come up with
coordination mechanisms in terms of policies for Roma and to assist through
exchange of best practices.
But as I mentioned before, the only country that I could look at in terms of
the ways they have been trying to integrate Roma is actually Spain. They still
have problems of discrimination and exclusion, especially when it comes to
access to health care, but they are trying to deal with that. And they are
very much coming forward to say their best practices and also their less-good
practices when it comes to Roma integration. And this is something that I
think is very much useful when we discuss integration of Roma, also what
governments did wrong, so we don’t repeat the same mistakes all over again, but
there is so less best practice of how to integrate.
But I still think there are examples of Western countries in Europe where we
can look at – it doesn’t – it does not relate to Roma, but it does relate to
integration of minorities, where, for instance, integration of – or gender
equality. If I look for instance to Sweden, I think Sweden has done a lot when
it comes to – to gender equality, not to mention their institution of ombudsmen
on discrimination and I think it’s something that we could import from Sweden,
the institution of the ombudsmen on discrimination and to actually look at how
they manage to diminish the number of cases of discrimination against different
minorities in Sweden.
In Sweden also Roma are actually part of the constitution of one – as one of
the national minorities, alongside with Sami and they are again I think could
look at – we could look at as a positive example of how they try to integrate
minorities in general.
REP. PITTS: Mr. Mirga, 15 years ago you participated in the very first hearing
before Congress with Romani witnesses. Do you have any general observations on
development since then? Have things improved for Roma? If so, how, or have
things gotten worse?
MR. MIRGA: Thank you. Well, first of all, over these 15 years, there has been
introduced a lot of policies of programs by the governments in the center of
Europe, but also in the Western part of Europe. And we have evidence of over
20 – several governmental programs which were introduced in these countries.
Hungary was one of the first countries to introduce such a program in ’96. If
you look to the record of Hungary itself, you can say that there was a lot of –
kind of progressive efforts by the government since ’93 when minority law was
adopted, which gave Roma self-government at the local and at the national level.
But over the time, you can realize that many of these programs were kind of a
window dressing. Governments learn to talk proper language. They were
reflecting on the challenge and situations, but behind this rhetoric, there was
no real action. And you may say, to have a public policy, you need to have a
funding – put it behind – because otherwise public policy without real funding
is nothing. In many cases, governments remain at the level of issuing paper
documents, but they were not committing themselves in a similar way with
funding. In some countries, you have donor-driven policies. It’s others who
are paying for that, including foundations from America, USA and so on. This
is not a real commitment of the government itself.
So what I see also is that there has been steps to institutionalize Roma
policy. And you have – at many countries, you have offices to deal with Roma
policy; you have officers. There are some state secretaries who are Roma.
There are ministers already who are Roma, yes. So this, you can say, is a kind
of a positive development. But still the challenge is that much more is
needed, not just a window-dressing policy.
And also what I believe now is that there is a need to maybe prioritize –
(inaudible) – with a strategy for changing of the situation of Roma. We are
doing for over 20 years public policies which we say has to be comprehensive
over everything. But we are still where are: less than 1 percent of Roma have
higher education. How can we change the reality of Roma if we will not improve
at that level and will not close the gap between majority and Roma. If we will
not do that, I strongly believe we will not progress because we will continue
with this kind of a situation for the next 50 years or more because the
challenge is that if you are not educated, you are an easy target also for
So I think that this is a priority. This is the area where we should be
focusing more prepare kids at a very early stage to enter on the equal basis
with others into education because if you will not ensure that, kids are
falling out from the system and we are perpetuating all of the consequences of
that, including easy target for racist and xenophobic – well, now, what we see
in groups in the society. So that’s what I think awaits now many governments,
that they have to maybe refocus their policies should – not only maybe; they
have to, to go beyond the rhetoric and do real public policy because this is a
problem which will not disappear. Not all the Roma will leave; they will stay.
There are only a few countries who accept Roma – like Canada accepted certain
asylum seekers from Hungry and from Czech Republic. Both countries are EU
member countries. And Canada is accepting citizens of the EU who are begging
for asylum. That’s kind of – it’s a kind of paradoxical situation. So I think
we may wish America can support this kind of a reasoning and requesting really
doing policy which is a real policy, not just a window-dressing policy. Thank
REP. PITTS: Thank you. Thank you for your responses, your insights, your
testimony. Thank you.
ERIKA B. SCHLAGER: And at this point, if I may take the privilege of the
chair, I’m going to go ahead and ask one question. But I will also invite –
since this is a briefing, this is a standard format for the commission – if
those of you who have come to this briefing would like to ask questions of your
own, we have a microphone over here. You may come up, identify yourself.
Please ask a short question. If there – I know that we do have various
individuals here who might like to make a comment and I think if you choose to
do that, I will follow the rules that are followed at OSCE meetings, which is
you have one minute for a right of reply and I’ll enforce that strictly. But
if you – after I ask my question, if others would like to ask a question, as I
say there’s a podium with a microphone here where you may wish to do so after
My question is for Mr. Daniel and for Ms. Barsony and it has to do with
election cycles. As we hold this briefing, its’ right after the European Union
parliament elections, which has returned to office quite a number of extremist
politicians who are in some cases anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant,
espousing quite intolerant views. And it makes me think ahead to the national
elections that are coming up in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary. I’d
like to hear your views on the – the relationship between election cycles and
the election process and maybe increases or decreases in extremism. Thank you.
MS. BARSONY: So recently in the European Parliament reelections, the
right-wing Jobbik Party won 15 percent of the votes, no matter that there has
been around 43 – if I’m not correct – around 43 percent of the people went to
vote for the elections. So there was a greater majority who decided not to go
even to vote.
I do believe that the growing number of power from the right parties like
Fidesz, which is a central-right party and the extreme right, Jobbik, it shows
that the whole Hungarian political scene went into a right direction. And we
can have the effect that – as a sociologist, I can estimate that for the next
elections there’s going to be some kind of consideration, meaning that there
are going to be more people who are going to vote against this block of right
political power. But we cannot estimate because we still don’t know that those
people who didn’t go to vote, what is their opinion and what was their reason.
How do they vote if they would have a chance to go and vote. So that’s my
MR. DANIEL: It’s hard to answer that question without serious research on what
the election mechanisms were, but – and Slovakia – Slovakia has 13 chairs in
the European Parliament. The most right-winged party is a parliamentarian
party – Slovak National Party, which, actually, I would – in the current –
nowadays, Slovakia, we could put the Slovak National Party into the gray scale.
They stopped using anti-Romani, or in their case, anti-gypsy statements. To
get their points, they turned to anti-Hungarian statements. But they won two
of the 13 seats in the European Parliament.
In the Czech Republic, where the tensions are much higher and racism is much
more used in politics, none of the far-right extreme parties got into the
European Parliament. They got something around up to 1 percent of the
electoral – of the vote. However, I would like to make a link to what Katalin
was mentioning and that’s that there is very low participation in elections,
especially in elections to the European Parliament and we do not know what –
about 70 percent of the population who has a right to vote but doesn’t go to
vote, we do not know what their opinions are.
However, where the part – where the participation in elections is much higher,
the regional and local level, that’s where, for example, the Czech Workers
Party is very strong. That’s where they got several mayors and regional
MS. SCHLAGER: Thank you. If there are questions, let me invite you to come up
to the podium here.
Q: Can you hear me? My name is Michelle Kelso (ph). I am a sociologist and
also a fellow here at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I’m an
American and I would like to have a comment on the record for our delegates who
have since left. Twice I have been the recipient of a Fulbright grant. Twice
I have been the recipient of a National Security Education Program fellowship
and the subject of my research has been on Roma. Also, I have received monies
through the U.S. government, the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest for civil society
initiatives in Romania. I would like to see as an American citizen our
government increase funding for Roma-related initiatives in Eastern Europe.
And I think this can be done through already existing programming.
I want to commend our witnesses today for mentioning USAID. In 2007 was pulled
out of Romania because Romania was now an EU member country. In the year
preceding its leaving Romania, it spends almost $300,000 on programming
directly affecting Romani – Romani students and education program. So I think
we can go back to what we already have had in the past and try to re-implement
some of these programs, as well as continuing funding for Roma initiatives.
MS. SCHLAGER: Thank you. Do we have other questions from the public right
now? If not, I will proceed with a couple more questions of my own.
One question for the panelists in general: It is often observed that Roma are
a trans-European minority. And in some cases it’s then further added that the
concerns relating to Roma must be addressed at the trans-European and
pan-European level. So the first part of my question: I’m not aware of any
other minority groups in Europe or in the United States or elsewhere where this
kind of approach is taken, that the concerns of that group – because members of
that group may exist in more than one country, they can only be addressed in a
And I’d like to hear your thoughts on if there are other minority groups that
are addressed in this way and in general, your views on this idea of Roma as a
trans-European group. Thank you.
MR. DANIEL: To answer – like, I see two questions there, to answer the
question whether I know about any other minority that can be considered as
transnational, I personally do not know. Roma are taken very specifically –
intergovernmental bodies approach Roma-related issues as very specific – not
putting Roma into groups of ethnic minorities. But these bodies understand
that Roma have a very specific situation.
To answer the other question, whether – whether we should seek solution on the
international level or on the domestic level, I would say we need to approach
from both fronts. We need – we need common EU strategy on approaching the
exclusion of Roma or enforcing inclusion of Roma. However, on the other hand,
there are many issues that have to be targeted on the domestic level, on the
regional level and sometimes even on the local level. The government have to –
cannot give up the responsibility for what’s going on, on the local level.
And many municipalities, you can see two schools, two primary schools. One of
them is attended only by non-Roma; the other is attended only by Roma. This is
something that has to be changed on that municipality. We don’t need to
discuss this in Brussels; we need to discuss this in the municipality. The
mayor has to know that this is something unacceptable, that segregation is a
violation of human rights and cannot continue. So I would suggest trying to
look for the solutions where the problems are.
MS. MIHALACHE: Also, I would like – I will say the same thing that there is no
other minority that would be addressed in a similar way and as Daniel said,
there is a specific situation, but I would want to say that the specific
situation is that Roma do not have a natural homeland and they are minorities
in the countries that they live. And it has – because of the national state,
what Roma activists and human rights activists try to do throughout the –
beginning with the ’90s was to push for an approach that was stronger, that
would lead to some sort of state reaction towards the situation of Roma.
And only in 2005, we actually managed to convince members of the parliament
within the European Parliament that Roma should be defined as a transnational
or pan-European minority within one of the European Parliament resolution
addressing the situation of Roma. And I think that has – that’s been a
language that they continue to use and the European Union is continuing to
using because it’s only in this framework that they can actually find
solutions, common solutions and learn from experiences of different countries.
And I would say that that approach has led in – and in 2007 and 2008, the
European Council to actually have three recommendations on the situation of
Roma towards the European Commission and to actually – actually recommend to
the European Commission that they should come up with some sort of coordination
mechanism that would ensure an impact of the existing EU policies on the
situation with Roma because of the limited competence the European Union had
after the enlargement on member states to actually punish human rights abuses.
And there was a formula, I think, also that the European Council found to say
that there needs to be a comprehensive pan-European approach in regards to the
Roma because their problems are exhibited in all of these countries, because
their plight was similar in all of these countries. And solutions could also
be common, but of course then looking at specificities for each country. So it
was actually a mechanism to enforce efforts to address the situation of Roma
and – (inaudible, off mike).
MR. MIRGA: Yeah, I will make a brief comment about this. While representing
our intergovernmental organization I have a little bit different perspective on
the issue. What we are doing in the OSCE, yes, we are trying to promote,
assist, persuade governments to do their job. That is our task. And why we
are doing? Well, because Roma offers – (inaudible) – to their citizens. Even
if you have a case that they are stateless, they have no IDs. They are
citizens. And the government should not be somehow released from solving
problems of their citizens. So action plan is targeting member – a
participating states. Every – and each – because they have to implement the
policies and to improve the fate of Roma in their countries.
AS regards the EU, I think that there is no differences – there is no
difference also in this kind of an approach. The EU is using or proposing its
instrument to be used by member states for the sake of the situation in their
countries, yes. Playing – elaborating something on the transnationality of
Roma sometimes I think is not so helpful because it gives a kind of a – a
refuge to the country to say, well, it’s not our business; it’s a – Brussels or
some other institution will solve the problem. But this is not the way to do.
There can be common problems in many countries Roma face, but still the
responsibility is particularly assigned to the giving country of their own
citizens. So that’s sort of what we are trying, let’s say, to persuade
governments involved. Thank you.
MS. SCHLAGER: Would you like to ask a question.
Q: (Off mike.)
MS. SCHLAGER: Identify yourself please and then – thank you.
Q: I’m Jean Garland. I was formerly the legal director for the European Roma
Rights Center. I am now a human rights advisor for USAID. And I was two weeks
ago in Strasburg conducting a training workshop with the Council of Europe for
lawyers working on Roma and Sinti issues. So I have a couple of updates.
I think the European Court of Human Rights, although it’s a very slow and
cumbersome process, it’s – the Roma cases have actually done very, very well
before the European Court. And there was a recent decision that the ERRC
handled in a case called Še?i? v. Croatia, where the violence was not done by a
state actor; it was skinheads had attacked Roma. And the Croatian police just
couldn’t seem to find out who the perpetrators were. And in considering the
case, the European court said that ethnically induced violence or violence that
may have an ethnic hate-crime link to it must be treated differently than
regular violence, thereby imposing an enhanced duty on law enforcement in hate
crime cases to track down the perpetrators. So that was a good development.
There was a Slovak case. People who are probably familiar with allegations of
sterilizations of Romani women in the Czech and Slovak Republics – also hungry
– the actual case has not made it to the court yet, but there was a decision by
the court in the case involving documents. In Slovak Republic, for whatever
reason, the health authorities had refused to allow Romani women access to
their medical records, which they needed in order to determine whether or not
they had been sterilized while going in for cesarean sections giving child
And they couldn’t prove their cases without the documents, but the Slovak
health authorities said, no, no, you can look at them; you can’t make copies of
them and you can’t come in with your lawyer to look at them and nobody but the
actual patient can see the records, even though many of them were illiterate
and could have made no sense of the records. So the European Court came down
quite hard on the Slovak authorities and said that the refusal to allow them
meaningful access to their medical records was a violation of their right to
respect for private and family life. Those are the two that jumped out in my
mind on updates.
There was just a very interesting case just argued to the court – and we won’t
have the decision for a while – involving a Romani couple in Spain who had been
married under Roma traditions, meaning not before the civil authorities, but in
a Roma style. And six children and some 21 years of marriage later, the
husband died and the wife was denied by the Spanish authorities the right to a
widow’s pension because they weren’t officially married in the eyes of the
So this will test the court’s earlier statements that there must be recognition
given to the unique Romani lifestyle. Discrimination – people in similar
situations must be treated similarly. The court also says in different
situations, you must treat them differently. So this is a unique Roma
lifestyle situation that must be recognized and proved. So we’ll see what the
court says but I’m pretty optimistic about it. Just a few updates.
MS. SCHLAGER: Thank you for sharing those updates with us. And I think the
decisions of the court that relate to the obligations of states in instances of
violence, whether it’s state-perpetrated violence or violence perpetrated by
non-state actors I think are particularly relevant to the discussions we’re
having here today. Governments may find somewhere down the road that if they
have failed to investigate properly the cases that we’re talking about today,
they may find that somewhere down the road they have obligations that ensue
under the European convention on human rights and indeed there may be damages
that they may be obligated to pay.
Are there any other questions from the public at this point? In that case, I
would ask my panelists if they have anything, any closing remarks they want to
add or anything they feel they need to touch on.
MS. MIHALACHE: I would just like to refer to the lack of Roma representation
in all of the countries we have mentioned here and to say that that’s one of
the reasons why we are still in the same point, whereby we are still faced with
the low access in education, with lack of employment and other similar issues.
And I think that there is a great need for representation in public
administration, be it at the local or a national level. And we also need to
have representation in political life.
Now, here people have referred to elections – result elections in the European
Parliament and how would that affect the situation on the ground. And I would
say, I don’t know how exactly but what I would want to propose is that maybe
one way to – because I – unfortunately, we don’t have Roma now that have been
elected in – as members of the European Parliament, we have had in the past
mandate two Romani women from Hungary represented in the European Parliament.
And probably we still have one of them that has been reelected, Livia Jaroka.
And because of that – that there is a huge discrepancy in political
representation of Roma and everybody else, I think that something to think of
would be to have reserved seats for Roma in the European Parliament. Because
you have right of – a lot of right-wing that are now in the European Parliament
and you have that also at the national level, it’s going to be difficult for
Roma to actually get elected on mainstream part at least. And then maybe one
way to ensure that that’s going to happen is to have reserved seats for Roma in
the European Parliament. Once that we had established that Roma are at the
European level, a pan-European minority – so maybe the European Union
institutions have to think of – have to try to integrate that also into the
political life of the European Union.
And I would just say that there is a need for active citizenship of Roma. In
many of the countries, we have been spoken – speaking about here, Roma do not
have yet identity papers. And that’s a situation that we still face but it’s
improving. And in Romania, we still face a lot in Serbia – a country that
hasn’t been mentioned here – we still face that problem in Bulgaria and we face
that a lot in Italy, although you have the Italian Roma that are living there
for 500 years and then you have the immigrants that are there for 40 years,
they still might not have identity papers and their kids don’t have identity
papers, which means it is impossible for them to go to school, to get educated
and get a normal life.
So unless we support active citizenship, you cannot then have, therefore,
responsible Roma citizens that can take their rightful place within the
society. So that’s basically something we need to do together. And I just
hope that by coming here, we manage to bring on your attention the fact that it
is a joint responsibility, as Andrzej was saying here – definitely of the
European Union and of the national states, but it’s also a common
responsibility of the Roma and all of the other actors that have something to
say on the matter. And I just hope that we’re going to see some progress in
And next time, a Roma person is going to sit here, is going to say, well, we
have some good news for you. So thank you very much.
MR. MIRGA: Yes. Thank you. I would like – just like to ask – put the – put
the request, yes, to the U.S. – to pay greater attention to these kind of
developments which are going now in some countries. And they are definitely
linked to the present crisis. But as I said, there are many other factors
which play a role, which altogether bring up the extremists who garnish votes
because of targeting some minorities.
It may fluctuate; it may disappear, maybe with improvements in economy,
recovery and so on. And we have also some examples like Poland when this kind
of forces were discredited by themselves. And finally they didn’t get any more
support during these elections and hopefully there will be nothing such of a
support – public support later in national elections, which will come sometimes
in the future.
But here is something which also relates to the political climate and political
culture, how political culture is devastated sometimes by fierce political
fights, like in Hungary between left and right, yes. And when something like
strict politics is encouraged, yes. So it means kind of the threshold is
lowered and some extremist views are getting public attention but also they are
– there are followers who would like to follow in this way.
So something which is about let’s say code of conduct, which you cannot
codified, but you may sensitize politicians about that, that something is
improper. If you allowed these kind of developments to go on, which can
eventually because we cannot predict exactly whether, for example, the
Hungarian Jobbik Party will repeat its success at the national level. It may
if there will be still kind of a high attention to the Roma, what they say,
criminality, what they fight for – if they – their marshes for the cities and
places will be organized still. They may really get a strong power in Hungary.
So these are kind of worrying trends within the society which of course they
are not characteristic only of Eastern European countries. You have winning
far-right parties in Austria on ticket of anti-immigrant rhetoric, yes, but
also in other countries. So this kind of a closer look may be something
high-level conference, something which will bring politicians – policy-makers
and look into the issue and design something like that remedy to this because
that’s – I see danger and such weak political groups like Roma can be a very
easy target for this. Thanks.
MS. SCHLAGER: Thank you very much. As we close this briefing today, I want to
reiterate the Helsinki Commission’s strong, deep appreciation to all four of
our witnesses who have come a very long way from various European capitals to
be with us and to share their considerable expertise and insights. Thank you,
Ms. Barsony. Thank you, Mr. Daniel. Thank you, Mihalache. And thank you, Mr.
There are two children who are first and foremost in my mind as we’re here.
Robert Csorba and Natalka Sivakova. I hope that for the sake of these children
and for other Romani children, that more will be done to combat the kind of
violence to which they were subjected and to which no child should be
subjected. But there are other reasons I hope governments will pay attention
to these issues – maybe some degree of self-interest that will come into play.
As it now stands, some governments are finding that their own citizens are
seeking asylum in other countries. Some countries may be looking at the
prospect of interethnic conflict. And finally, the failure to adequately
integrate Roma and address their acute marginalization means that an enormously
important and valuable human capital is being wasted. So I really hope that as
we leave this briefing, maybe it will give some impetus to efforts to address
not only the violence which has been so acute in recent months but the
long-term marginalization that we have seen fester over recent years.
With those thoughts, I will bring this briefing to a close and thank – give my
thanks to everyone who came here today. Thank you very much.