Romani Political Mobilization in Central and Eastern Europe

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  • 1 Peter Vermeersch is a research assistant for the Fund for Scientific Research (FWO - Flanders) at the Institute for International and European Policy at the Department of Political Science at the University of Leuven, Belgium. He is currently completing a PhD on the political mobilization of the Roma in Central Europe.

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  • 1 See Will Guy, "Introduction", in Will Guy (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (Hertfordshire, 2001), iii-xvii. Seen as an umbrella term for all those communities that are categorized as Roma by both activists and politicians, the total number of Roma in Europe is estimated to be somewhere between 6 and 8 million. Official figures per country, mostly based on self-identification in censuses, are much lower and amount to a total of approximately 2.5 million. An overview of both estimates and official census figures can be found at factsheets/numbers.shtml.

  • 2 Thomas Acton and Nicolae Gheorghe, "Citizens of the World and Nowhere: Minority, Ethnic and Human Rights for Roma", in Will Guy (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (Hertfordshire, 2001), 54-70, at 58. 3 A discussion of the possible influence of stigmatization by official bodies in the creation of Romani identity can be found in Leo Lucassen, Wim Willems and Annemarie Cottaar (eds.), Gypsies and Other Itinerant Groups: A Socio-Historical Approach (Houndmills/Basingstoke/Hampshire/London/New York, 1998). 4 For recent texts on the history of the Romani movement, see Grattan Puxon, "The Romani Movement: Rebirth and the First World Romani Congress in Retrospect", in Thomas Acton (ed.), Scholarship and the Gypsy Struggle: Commitment in Romani Studies (Hertfordshire, 2000), 94-113; and Thomas Acton and Ilona Klimovd, "The International Romani Union: An East European Answer to West European Questions?" in Will Guy (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (Hertfordshire, 2001), 157-219.

  • 5 One of the recent major developments in this direction was the Fifth World Romani Congress in July 2000 in Prague, where the International Romarri Union (IRU) - the organization that claims to be the representative body of all the Roma in the world - redefined the status of the Roma from a minority to a full nation without a territory. For a description of the event, see Acton and Klimova, "The International Romani ...".

  • 6 An overview of Romani policies in Czechoslovakia from the 1950s onwards can be found in Will Guy, "Ways of Looking at Roma: The Case of Czechoslovakia", in Diane Tong, Gypsies: An Interdisciplinary Reader (New York/London, 1998), 13-68. For the Hungarian case, see e.g. Michael Stewart, "Communist Roma Policy 1945-1989 as Seen through the Hungarian Case", in Will Guy (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (Hertfordshire, 2001 ), 71-92.

  • 7 Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities. For a discussion of the international context of minority legislation in Central Europe, see Katlijn MalBiet and Ria Laenen (eds.), Minorities in Central and Eastern Europe: The Link between, Domestic Policy, Foreign Policy and European Integration ( Leuven, 1998). ). 8 The position of Government Commissioner in Slovakia has been filled by Vincent Danihel and - since the summer of 2001-by Klara Orgovanova, both well-known Romani personalities. In September 2001, the Slovak Government established an Interdepartmental Commission bringing the Government Commissioner together with 13 representatives from various ministries. The Czech Interdepartmental Commission brought together 12 (later 14) Romani members with an equal number of representatives from various ministries. The Hungarian Interdepartmental Committee gathers delegates from 10 ministries together with the head of the National Gypsy Self-Government, currently F16ridn Farkas.

  • 9 See Roma Press Center, Newsletter (3 January 2002). 10 These programmes are available at (Slovakia), http:// (Hungary) and (Czech Republic).

  • " Some of the following paragraphs dealing with electoral and non-electoral forms of Romani mobiliza- tion draw on Peter Vermeersch, "The Roma in Central and Eastern European Politics: An Emerging Voice11" 4 Roma Rights (20011, S-13.

  • 'z A number of NGOs in various countries have observed that Roma vote for a variety of parties. In some cases, Romani voters are even attracted to parties that have a clear anti-minority stance. For example, during the Romanian parliamentary elections of November 2000, the organization Romani Criss observed that a surprisingly high number of Roma voted for the nationalist Great Romania Party (RM). See Ciprian Necula, "Draft Report of the Local and General Election Monitoring, Romania 2000", unpublished paper by the Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies Romani Criss, 2000. " RFE/RLNewsline (28 December 2001). 14 soma Press Center, Newsletter ( l4 January 2002); Roma Press Center, Newsletter (15 April 2002). 15 see Martina Pisarova, "Roma not all in Agreement", 8 Slovak Spectator (26 February-4 March 2001), available at In the 1998 elections HZDS had two Romani candidates on its list who had earlier been affiliated with the Slovak Romani parties Romani Civic Initiative (ROI) and Party for the Protection of the Rights of the Roma (SOPR). However, the Romani candidate with the best place on the list died only weeks before the elections and was not replaced. The other Romani candidate was not elected.

  • 16 See e.g. Project on Ethnic Relations, Leadership, Representation and the Status of the Roma ( Princeton, 2001). ). " See e.g. the remark made by one Slovak Romani activist at a conference about political participation that majority parties do not have "the courage to make a fair offer to Romani political leaders for places on their party lists. He acknowledged that part of the difficulty is that as much as 75 per cent of the population has negative attitudes toward the Roma." Cited from Project on Ethnic Relations, Political Participation and the Roma in Hungary and Slovakia (Princeton, 1999), 12. `8 For example, during an international conference on Romani political participation organized by the OSCE and the Czech Foreign Ministry in Prague in December 2000, the President of the International Romani Union (IRU), Emil Scuka, urged fellow activists not to engage in politics of the left or the right. In his view, the basis for Romani political participation was "to forget ideological differences: no Liberalism or Christian-Democracy, but Romipen". He continued to state that "many Roma say that this is wrong that this is nationalism. But all we want to do is protect the Roma". (Author's notes).

  • 19 Project on Ethnic Relations, "Roundtable Discussion of Government Policies on the Roma in Romania", at 20 Based on the idea that ethnic cleavage, if politicized, could form a threat to state sovereignty, Article 11 of the Bulgarian Constitution bans parties based on ethnic or religious membership. However, ethnicity continues to play a certain role in party development. For example, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) Party represents a constituency of mostly Turkish Bulgarians. See Georgi Karasimeonov, "Bulgaria", in Stan Berglun, Tomas Hellen and Frank H. Aarebrot (eds.), The Handbook of Political Change in Eastern Europe (Cheltenham, UK, 1998), 348.

  • 21 Results are available at zz Observers have noted that life expectancy is often low in poor Romani communities, while birth-rates there tend to be high. See e.g. Jean-Pierre Liegeois and Nicolae Gheorghe, Roma/Gypsies: A European Minority (London: Minority Rights Group, 1995), 12. 23 The Romani population in the Czech Republic is estimated to be approximately 3 per cent of the total population at the most. Official figures for Romani presence in the Czech Republic are well below 1 per cent of the population.

  • 24 Article 68(3) Constitution of the Republic of Hungary; Article 20(1) Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities. zs por a discussion of this system, see Martin Kovats, "The Political Significance of the First National Gypsy Minority Self-Government (Orszagos Cigany Kisebbsegi Onkormanyzat)", 1 Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe (2001), at zb pn example of a discussion among Romani activists surrounding these topics can be found in the publications of Project on Ethnic Relations (PER). For example, during a roundtable about Political Participation and the Roma, organized by PER in Kosice in March 1998, one participant "questioned the strategy of forming partnerships with majority parties; he suspected that these parties were only using the Roma to gain votes". Another Romani participant from the Czech Republic urged that Slovak Romani parties not sell themselves short when negotiating with the majority parties. He stated that "[t]he Slovak Romani parties should try to find strategic partners from among the majority parties, but it was not so important whether these partners were on the left or the right; what was important was that they learn to work together and build trust". Project on Ethnic Relations, Political Participation and the Roma in Hungary and Slovakia ..., 8.

  • 27 See e.g. Project on Ethnic Relations, Parliamentarr Representation of Minorities in Hungary: Legal and Political Issues (Princeton, 2001). ). z Max van der Stoel, Report on the Situation of the Roma and Sinti in the OSCE Area (The Hague, 2000), 130.

  • z9 Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics (Ithaca, NY, 1998), 8-9. 30 Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, "International Norm Dynamics and Political Change", 4 International Organisation (1998), 887-917; Keck and Sikkink, Activists ...; and Thomas Risse, Stephen C. Ropp and Kathryn Sikkink (eds.), The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Cambridge, 1999). 3' Thomas Risse and Kathryn Sikkink, "The Socialization of Human Rights Norms into Domestic Practices: Introduction", in Thomas Risse, Stephen C. Ropp and Kathryn Sikkink (eds.), The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (Cambridge, 1999), 1-38, at 5. 32 Some important examples are Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group, Project on Ethnic Relations and the Soros Foundations Network.

  • " Risse and Sikkink, "The Socialization ...". 4. " Helsinki Watch. Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Gypsies of Bulgaria ( New York, 1991 ); Helsinki Watch. Destroying Ethnic Identity: the Persecution of Gypsies in Romania ( New York, 1991); Human Rights Watch, Struggling for Ethnic Identity: C_echoslooakia's Endangered Gypsies (New York, 1992): Human Rights Watch, Struggling for Ethnic Identity: The Gypsies of Hungary (New York, 1993). �. 'S Information on litigation and legal submissions by the ERRC can be found at http:

  • '6 Ina Zoon, On the Margins: Roma and Public Services in Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonia (New York, 2001 ), 21-2. " Rumyan Russinov, "The Bulgarian Framework Programme for Equal Integration of Roma: Participation in the PoGcy-Making Process", 2-3 Roma Rights (2001), available at http:// 'e In total, the Soros Foundations Network spent approximately $7.4 million in 2000 on Romani pro- grammes. See at

  • '9 There are clearly limits to what advocacy actors can do in this respect. (For example, NGOs do not have a direct control over public opinion.) Government officials and the media play a huge role in shaping the attitude of the majority towards minority citizens. The emigration of Romani refugees from Central and Eastern Europe to EU countries, for example, has very noticeably influenced increased attention from EU governments and has induced emotional debates in the countries from where they have fled. The role of politicians in power has been of overriding importance here. Domestic Roma activists have tried to persuade public opinion that Romani emigration is in fact the result of failing policies to prevent discrimination or secure equal social and economic opportunities. In con- trast, Central and Eastern European governments themselves have often portrayed Romani emigration as purely driven by economic calculation. Although human rights NGOs have tried to emphasize the human rights concerns of those 8eeing their country, politicians in the domestic arena seem mostly to have reinforced a view of the Roma as economic migrants. 40 see the OSI programmes Public Administration Training Program for Elected Roma Leaders and Roma Political Leadership Program, both organized in Budapest. 41 soon, On the Margins....

  • 'z In December 2000, the OSCE and the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs organized an international conference on Roma and Political Participation in Prague. The stated purpose of the conference was to look for ways to improve the public role of Roma in society and to develop strategies to increase Roma political participation, drawing on the experiences of Roma leaders who have already been elected to public office.

  • " See e.g. Nidhi Trehan, "In the Name of the Roma? The Role of Private Foundations and NGOs", in Will Guy (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe (Hertfordshire, 2001), 134-49; and Zoltan Barany, The East European Gypsies: Regime Change, Marginality, and Ethnopolitics (Cambridge, 2002), 276. 44 The description offered by the Council of Europe is telling: "One of the fundamental principles guiding the Council of Europe's approach is participation of the communities concerned, through Roma/Gypsy representatives and associations. Without this, no lasting progress will be accomplished." See at 'S Acton and Klimova, "The International Romani ...", 162.

  • 46 Project on Ethnic Relations, Romani Representation ..., 1.

  • 47 The election of the local minority self-governments is based on universal franchise and not on the ethnic identity of the voters. Consequently, it is currently unclear who exactly has elected the local minority self-governments. The large number of votes cast for local Gypsy self-governments, for example, raise the suspicion that a great group of non-Romani voters have participated in the elections. A number of Romani organizations have therefore claimed that these Gypsy self-governments cannot be regarded as representative of the Roma, and that - by extension - also the National Gypsy Self- Government is not really a representative body for the Romani population.

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