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The Plight of the Roma
'Gypsies' are Increasingly Becoming Targets of Racist Violence

audio Listen to Sylvia Poggioli's report on All Things Considered.

Sept. 5, 2001 -- Since their first migration to the European continent 1,000 years ago, the Roma, also known as the Gypsies, have often been singled out for racial discrimination and violence. In the post-communist era, they are again becoming the targets of growing racist violence in eastern and central Europe. On All Things Considered, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports.

Romani mother and daughter in Vinica, Macedonia
Romani mother and daughter in Vinica, Macedonia, August 1997.
Photo: European Roma Rights Center

There are an estimated 8 million Roma living in Europe. But they are seldom given the same rights that are accorded to other Europeans, Poggioli says. Take the town of Kalosca, a town of 18,000 in southern Hungary. Its Romani residents have been pushed into an outlying ghetto where there is no electricity, running water, or sanitation service.

Veronika Rostas, a 31-year-old Roma living in the ghetto, says things were actually better under communism. She had a job and a real house then; but now, she says she can't find any work and has to live on $200 a month in welfare benefits. Rostas is also angry that her child, like many other Romani children, is forced to attend a separate school for the Roma.

Such systematic discrimination is causing the Roma to become further marginalized from mainstream societies, Poggioli reports. Romani students are 50 percent less likely to go to high school than others, says Agnes Daro'czi, director of Romaversitas, an organization in Budapest that offers scholarships to Romani children.

The Roma have become useful scapegoats for the economic pains after the collapse of communism. In Romania, typical racial violence comes in the form of brutal police or a mob that destroys Romani houses. In the Czech Republic, most violence comes from the Skinheads movement that target minority groups.

For many Roma who had lived through the death camps during World War II, the new wave of violence against their people is frighteningly familiar. "I really hope that I won't live a time when another Holocaust happens," Iren Olah, a 75-year-old woman living in Hungary, told Poggioli. "I am very much afraid of this.... There is so much hatred in this country."

Other Resources

Read Abuses Against Serbs and Roma in the New Kosovo, a report by Human Rights Watch.

Visit European Roma Rights Center.

Go to the Web site of The Balkan Human Rights group, which publishes the latest human rights news in Europe.

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