hostility to Roma. In 1994 the Czech government’s new citizenship law disenfranchised some 100,000 Roma. The law laid down conditions that many Roma could not comply with, leaving them without permanent residence permits and entitlements.
In Hungary there are an estimated 500,000 Roma, many of whom live in poverty on the margins of society. Roma children were often sent to schools for the mentally disabled. There are also reports of skinhead attacks and police brutality towards Roma. However, in 1979, Roma were recognised as an ethnic group, and in 1993 a law on the rights of national and ethnic minorities provided a legal framework for the protection of Roma against discrimination and for the promotion of Roma culture. It also opened up new opportunities for the organisation and representation of minorities at local and national level.
In Romania, there is the largest concentration of Roma in Europe with some reports claiming a population of 3 million. Roma in Romania experienced five centuries of slavery; slavery in Moldo-Wallachia was only abolished in 1864. It is not surprising, given this history, that there were many attempts to flee this situation resulting in various migrations. Marcel Courtiade comments on the long-term consequences of this history of persecution as giving rise to fatalism, hopelessness, aggression, lack of confidence and ambivalence about identity. According to Helsinki Watch (1991): “Gypsies in Romania have been the target of increasingly violent attacks since the revolution that toppled Nicolae Ceausescu. Their homes have been burned and vandalised, they have been beaten by vigilante mobs and on occasion arrested by police and beaten in police custody, and they have been chased out of one village after another, often without any opportunity to return.”
The Romanian Constitution (1991) recognises and guarantees members of national minorities the right to conserve, develop and express their ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic identity. It also recognised minorities as having a right to representation in Parliament. In 1990 the Democratic Union of Romanian Roma was established.
However, whenever socio-economic problems intensify Roma become the national scapegoat and this is reflected in the negative media portrayal of Roma as criminals. Since 1990 many have left Romania especially for Germany via Poland. In 1992 the Bonn/Bucharest Accord was signed, which enabled Germany to repatriate 50,000 Romanians (mostly Roma). The Romanian government was given 30 m Deutchmark for this initiative. In 1995 new legislation opted for the term Tsignani instead of Roma to distinguish them from the majority population.
In Slovakia, which came into existence after the division of the Czechoslovak Federal Republic (1993), Roma have legal status and rights alongside other ethnic minority groups. This entitles them to education in their own language and to consultation on matters affecting them. However, Prime Minister Vladmir Meciar in 1993, is reported to have described Roma as antisocial, mentally backward and socially unacceptable (Fakete, L. and Webber, F., in Inside Racist Europe, London, 1994).
In the former Yugoslavia the situation of Roma is very difficult. Rajko Djuric, himself an exile from Yugoslavia, describes the war in Bosnia as “our second genocide”3. According to Djuric, as many as 300,000 Roma have been killed in Bosnia since 1992. He states that Roma were used to clear land mines and that the Serbian army forced Roma to kill one another. Reports from various commentators, such as Bill Crocker, director of the Bosnian Aid Committee of Oxford, state that many Roma are absolutely destitute and that the prejudice towards Roma is exacerbated by the hardship which the general population had had to endure. According to Tilman Zülch, president of the Society for Threatened Peoples in Germany, there are reports of Roma in concentration camps. Many fled to Germany, France, Spain, Italy and the Scandinavian countries. Rajko Djuric draws attention to the plight of Roma who have no travel documents because they were refused passports
3 Genocide means any of the following: “Acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such; (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical deterioration in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures designed to prevent births within the group; or (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” (UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)).