Presentation by Michael Guet,
Head of Council of Europe Roma and Travellers Division,
delivered at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, Warsaw, 29
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I started preparing a document about Council of Europe activities on Roma
and Travellers for this plenary, I made a mistake in the title of the session. I
had written “Intolerance and non-discrimination”, probably because I do not see
much of tolerance in my field of work.
I would like to invite you to take some distance from this comfortable
conference room for a few minutes, and imagine…
Just imagine that you are poor Roma parents, quasi illiterate living in shameful
conditions. You have the choice of the country; could be any of the EU new
member states or EU accession states (Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic,
Slovakia, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia, etc.). Just imagine that your children are
being sent from their early age to schools for mentally disabled or to
‘specialized schools’ just because they are Roma or are coming from an isolated
environment which of course does not allow them to learn the basis of the
national language. Just imagine the kind of future these children, but also next
generations’, will have when being given this start. Just imagine that your
children might be lucky to enter ‘normal’ schools but then have to enter through
separate doors or stay in separate classes not to mix with other children, or
that they will face – when going out of the school - demonstrations by non Roma
parents who do not accept their children to sit next to Roma kids, as this is
currently the case in Aspropyrgos, Greece, and in front of many other schools in
Just imagine that you are living in Tirana, Belgrade, Vilnius, Patras, Athens,
Kosice, Toulouse, Milan, Sofia, Istanbul, etc. and that after being “tolerated”
during several years, you are suddenly evicted, often with violence, by police
forces, without being given alternative shelter, just because the municipality
needs this space to build an Olympic stadium or has sold the land to a private
company. It happens sometimes that children who were very well integrated in the
schooling system become street children as a result of these expulsions.
Just imagine that in the few cases when municipalities have taken measures to
provide social housing for Roma, local population demonstrates, like recently in
the streets of Sophades, Greece, or Belgrade, as they do not want Roma as
Just imagine that sixty years after the Second World War a 65 meter long, 2
meter high wall was built in the city of Usti nad Labem in the Czech Republic to
separate communities. Sure this was a few years ago. Unfortunately, two days
ago, the municipality of Presov, Slovakia, has decided, following a petition
circulated by the residents of an adjoining neighbourhood, to build a 400 meters
long fence around the district of Stara Tehelna, an area inhabited mostly by
Just imagine you have been the victims of an inter-ethnic war which was not
yours, that your house has been destroyed or occupied by others and that you
have been “temporarily” placed in a camp north from Mitrovica/ë, Kosovo, – if
not on lead-polluted areas - and that six years later, you are still living
there, or even dying, you and your family, from lead without any major
Just imagine that you found asylum in a rich Western country after the war but
that this country, has decided years later to send you and your children back
“home”, despite the fact that your situation will be worst than in the host
society and that your children speak now – let’s say German; might be true that
you have a house still in Kosovo but in a very hostile environment, which you
will probably have to leave sooner or later to finish in one of these
aforementioned camps or contaminated areas. But be happy because you are
contributing to the restoration of a multi-ethnic society in Kosovo.
Just imagine, Sirs, that your wife goes to hospital to give birth to your second
child and comes back sterilized without her consent, as those cases which were
recently reported in two EU member states, Czech Republic and Slovakia, or as
those other cases in Nordic countries, such as Norway and Sweden, not so long
Employment and access to public places:
Just imagine that you are a young Roma who has eventually finished his/her
studies searching for a job and that you discover adverts in newspapers
explicitly forbidding Roma to apply for the job; or, that you are being
systematically told, despite the fact you have being invited for an interview,
that the job offer you were applying for has just been given to someone else.
If you are a Roma, you may equally be confronted with refusal of access to
cafes, restaurants, discotheques and other public places, just as I “tested”
with Roma friends last week in Moldova.
Media and Internet:
Just imagine that few months ago a video game has circulated in Hungary which
aim was to eliminate Roma from the country.
Just imagine that two days ago some of us received through Internet a clip that
had been shown on Czech public television in 1994 in a programme called “Ceska
soda”– where a famous Czech actress is whitening a Roma kid with a washing
powder to proof that this powder is efficient. This clip is now circulated as… a
Just imagine that at 8 p.m. you are watching a programme on French public
television with your kids and family, and realize that this programme, full of
negative prejudices and mistakes in speakers‘ statements, is portraying your
community as being criminals; and that no one from the Roma or Sinti (Manouche)
communities were invited to defend his/her community against these allegations.
Hate speech :
Just imagine that you are French Travellers in the town of Emerainville in
Seine-et-Marne, France, where the mayor is calling - in a very provocative way -
inhabitants to publicly demonstrate against the encampment of your caravans.
Should you be Irish Travellers and Swiss Yenish you will find similar
difficulties to find halting sites and will be little by little forcibly
encourage to sedentarize and lose your traditions.
Just imagine that in Bulgaria trade union leaders, or intellectuals based in
Switzerland and Romania, can make statements such as ‘we should expel Roma from
our country’ or even more violent statements without receiving any warnings from
state institutions, despite the whole range of national and international
legislation against discrimination.
Misuse of Roma in political campaign:
Should you be a Traveller in the UK, you probably realize that during last
general elections, you became a subject of political debate. Should you be a
Roma in Bulgaria, you certainly saw a TV clip from the majority party targeting
in a very tricky way Roma communities with the slogan: “please vote or others
will choose instead of you”. In both cases it is fair to note that these abuses
came from main political parties, not from right extremist parties.
Lack of recognition of Roma as a national or ethnic minority:
Should you be a Roma or Sinti in the Netherlands or Denmark or an Egyptian in
Albania, you are refused the status of a national minority under the framework
Convention for the protection of national minorities, despite the fact that your
ancestors have been living in these countries for centuries.
You could continue imagining such situations all day long, but that is just
reality. After all these examples, people still wonder why Roma have a strong
mistrust vis-à-vis non Roma institutions, politicians or our education systems,
or while they refuse to provide data and register themselves as Roma in
I apologize to country delegations for having mentioned country names or
specific municipalities, which I know is not very diplomatic. I equally
apologize to other country delegations for not having had the time to mention
their countries as unfortunately there is no exception in Europe in the field of
intolerance and racial discrimination against Roma.
As Nicolae Valeriu wrote recently in a
study available on the
European Roma Information Office’s website, “Anti-Gypsyism is not just
another type of racial discrimination. It is, at the same time similar,
different and intertwined with racism”. We believe in Council of Europe that it
requires special attention and a special wording to make people more conscious
about this phenomenon. You may find other reference to Anti-Gypsyism/Romaphobia
in the Joint Resolution adopted by the European Parliament last April, as well
as in positions defended by the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF) or by
several participants of the OSCE Conference in Cordoba. Next week in Hamburg, on
8-9 October, the European Centre for Antitziganism Research will organise an
international conference on ‘Antitziganismus’. Additional information on what is
discrimination and how it applies to Roma communities can be found in European
Roma Rights Center (ERRC) publications.
Thank you, Mr. Moderator, for reminding me to finish my presentation. Indeed,
you are perfectly right, time is running and as a matter of fact it runs even
faster for those Roma, Sinti and Travellers families I was referring to as their
life expectancy is much lower than ours.
To conclude, I kindly invite all of you to attend the joint OSCE/CoE/EUMC
Conference in Warsaw on 20-21 October, which will address the Anti-Gypsyism
phenomenon further. The Conference will also provide positive examples of
implementation of policies for Roma, Sinti and Travellers and measures against
discrimination at the local level, as there are some good state and local
initiatives and a room for hope.
Thank you for your attention.
Head of Roma and Travellers Division
Council of Europe