Report by Mrs Marcia Rooker
First meeting of national consultative bodies between Roma/Gypsies and governments, 1996

(Budapest, 21-22 November 1996)

coche.gif (924 bytes) The aims of the meeting
coche.gif (924 bytes) Situation per country
coche.gif (924 bytes) Conclusions
coche.gif (924 bytes) Discussion
coche.gif (924 bytes) Appendix : List of participants
bullety.gif (44 bytes) The aims of the meeting

    § to enable members of consultative bodies to get to know one another;
    § to exchange information about the composition, powers, terms of reference and activities of the different bodies;
    § to discuss the extent to which consultative bodies are successful in achieving their aims;
    § to make recommendations about the desirable organisation and role of consultative bodies.

The aims were to be achieved by contributions of all participants on the situation in their country and discussion afterwards.

bullety.gif (44 bytes) Situation per country

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Czech Republic

At the 1991 census 32,000 of the 10 million citizens identified themselves as Roma, but it is more likely that about 150,000 - 200,000 Roma live in the Czech Republic. Other minorities are Germans, Poles, Hungarians and Slovaks. Minorities have organised themselves in 124 civil organisations, 48 of which are Roma organisations. Eighty-five percent of the population have negative opinions about Roma. The Government may want to act in favour of Roma, but that can have political consequences. Politicians are afraid not to be re-elected if they are too active in fighting discrimination.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
In 1968 a Council of Minorities was established, but it did not function until 1989. It is a co-ordinating body between minorities and the State, both on a central and local level. Two Roma participate in this Council, elected from and by Roma organisations. The meetings of the Council are chaired by a Minister, who is sometimes replaced by another minister or the head of a department. The Council advises the government. The Council is the most important of many measures taken at the State level to solve the problems of minorities. The State tries to solve the problems of minorities in a constitutional way. The decisions taken on a governmental level should influence the local level. But the attitude of officials on a governmental level is different from the one on a local level, where in general officials have a negative attitude towards Roma.
Activities of the consultative body
The topics discussed by the Council are very concrete. For example, it considers that textbooks on history should deal with the history of Roma. That is a way to tackle the problem of discrimination and racism in the Czech Republic.
The Council is also invited in activities in the cultural field, like the Roma museum in Brno. In its six years of active existence the Council has also published periodicals. Another field is education, more specifically school curricula and initiatives like the zero-classes for socially disadvantaged pupils. At the moment 46 such classes function. In addition, faculties of education have a teacher training programme to prepare teachers for these classes.
Since the last elections the Council has another Minister presiding and there is a chance that it will become more active. Already a working group has been established to monitor the attitude of the media when publishing material about cases involving minorities. The Council may also increase its influence. It has power only to advise the government, but it could make itself more visible and become more influential, and so contribute to solving the conflicts between minorities and the State.
The citizenship problem has been discussed by the Council, both in writing and orally. The Minister of the Interior was asked to explain the government policy. The discussion did not result in a recommendation as no consensus could be reached. The Council did promise some assistance in individual cases, but not in general. Those Roma who now live in the Czech Republic without citizenship receive help from NGOs. If in the future the Council becomes more active, more persistent and therefore more effective, it may be better able to contribute to solving the citizenship problem.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) «The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia»

According to the 1994 census (supervised by the Council of Europe and in collaboration with the European Union) "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" has 2.1 million inhabitants of whom 47,400 or 2,3%, identified themselves as Roma. Roma are recognised as a national minority in the Constitution. The other minorities recognised in the Constitution are Albanians, Vlachs, Turks and Serbs. In fact, the term "nacionalnosti" (nationalities) is used in the Constitution for the term "minorities" usually used in international law. The Constitution guarantees equal treatment and enjoyment of all rights without discrimination to all nationalities.

Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
Since 1991 a Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations has existed. It is provided for in the Constitution. Two Roma are members of this Council, as are two Macedonians, two Albanians, two Turks, two Vlachs, one Serb and one Muslim. The Council has consultative status and is attached to the Parliament. It advises on laws and individual cases. One of the two Roma is the president of the Union of Roma, the other is a Member of Parliament (3% of the Members of Parliament are Roma). The Council is chaired by the President of the Parliament. The Council meets once a month.
Activities of the consultative body
The Council discusses matters of general nature that have to do with inter-ethnic relations (ie. national equality and equality of rights of the members of different minorities, consideration of issues connected with the implementation of laws in the field of ethnic relations, draft laws and other acts in the field of ethnic relations, consideration of issues regarding the right for the members of minority groups to use their language, developments in the field of the press and other media aiming at promoting free expression of the national identities, etc). The Council evaluates these issues and makes proposals aimed at solving the problems. The Council then decides about a recommendation to the Parliament. Such recommendations are not binding, but they do influence both the Members of Parliament and public opinion. Issues concerning individuals can also be discussed before the Council at the request of one member of the Council; however the procedure followed in this case could not be compared to procedures before the National Ombudsman or the courts. The Council has recently dealt with three individual cases concerning Roma.
The Council also co-operates with the executive and the judiciary and advises on inter-ethnic relations.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Hungary

In the 1990 census 142,683 people identified themselves as Roma, but authoritative estimates give a number of 400,000 - 500,000. Hungary has recognised one ethnic minority, Gypsies, and twelve national minorities. The reason for this distinction is that national minorities have a mother country in the region. All minorities live scattered over the country, not concentrated in certain regions.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
Hungary has an elaborate system of minority protection. In this system the Office for Ethnic and National Minorities is the key institution, as it guarantees a continuous communication between the government and minorities and co-ordinates all activities concerning minorities. It has existed since 1990 and has a counterpart in the Office for Hungarian Minorities abroad. Both offices are within the competence of the Political State Secretary.
An important development was the adoption of the Act on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities (Minorities Act) on 7 July 1993. As a result of this law, local minority self-governments were elected in 1994. Anyone who wishes can participate in these elections; in this way registration as a member of a minority is avoided. These self-governments have consultative status and are crucial for the implementation of the Minorities Act. The local self-governments elect national self-governments (There are eleven national self-governments as the Ruthenian and Ukrainian minorities do not have self-governments). Two other general minority institutions were founded in recent years: the minorities ombudsman, elected by the parliament in 1995, and the Reconciliation Council for Minorities, that has also existed since 1995.
In the same year the Co-ordinating Co-ordinating Council for Gypsy Affairs was founded. The Chairperson of this Council is the Political State Secretary for Minority Issues, the secretary is the Head of the Office for Ethnic and National Minorities and the permanent members are representatives of all the ministries concerned, the president of the National Gypsy Self-Government and five county assembly representatives.
Activities of the consultative body
The Office for Ethnic and National Minorities co-ordinates the activities concerning languages, culture for all minorities and, especially for Gypsies, activities concerning employment and social welfare. The Reconciliation Council for Minorities has to see to the implementation of national and international legal provisions for minorities, and to develop good contacts between minorities. The local and national self-governments have consultative status. On a local level the self-governments have a veto right on issues concerning the minority, such as culture, education and mass media.
Both the use of the word "Gypsy" and the qualification as "ethnic" minority, in distinction to the other minorities which are called "national", were criticised by some participants.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Spain

The different regions in Spain have a high degree of autonomy. Spain has one central, seventeen regional and fifty provincial governments. Therefore both the central and the regional governments have to be involved in a national Gypsy policy. In 1989 Parliament proposed the Development Programme for Gypsies with the participation of authorities on different levels: central, regional and local. Only for the Gypsy minority does such a policy exist.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
In 1975 the Parliament initiated a study on the position of Gypsies. In 1989 this resulted in a proposal for a Development Programme for Gypsies. To implement the programme Gypsies have a consultative body on the central level which is formally set up within the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. The members of the National Consultative Committee are representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and representatives of four national and six regional Gypsy organisations. The Committee meets twice a year and the Minister attends as far as possible. The Consultative Committee is a political body; it has a sub-commission to deal with technical matters. Half of the members of this sub-commission are Gypsies and the other half are representatives of various ministries and regional and local governments. The Gypsy representatives are democratically elected from and by the Gypsy organisations
Activities of the consultative body
One remarkable success of the Consultative Committee was the initiative to change the public image of Gypsies. The Minister of Social Affairs together with the autonomous regions ensured that the media adopted a code of conduct against discrimination. Violation of this code can lead to police action. The police have also adopted an instruction against discrimination.
The Consultative Committee also evaluates integrated social intervention projects sponsored by the Ministry; it encourages associations, analyses social problems in Gypsy communities, makes proposals for new activities and acts as intermediary between the administration and organisations. The Commission is consulted whenever it has to be decided who will participate in an international meeting concerning Gypsies.
At the moment the Commission is tackling the problems Gypsies have with purchasing itinerant trade permits from local authorities. The work of the Commission is important for improving the situation of Gypsies but can never replace the role of the government or the Parliament. The government maintains its responsibilities for all inhabitants, including members of minorities.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Romania

The number of Roma in Romania is not clear, it is estimated at about one million. In April 1993 the Romanian government decided to have a Council for National Minorities as a framework for dialogue with minorities. Romania has eighteen recognised minorities, participating in this Council. Roma are one of the recognised minorities. In addition, in order to involve minorities in politics, representatives of minorities are elected to Parliament if they receive votes amounting to five percent of the total number of votes normally required for election.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
The Council has not a leader but a co-ordinator. Twelve ministries are directly or indirectly involved in national minorities affairs, and therefore in the work of the Council. The Council has six permanent commissions: on culture and mass media; on education and youth; on social and economic affairs; on internal and external affairs and NGOs; on social matters; and on financial matters. In each of the commissions, the government and all the minorities are represented. Each commission elects its president, secretary and vice-president from among the representatives of the national minorities. During the plenary sessions each minority has one vote; the twelve government institutions have together one vote. Each minority can exercise its veto if it does not agree with the outcome of a discussion of a matter that concerns that minority. Government representatives have a right of veto if the matter discussed contradicts the constitution or the law.
Activities of the consultative body
The council can propose laws to the government. Access to education in the mother tongue has become easier. Special for Roma is the policy to reserve places at the Universities of Bucharest and Cluj for Roma students. Roma also have access to the mass media. The Council also played a role in the discussion about the name of the minority, Roma or Gypsy.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Austria

Austria has six recognised or "autochthonous'" minorities, of which Roma are one. A minority is "autochthonous" when it has lived in Austria for more than ninety years. There are no objective criteria to decide whether someone belongs to a minority or not, it is a matter of personal choice. But Austrian nationality is decisive for the treatment and legal status as a member of a minority. The majority of the Roma do not have Austrian nationality. The number of Roma, both "autochthonous" and "allochthonous" is unknown.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
Each of the six minorities has its Ethnic Advisory Council, based on a law adopted in 1976. The advisory council for Roma and Sinti has been in operation for three years. The first mandate of the Advisory Council for the Roma will come to an end in September 1999, since the mandate of every Austrian Advisory Council for Ethnic Groups is of four years. It will then be replaced by a new structure established following a different procedure.
The councils have three types of members: members nominated by the minority associations; members nominated by the political parties; and members nominated by the church. The councils advise the government on all issues regarding minorities.
Activities of the consultative body
The council mainly deals with cultural items. Thus, the most urgent problems for many Roma, such as residence permits, citizenship and legal problems such as expulsion, are not discussed by the council.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Bulgaria

The problems of Roma are looked upon as social-economic problems, not as ethnic problems. Roma have organised themselves in several organisations both on national and regional or local level. They are non-political, dealing with social and economic protection and the cultural development of Roma. Many Roma are actively involved in co-operating with authorities to solve economic problems. Bulgaria has many economic problems that of course also affect Roma. Some local authorities do have an adequate understanding to Roma and their problems. In July 1995 the Council of Ministers decided to set up a National Council for Social and Demographic Problems. It is a consultative body, to co-ordinate actions to deal with the special problems of groups in a difficult position.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
Several government representatives participate in the Council, such as the Deputy Prime Minister, who chairs it and the head of the Ministry of Labour and Social Action. Official partners of the Council are the Union of Pensioners, the Union of Disabled, Union of Women, Roma organisations and youth organisations. When a topic is discussed the result is presented to the government, that may decide to make it a binding document.
Activities of the consultative body
The Council discusses draft laws with the NGOs. For example the laws on the disabled, on health, on pensions and on social protection, have been discussed. The one on social protection was partly relevant for Roma. Also demographic developments and items such as a national programme on the situation of women, children and families are discussed in the Council. The problems of unemployment were discussed with Roma organisations. In fact the Roma employment programme is one of the best programmes and it is already in the third stage of implementation. The next step is to have more Roma children attend school, including education in the mother tongue. A special goal in the programme is to give land to landless Roma. Further topics are health insurance, and culture.
The Council has taken up the question of unjust treatment of Roma by authorities with the Minister of the Interior. He has taken steps to prevent such incidents. Because of this unjust treatment there have been meetings with the police and just treatment of Roma is now part of the police training system.
Many Roma had their names forcibly altered as a result of the policy under the old regime. They can now resume their original names, if they want to. A political party on an ethnic basis is not, however, possible under Bulgarian law.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Finland

Finland has a long-standing experience with a consultative body on Roma issues. The Roma Advisory Board has been functioning since 1956, but the name is more recent. Since 1990 in all official documents the Finnish word for "Gypsy" has been replaced by "Roma", a result of the work of the Board. Approximately 6,000 Roma live in Finland and they constitute a minority recognised in the Constitution. The other recognised minority is the Sami.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
The Roma Advisory Board works under the auspices of the Ministry of Social Protection and Health. The board has eighteen members; half are government representatives, and half are nominated by the Roma organisations. The Board monitors government policy regarding Roma, and acts as an intermediary between Roma and the government.
Activities of the consultative body
The Board acts as an expert group in matters relating to Roma. It also participates in international work. It realised information brochures on the work of the Board, on education, and on teachers training. The Board is also involved in work for the rehabilitation of criminals; it protests against prejudice in schoolbooks and is trying to influence public attitudes towards Roma. Improving the housing conditions is another concern, with special attention for Romani-speaking children at school. The Board played an important role in having discriminatory laws altered. Housing policy is another example of a result of the work of the Board. Between 1960 and 1975 a special policy was developed to have travelling Roma settle in houses.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Estonia

About 1,000 Roma live in Estonia and the government has only recently become aware of their existence. They live in deplorable conditions. The Ministry of Social Affairs now employs an expert from Finland to develop good contacts and a good policy. The Constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens and education in the mother tongue.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
There is not yet a consultative mechanism, but in October 1996 a first meeting between Roma and government authorities took place. This could mark the beginning of a co-operation to improve the situation of Roma. Moves are also beginning to set up a Roma organisation, but there is a lack of resources and money. The Finnish Free Foreign Mission and the National Estonian Pentecostal Church may start a social and religious project among the Roma in Estonia. Estonian Roma need all the support they can get. The OSCE has already participated in a meeting on Roma in Tallin.
Activities of the consultative body
If a consultative mechanism is set up, it will have a heavy agenda. The Estonian Roma live in archaic conditions, having no contact with the rest of the Estonian society or with Roma in other countries.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Latvia

Approximately 15,000 Roma live in Latvia. They constitute one of thirty minorities. Citizenship is a problem in this new State, but 98% of the Roma have Latvian citizenship. A consultative body for national minorities was founded in 1996. During the Soviet period, Roma earned a living from transnational trade with Russia. Now they are unemployed and badly educated. They have large families.
Setting-up of the consultative mechanism
The Board of National Minorities has eighteen members: seven representatives of minorities, including Roma, and eleven state representatives. There are no special problems between the State and Roma. They have worked together to counter a anti-Roma campaign in the media. Roma would like to have a Roma centre in Riga with special programmes such as exhibitions and training courses. It could also act as an international information centre on Roma.
Activities of the consultative body
The consultative board has not yet come into operation, it will not deal with citizenship questions, for which a special board has been set up. The minority board will deal with human rights violations, education, culture and church matters.

bullety.gif (44 bytes) Conclusions
The majority of the consultative bodies work at national level, or at national and local level, and are attached to the government or a ministry. An exception is the Council in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" that is attached to the Parliament. Most countries have a single consultative body for all minorities but some have one for each minority and Spain has only one, namely for Roma.
Roma participating in these consultative bodies are elected directly in Hungary. In most countries they are elected by and from Roma organisations. Another variation is the participation of Roma elected as Members of Parliament.
Only the Council in "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" deals with individual complaints. All the others advise the government on a wide range of subjects: education, culture, welfare and employment, language issues, housing. In three countries the consultative body is also concerned with fighting prejudice in the mass media. The Spanish code of conduct for the mass media is an interesting initiative. Human rights violations are the subject of discussion in several countries. In two countries the consultative work also deals with international relations.

bullety.gif (44 bytes) Discussion
Recognition of Roma as a minority has never happened in bilateral treaties. Sometimes Roma are recognised as a minority in Constitution, as for example in Slovenia, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" and Finland. Another possibility is recognition as a minority in a special law, for example in Hungary. Some countries have constitutional and/or legal provisions for minorities in general. This is the case in Romania, the Czech Republic and Finland. Some other countries have no legal provisions for Roma or for other minorities: France, Spain and Bulgaria. This raises a number of questions which would repay further consideration. Does legal or constitutional recognition as a minority improve the situation? Or is European or international protection more effective?
Roma communities, from a societal point of view, are a complex social phenomenon. Roma should contribute to society on different levels and in different ways. (Roma) NGOs can address local authorities to discuss controversial issues playing a role different from that of consultative bodies. Consultative bodies, however, can never replace a government or the parliament, as these institutions have a responsibility for all the inhabitants of a country. Indeed, informal contacts may perhaps be more fruitful than institutionalised ones.
Migration of Roma is a sensitive issue, just as migration in general is a sensitive subject in Europe. Roma have, like many others, left parts of the former Yugoslavia in order to escape the wars. Other migration flows may be distinguished. Several questions remain unsettled. What is the status of migrant Roma? What if Roma are refused residence permits and are in a country illegally or are expelled to other countries? Should the migration of Roma be reduced, and, if so, how?
Seminars and other educational activities for members of consultative bodies have proved to be useful. But while governments may be open to suggestions from the consultative body to improve the situation of Roma, implementation at the local level is another matter. Many local authorities share the negative ideas about Roma held by the majority of the dominant population.
Violence against Roma is a problem all over Europe. It needs to be discussed with the relevant authorities, for example the ministries of justice, and of course also at the local level. It is better to discuss this matter at home than to run the risk of embarrassing confrontations before international fora. Fighting prejudice is also a good strategy for preventing ethnically motivated violence. A code of conduct for the media can help, particularly a provision that a person's ethnic identity should not be mentioned unless it is genuinely relevant.
Which is the best way to select Roma representatives for consultative bodies? Possibilities include election by and among Roma organisations or from the Roma organisation or organisations with the highest number of members. The different Roma organisations may have differing approaches to various subjects. Some Roma organisations will have better relations with the government others. This may influence on the money granted to the different organisations. Should governments oblige the different Roma organisations to co-operate among themselves or is diversity an asset? The Roma community could select different representatives depending on the subjects under discussion within the consultative body. This is how the Standing Conference of Romani Associations in Europe works with respect to the meetings of the Specialist Group of the Council of Europe.
Suggestions for future co-operation among consultative mechanisms

    § Countries not present at the meeting could be asked to provide written contributions.
    § Annex pieces of relevant legislation to the report, although translation is a problem.
    § More working languages should be available at the next meeting.
    § The debate on consultative mechanisms can also be continued on a regional or even bilateral level.
    § There could be thematic meetings on particular topics.
    § It might be useful to conduct an evaluation of some of the many measures agreed upon in the last six years in different countries, in order to see what recommendations could be made to governments.

bullety.gif (44 bytes) Appendix : List of participants

Ms K. BRUGGER-KOMETER, Bundeskanzleramt, Ballhausplatz 2, 1014 WIEN
Mrs Renata ERICH, Roma Ethnic Council, Urschenböckgasse, 8, 1110 WIEN
Mrs Veselka MARINOVA BOURLANOVA, Secretary of the National Council for Demographic and Social Affairs of Bulgaria at the Council of Ministers, c/o National Employment Service, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs; 3, Bvd Dondoukov; 1000 SOFIA, Bulgaria.
Mr Peter STEFANOV GUEORGUIEV, Member of the Parliament of Bulgaria and co-Chair of the Confederation of the Roma in Bulgaria, Room 363, Ul. Battemberg, 1/3 SOFIA
Czech Republic
Mr Milan POSPIŠIL, Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Karmelitska 7
118 12 PRAGUE 1.
Mr Ondrej GINA, Fund for Hope and Understanding, K rece 1003-11
337 01 ROKYCANY.
Mrs Signe KAPLAN, Ministry of Social Affairs, Social Security Department
Gonsiory Str. 29, EE - 0104 TALLINN.
Mrs Miranda VUOLASRANTA, Kaunase 5-18, EE - 2400 TARTU./Finnish Advisory Board on Romani Affairs, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, PL 267, 00171 HELSINKI, Finland.
Mrs Eva HEGYESI-ORSOS, President of the Office for Ethnic and National Minorities, Kossuth Lajos tér. 4, 1055 BUDAPEST.
Mr Florian FARKAS, President of the National Council for the Gypsy Minority, Rakoczi ut. 80.II/2, 1074 BUDAPEST.
Mr Claudio MARTA, Professor of Economic Anthropology at the Istituto Universitario Orientale (Napoli), Viale Marx 239; 00137 ROMA.
Mr Juris CIBULS, Naturalisation Board, Smilsu iela 1/3, RIGA 1050
Mr Normunds RUDEVICS, 11 novembra krastmala, RIGA 1050.
Mr. Gabriel MICU, Conseil pour les Minorités Nationales de la Roumanie, Place de la Victoire 1, BUCAREST.
Mrs Carmen SIPO, President of "Amaro Drom", Piata Mihai Viteazu N° 1, Ap. 5 et. 1, CLUJ.
Mrs Matilde BARRIO SAMPERIO, Ministère des Affaires Sociales, c/ Aravaca, 22 bis, MADRID.
Mr José Manuel FLORES CAMPOS, c/ Reyes Catolicos 3, CORDOBA
«The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia»
Mr Zoran TODOROV, Desk Officer at the Human Rights Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Dame Gruev" St, No. 4 & 6, 91000 SKOPJE
Mr Shaban SALIU, Secretary General of the Union of Roma in the Republic of Macedonia, ul. Suto Orizari br. 96, 91000 SKOPJE.
Mrs Marcia ROOKER, Faculty of Law/ Law in Europe, P.O. Box 9049
6500 KK Nijmegen, Netherlands.
Standing Conference for Cooperation and Coordination of Romani Association in Europe
Mr Nicolae GHEORGHE, Coordinator, ROMANI CRISS, Str Slatineanu 16, Sector 1, BUCURESTI 70.100, Romania.
Mr Rudko KAWCZYNSKI, Roma National Congress, European Central Office, Simon von Utrecht Str. 85, 2000 HAMBURG 36, Germany.
Mr Jacek PALISZEWSKI, OSCE, ul Krucza 36/Wspolna 6, 00522 WARSAW
Mme Paulina MERINO, OSCE, ul Krucza 36/Wspolna 6, 00522 WARSAW
Mr John MURRAY, Coordinator of activities on Roma/Gypsies, Population and Migration Division.
Mrs Françoise KEMPF, Assistant to the Coordinator of activities on Roma/Gypsies, Population and Migration Division.
Mrs Jackie OBRIDGE, Secretary, Population and Migration Division.