Report of the meeting drawn up by Ms Angèle Postolle, Rapporteur
Second meeting of national consultative bodies between Roma/Gypsies and governments, 1997

(Helsinki, 30 October- 1st November 1997)

Table of contents

coche.gif (924 bytes) Aims of the meeting
coche.gif (924 bytes) The situation in countries participating in the meeting for the first time
coche.gif (924 bytes) Latest developments in the structure and activities of consultative bodies in countries represented at the previous meeting
coche.gif (924 bytes) Presentation of the Finnish advisory board on Romani affairs
coche.gif (924 bytes) Development of comprehensive policies to tackle the problems faced by the Roma/Gypsies
coche.gif (924 bytes) The consultative bodies' response to the problems of violence and discrimination directed against the Roma
coche.gif (924 bytes)Conclusions
coche.gif (924 bytes) Discussion
coche.gif (924 bytes) Appendix : List of participants

coche.gif (924 bytes) Aims of the meeting 

It was planned to achieve these aims by means of contributions from all the participants on the development of the situation in their various countries, and discussions on a number of specific, pre-selected themes.

coche.gif (924 bytes) The situation in countries participating in the meeting for the first time  

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Lithuania
Lithuania has a general system for the protection of minorities: a law on national minorities, passed in November 1989, guarantees equal rights and freedoms to all Lithuanian citizens whatever their ethnic origin. It recognises the principle of ethnicity and encourages ethnic awareness and expression.
Roma first arrived in Lithuania in the 15th century and ever since then they have lived on the fringes of society. In the 1990 census, 2,718 people identified themselves as Roma. They have formed six non-governmental organisations – two based in Vilnius – which receive government support to carry out cultural and educational projects.
The most difficult legal problem facing Roma in Lithuania today involves the acquisition of citizenship: many of them have not applied for Lithuanian citizenship and still hold old Soviet passports which are no longer recognised. Some 600 Roma are believed to be without passports. It would appear, however, that all they need to do to obtain Lithuanian citizenship is to lodge an application with the migration division of the Ministry of the Interior.
Setting up of the consultative mechanism
Lithuania does not have a consultation system. However, in 1990 it set up a national minorities division which was reorganised as an arm of the government in 1994 and renamed the Regional Problems and National Minorities Division.
At the same time, a Council of National Associations was established under the aegis of the Division but it does not have a properly consultative function: it brings together leaders and representatives of national minorities and their organisations.
The work of the Regional Problems and National Minorities Division
The Division monitors the implementation of legislation and international provisions affecting minorities and co-ordinates activities that concern them. It works in conjunction with various foundations and ministries – particularly the Ministries of Education, Culture and the Interior – which can help to resolve the problems facing minorities. The Division and its Council do not address the Roma question as an ethnic issue but are concerned instead to offer practical solutions to specific problems. Activities involving the Roma are at a very early stage: a programme of adult education has begun and is intended to lead to the establishment of a school.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Slovakia

In 1991, 75,802 Roma living within Slovakia identified themselves as such. However, given that most of the Roma in the country identified themselves as Slovakian or Hungarian, it is estimated that the current Roma population is closer to 450,000. As a group, the Roma in Slovakia are characterised by their distinctive way of life, their social status and generally deteriorating conditions.
The national minorities' problem is a very sensitive public policy issue. The government has set out its aims for the Roma as part of a national minorities policy although it places particular emphasis on the social aspect of their problems.
Setting up of the consultative mechanism
The Government Council for National Minorities was established in the days of Czechoslovakia. It includes representatives of 10 minorities, among them the Roma (1), and of the Ministries of Culture, Education, Justice, the Interior, Foreign Affairs and Finance. Expert delegates from research institutes, universities and the Slovakian Cultural Institute (Matica Slovenska) also have seats on the Council, with the result that although the minorities’ representatives constitute the largest single group, they do not form an overall majority. The Council has a consultative function and also initiates and co-ordinates government policy on minorities.
The Roma minorities are the Council's main concern. It has helped to set up preparatory classes for Roma children in primary schools and to appoint a "Government Commissioner for citizens needing special assistance" (2). Under Government Resolution No. 668 of 5 September 1995, the Commissioner, who reports to the Ministry of Labour and Social and Family Affairs, has the task of supervising, directing and co-ordinating activities for population groups with specific problems.
Activities of the consultative body
Although the Council has no decision-making powers, it has a vital policy function in that all questions concerning minorities come before it for discussion before they are considered by the government. This system allows the representatives of the minorities to develop their own analysis and understanding of the situation of the minorities and of minorities policy. In addition, it is through the Council that the representatives of the minorities are informed about government measures that concern them.
The Council secretariat meets regularly and has produced a draft amendment to the "Policy principles of the government of the Slovak Republic in relation to the Roma", which were laid down in 1991 and amended in 1993. The new text, entitled "Outline plans of the Government of the Slovak Republic for resolving the problems which the Roma face because of their current economic and social situation", which was considered by the Council on 2 October 1997, sets out a series of priority measures in the areas of housing, formal and non-formal education, culture, employment, social assistance, health and "prevention of anti-social activities".
The Romani Chair of the Council secretariat believes that in future the Roma question must be examined not only from the political, economic and legal angles, but also from a sociological and psychological perspective, because the Roma have repeatedly had traumatic experiences. In her view, any solution must involve tackling the question of relationships between the Roma and the majority population, in order to facilitate genuine dialogue between the two communities.
Some of those present at the meeting responded to the Slovak contribution with hard-hitting comments about Roma ghettos in the east of the Slovak Republic and the country’s language laws.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Ukraine

In the 1989 census, more than 40,000 Roma identified themselves as such. However, Roma organisations estimate that their numbers are closer to 200,000 and have decided to undertake their own census in 1998. Under Ukrainian legislation (of 1992) on national minorities, the Roma constitute such a minority in their own right. All the Roma living in Ukraine have obtained Ukrainian citizenship without any particular difficulty.
Many of the Roma communities in Ukraine, particularly in and around the Carpathian Mountains, live in medieval conditions of extreme poverty. Other groups, particularly in the Odessa region, are coping with Ukraine’s economic difficulties relatively well through involvement in trade and self-help activities. The Roma in Ukraine have very limited access to education and are particularly hard hit by unemployment (the proportion of jobless in some communities is 90%). Roma organisations say that, because of the country’s current difficulties, the government has not so far accorded them any special attention.
Fourteen local Roma organisations have been set up in different parts of Ukraine but this movement is only just getting off the ground. On 30 September 1997 the (national) Roma Association of Ukraine was established and set itself the initial goals of developing voluntary-sector activity in the Ukrainian Roma community and lobbying the authorities to create a consultative body.
Setting up of the consultative mechanism
A State Committee for nationalities and migration, part of the central government administration, oversees the implementation of public policy on inter-ethnic relations, minority rights, the Ukrainian diaspora, migration and language policy.
Under the legislation on national minorities in Ukraine, a Council of representatives of minority organisations has been set up, attached to the State Committee. Similar consultative bodies also exist in the regions where national minorities are concentrated. They operate within the local authorities.
Activities of the consultative body
The Council has a consultative role in initiating legislation on international relations and the development of minority cultures, languages and traditions. It also helps to set up and run minority cultural organisations and arranges for them to participate in various events that are helping to give national minorities a new lease of life. In its consultative role, it enables the minorities to influence the way that the government’s minorities policy is implemented. Nonetheless, the Council is accused of concerning itself, in practice, only with cultural questions.
The Roma Association of Ukraine considers that a system for consultation between central government and the Roma minority has yet to be established, and a group of lawyers and Roma activists is currently drafting a proposal along these lines, inspired by examples from other European countries. The same group is working on legislative proposals in the following areas: changing the status of the Roma from a national minority to an autochthonous minority; the codification of written Romani; the adoption of the designation "Roma" (the official designation is still "Gypsies"); and the institutionalisation of a role for the Roma community in determining policies on inter-ethnic relations, housing and education.

coche.gif (924 bytes) Latest developments in the structure and activities of consultative bodies in countries represented at the previous meeting 

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Czech Republic

At the beginning of 1997, the Minister without portfolio – whose responsibilities include minorities – decided to draw up a report on the general situation of the Roma in the Czech Republic. It is estimated that since August several thousand Czech Roma have emigrated to Canada and the United Kingdom.
The Ministry of the Interior recently announced a general derogation from Law 40/1993 on the acquisition and loss of Czech citizenship, to allow any individual to re-apply for citizenship without being required to meet financial conditions or to have no criminal record.
The Roma representative, Mr Karel Holomek, believed that although democracy in the Czech Republic was firmly rooted, the society and general mindset were intolerant and sometimes even racist, as were many elected representatives, judges and civil servants. He stressed that there was no dialogue between the authorities and the Roma minority community, and he saw the community’s growing frustration as the main cause of the current Roma exodus. He concluded by calling for the international community to take a fresh look at conditions for granting political asylum.
Structural developments
On 30 December 1996, the Government Council for National Minorities set up its own Ad hoc working party on the Roma question. The working party collates information on particularly serious cases of violence or discrimination directed against Roma. It makes recommendations to the various relevant government bodies, including the Council for National Minorities. Its comments and recommendations are subsequently published.
In August 1997, following the problem of the exodus of Czech Roma, the government decided to set up an Inter-ministerial Committee on the Roma Community, to become operational at the start of 1998. The committee chair is to be the Minister without portfolio (3), and the deputy chair a member of the Roma community (4)  appointed through a complex procedure to ensure a representative choice. The committee is to include 10 Assistant Ministers and five Roma representatives and to be supported by a permanent bureau with Roma members of staff. The committee has numerous functions :

The government report, adopted in its updated version on 29 October 1997, includes a sociological survey of the attitudes of 1,210 ministerial employees towards the Roma and, in particular, a series of measures with a detailed timetable for their implementation by the Ministries of Education, Labour and Social Affairs, the Interior, Culture, Trade and Industry, Defence, and Regional Development. The Minister without portfolio is responsible for co-ordinating and implementing this action plan.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Estonia

The Roma living in Estonia are Estonian citizens or legal residents but their low level of education hinders them in communicating with the authorities. Living in extreme isolation, they have a major social problem, compounded by the fact that their population is small in number, rural and heavily affected by unemployment. The Roma organisation in Tallinn, for example, has only 50 members. Estonian Roma need international help in order to develop skills and gain experience of negotiation with the authorities. Last year the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs funded courses to teach adult Roma about their rights and duties, and courses in computer studies, culture and history.
Structural development
No consultation system has been established but the President of Estonia has met representatives of national minorities, including the Roma, for initial round-table discussions. So far, the Ministry of Social Affairs has been the body most concerned with the Roma but it appears that in future the question will be the responsibility of the Ministry of Population, which is still in the process of being established. The situation of the Estonian Roma would seem to demand special international attention and assistance.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Hungary

In 1997 the Hungarian Parliament adopted Government Report No J/3670 on the situation of national and ethnic minorities living in the territory of the Republic of Hungary. The report took a critical look at the precarious situation of the Gypsies with regard to education, employment, health, and discrimination and at the process of establishing local self-governing bodies.
Structural development
Among recent political developments (5) that have affected the Gypsies and occasioned consultation with the Hungarian gypsy communities, mention should be made of :

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Latvia

Latest developments
The Nationalities Consultative Council, established in July 1996, began functioning in 1997 and has held meetings, in the form of small working parties, on a two- to three-monthly basis. Its positive achievements include important discussions on the issues of naturalisation and citizenship, education of minorities and the ratification of international conventions.
The Council’s negotiating activities have been hampered by the recent political instability in Latvia, but this now seems to be at an end. The Council regrets that it has not had a stronger voice on the question of discrimination between nationals and non-nationals regarding access to certain jobs.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) "The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"

Two Roma are currently Members of Parliament and the Roma community is represented by three political parties. Central government has honoured its commitments to the Roma community and supports the education of Roma and the teaching of Romani.
Latest developments
The Council for Inter-ethnic Relations, set up in 1991, is behind three particularly interesting initiatives :

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Romania

Since the November 1996 elections, the new government has engaged in an intensive process of reform aimed at creating a free and open society that recognises its own multicultural nature. Government policy towards national minorities is set out in a text entitled "Partnership with civil society", part of a "Basic programme for macro-stability and development in Romania up to the year 2000". The government is keen to develop the voluntary sector in order to curb the politicisation of national minorities and sees decentralisation as a key means of preventing inter-ethnic conflict. Various pieces of legislation are being drafted, notably bills on national minorities and on associations and foundations and a bill to ratify the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
The Romanian authorities define the Roma question not as an ethnic issue but as a socio-economic issue with a specific ethnic dimension. As they see it, the essential factors are socio-economic: the chronic poverty of the Roma, the problem of violence and crime and the growing tensions between the Roma and the rest of the population.
Structural development
A Department for the Protection of National Minorities, attached to the Prime Minister’s office, was established in January 1997. It is directed by an Assistant Minister for National Minorities and was expected to set up regional offices in Cluj, Suceava and Constanta. In particular, it is responsible for drafting legislation on minorities and monitoring its implementation. In November 1997 it was to present proposals for a government strategy on the protection of minorities, setting out an action plan for the period 1997-2001. To date, there has been no special national policy for the Roma but the Department for the Protection of National Minorities intends to create a database on the situation of the Roma, using a cultural and anthropological approach. Such projects will be part-financed from the state budget but European funding will also be sought.
A National Office for the Roma has been opened within the Department and will have the task of proposing ways to integrate the Roma communities.
The status of the Government Council for National Minorities has changed significantly. The Council now works alongside the Department and its functions are to initiate consultation, act as a link between national minorities and the government and provide information.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Spain

Recent developments
The Consultative Committee for the Gypsy Development Programme, set up in 1989, currently provides for the exchange of information on activities carried out in the framework of the National Gypsy Development Programme, and among other issues, the assessment of the social programmes which are co-financed by the regions and/or the local governments, the technical and financial assistance provided to the Gyspy associations, the training of both the social workers dealing with Gypsy communities and the responsible and members of Gypsy associations.
An Interministerial Working Group was created within the framework of the National Gypsy Development Plan; it includes, in addition to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, other ministerial departments competent in areas of concern for the Gypsy community (education and culture, health, consumption, environment, development, etc.). The Consultative Committee is informed of the issues dealt with and/or agreements reached by the Interministerial Working Group.

coche.gif (924 bytes) Presentation of the Finnish advisory board on Romani affairs 

The meeting provided an opportunity for participants to study the workings of the Europe’s longest established system for consultation between the Roma and a national government: the Finnish body was established in 1956. After a presentation, participants visited the offices of the Advisory Board and met most of its staff. Earlier, Mrs Tarja Halonen, the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs and a former chair of the Advisory Board, had opened the meeting.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) How the board functions

The Advisory Board on Romani Affairs has had a number of setbacks in its long history but is now an important institution in Finnish political life (6).
It is a central instrument for co-operation between the authorities and the Roma but it has also become an avenue through which the Roma can put their demands to the authorities and in this capacity it is frequently called upon to represent the Roma and defend their interests. The Board has 16 members which are renewed every three years by the Council of State. Half of its members represent the central government administration (ministries, Central Union of the Local Authorities, etc) and the other half are representatives of national Romani associations.
Currently, the Board’s main concern is to give the Roma more opportunities to become involved in the community at large and influence society. Another important objective is to develop educational opportunities for the Roma. In this respect, the Board proposed the Ministry of Education at the end of the 1980's to set up a Romani Educational Unit within the National Board of Education. It has today the responsibility for both adults and children's schooling and for educational questions in general, together with the Advisory Board on Romani Affairs. The Advisory Board is also dealing with issues related to healthcare and the social situation of the Roma people.
The Board’s work is shared – and taken a stage further – by three sub-committees: the preparatory working group for the Board's monthly meeting, the committee on international affairs and the one on health and social affairs. In addition, in 1997, a special committee for Romani was established within the Autochthonous Languages Research Centre.
Some examples of current work :
The Board has drawn up a report on equality of the sexes in the Roma community and presented it publicly to the Finnish Parliament which is engaged in a review of the government’s equality programme. A similar report has been drafted during the process of modification of the Finnish education legislation. The Board presented it at a Parliamentary hearing with administrative bodies; it reviewed education of both Romani children and adults putting emphasis on the teaching of the Romani language within the normal curriculum.
The Board was also invited by the Parliament to take part in discussions about the signature and ratification of the Framework Protection for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. The Board was consulted too when the Parliament elaborated the national legislation related to these international agreements and it is preparing a declaration for the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), of the Council of Europe. A final aspect of its work is the recording of cases of discrimination on the job market.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Discussion

The Board recognised that, despite the exemplary nature of Finnish policy towards the Roma, the community still faced day-to-day problems with regard to housing conditions, access to education, and discrimination.
Although the Roma representatives from the various countries generally admired and envied the Finnish system, they questioned how effectively such a body could function in a country where mutual trust had not been established between the Roma and the authorities. The representative of the Finnish Roma admitted that her community’s proposals were not always heeded but expressed satisfaction with the existing system for giving the Roma a hearing. The participants were also impressed by the importance that Finland accorded to the teaching of Romani.
The Ukrainian Roma representative requested that a number of Finnish Roma magazines should be translated into English as a source of further information on the particular cultural characteristics of the Finnish Roma and the way in which the Finnish consultation body operated. The information could also be made available on the Internet. It was suggested that other countries which had recently established bodies for consultation between the Roma and government could usefully study the history of the Finnish Board when developing their own systems.

coche.gif (924 bytes) Development of comprehensive policies to tackle the problems faced by the Roma/Gypsies 

This is the approach favoured by the Council of Europe and the OSCE. It is a concept that demands co-ordination of the various local initiatives and between those initiatives generally and national policies, particularly on education, vocational training, inter-cultural police training and housing. It depends upon the government as a whole assuming its responsibility for improving conditions for Roma communities. Consultative bodies have a key role to play in designing such policies and monitoring their implementation. Clearly, once the policies are in place, implementing them becomes the responsibility of all those involved in public affairs.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Hungary

In 1994, the government set itself the priority task of halting the deterioration in the socio-economic situation of Gypsies in Hungary. However, it soon realised that given the gravity and extent of the problems facing the Roma and the numbers of people concerned (around 5% of the country’s population), it could not promise solutions in every case.
It therefore turned its attention to drawing up a "Complex crisis management programme", focusing on certain aspects of the Roma question that were regarded as fundamental: educating the public, farming and self-sufficiency programmes, housing programmes and action to combat discrimination.
Hungary has established an impressive and still growing range of bodies relevant to the Roma communities. Although not all of them are linked to the consultation mechanism, they evince a real political will to resolve the most serious problems confronting the Gypsies in Hungary today. The government has chosen to institutionalise the functions of co-ordinating, monitoring and funding its established policies and of consulting the Gypsies when new policies are being drawn up.
The institutional bodies, in close consultation with the National Gypsy Self-Governing Body, outlined methods and mechanisms for establishing a "Government package of medium-term measures to improve the living standards of the Gypsies", which was adopted in 1997. The complexity of the Roma question defies any generalised approach, and the central bodies have decided to deal separately with the problems of rural Gypsies and those living in big cities.
Recognising that traditional sources of funding (the social security system and budgetary resources) were inadequate, the government has set up a system of public foundations. Funding is directed, as a priority, towards helping local Roma communities to draw up their own projects so that they can take full advantage of existing grant aid.
However, foot-dragging by certain ministries is still making it difficult to get government decrees onto the statute books, although monitoring and follow-up by the Committee on the Roma Programme is becoming increasingly effective. A further problem stems from the inability of the central authorities to overcome resistance and lack of action by some of the local authorities whose responsibility it is to resolve most of the practical questions. A guide setting out examples of successful local schemes is being published with a view to resolving this problem.
Although the impact of this comprehensive policy is still modest, it is very important that the government has publicly acknowledged its responsibility – as well as the responsibility of society as a whole and that of the Gypsies themselves – for finding solutions to the problems that currently confront the Gypsy population in Hungary.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Spain

In 1989, the Spanish Parliament put forward a National Development Programme for Gypsy Communities, involving the central, regional and local authorities and Gypsies themselves. The programme sets out to address the specific problems of Spanish Gypsies, which have both a social and a cultural dimension. One of the main principles of the national programme is the co-operation and co-financing together with the autonomous communities (regional governments) in implementing social programmes for the most deprived groups of Gypsies; these programmes are comprehensive since activities are simultaneously undertaken in various areas of the social protection: social services, education, housing, vocational training and employment, health, etc. These programmes are funded 60% by the state, 20% by the autonomous communities (regions) and 20% by local authorities (local governments). Every autonomous community participating in the funding decides on the distribution of the financial contribution of both the region and the local government.
Moreover there exist two regional programmes implemented by two autonomous communities: Castilla y Leon and Andalucia. These programmes include activities in various fields of intervention (social services, education, health, culture, etc.). There are no formally constituted consultative committees for these two programmes.
The national programmes are co-managed by the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and the National Consultative Committee. The Ministry will co-ordinate a programme with the other ministerial departments concerned, co-operate with the Autonomous Communities - and through them with the municipal authorities – and, lastly, provide financial and technical aid to the relevant NGOs. The complexity of the problem underscores the need to establish an inter-ministerial programme committee. The National Consultative Committee and its regional offices play a key role in setting up, monitoring and evaluating these development programmes. The Committee collates all the information relevant to local projects, relays the priorities identified by Gypsy organisations and runs training seminars for their leaders. The Consultative Committee’s technical sub-committee with responsibility for the National Development Programme is currently assessing its first eight years of operation and is expected to submit new programme-content proposals to the relevant authorities and suggest more effective techniques for co-operation with NGOs.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Discussion

It was clear that the development of Roma communities still had a significant cultural dimension. There were strong objections to the use of the term "Gypsy" in the Hungarian and Spanish contributions to the meeting. Clearly, although the choice of terminology had to rest with each of the Roma communities concerned (a point reiterated by a number of participants) the connotations of the term "Gypsy", particularly in the Slavonic languages, were so negative as to make it unacceptable. Although, for some participants, this debate went over old ground, the issue remained important in terms of symbolism, particularly in Ukraine and Romania, where the authorities still did not recognise the term "Rom", and in many countries where the word "Gypsy" was still too frequently used, despite the wishes of those referred to. The debate served to re-emphasise the importance of respect for, and awareness of, the Roma identity – which had to be the hallmarks of any form of co-operation or consultation with Roma communities.
The Austrian delegation was particularly concerned with the vulnerable circumstances of Roma immigrants to Austria and stressed that any comprehensive policy had to address the growing phenomenon of unemployment, specifically among the Roma. In an effort to combat unemployment, the Czech Ministry of Defence was expected to offer a number of re-training programmes in the near future. In Hungary, public and private foundations were supporting farming and self-sufficiency micro-projects and numerous training and re-training programmes for Roma. In another Hungarian programme, at Tatabanya, Roma were building homes for their own community, thus combining re-skilling with the provision of housing and jobs. Unemployment among the Roma was a major problem in Romania because many Roma who worked on collective farms under the communist regime had found themselves destitute when the collectively held land was returned to its former owners.
The Latvian delegation emphasised that the situation of Roma in the former communist countries was compounded by the fact that they either lost their jobs or had to abandon their previous commercial activities (such as cross-border trade), and they also lacked education. In the circumstances, it was vitally important to allow the Roma to manage their own re-training, and in many cases that meant helping to fund projects that they had already designed.

coche.gif (924 bytes) The consultative bodies' response to the problems of violence and discrimination directed against the Roma 

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Czech Republic

Estimates from a number of sources suggest that 29 Roma have been the victims of racist crimes on Czech territory since 1989. Roma not only have to cope with violence as part of their everyday lives, but are also discriminated against as regards access to education, the courts, jobs and certain public places, particularly restaurants. The Roma representative acknowledged that Roma were not always prepared to accept Czech rules and that, in many cases, this factor lay behind the Czech antipathy towards the Roma. He also emphasised the need to make a clear distinction between mere manifestations of racism and racist crimes.
The Government Council for National Minorities, through its Ad-hoc working group on the Roma question, has responded to four particularly serious cases of violence. Although it is fair to say that the response was modest, it did at least demonstrate a degree of political will. The first case considered was that of a young Rom named Tibor Danihel who was drowned by skinheads in Pisek in 1993. The Ad-hoc working party held three hearings involving the police, the Pisek Roma community, the local authorities and the judge who dealt with the case. Its final report was adopted by the Council and sent to the central and local executive authorities and judiciary. The report highlighted procedural shortcomings in the pre-trial investigation, police pressure on witnesses and excessive delays in the handling of the case. It also contained recommendations to the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice. The three other cases studied by the Ad-hoc working party concerned the existence of a large group of skinheads with links to the municipal authorities of Brno, the banning of Roma from restaurants (of 66 restaurants visited in six towns and cities, half refused to admit Roma) and the murder of a Romani woman by a group of skinheads in Domazlice.
The Roma representative highlighted the constraints that were placed on the Ad-hoc working party, in that its activities were limited and it could do no more than make recommendations to the relevant bodies.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Romania

Roma in Romania face various forms of discrimination, particularly as regards access to the courts, information and education. Media reports make mention of criminals’ ethnic origins. But the main obstacle to combating discrimination lies in the fact that Romania is a centralised country and this is a problem that can only be tackled at local level.
Most of the programmes proposed by the Department for the Protection of National Minorities, in conjunction with the Council for National Minorities, are concerned with preventing violence, teaching central and local government employees about human rights legislation, and building contact and trust between the various national communities through education, culture and the media. Against a background of growing tension between Roma communities and the rest of the population, a number of programmes are promoting the development of civil society and dialogue between individual citizens, encouraging dialogue between religious communities and attempting to improve the social circumstances of the Roma.
A partnership has been formed with the media, with a view to addressing the question of national minorities in a realistic way in order to end misinformation and encourage mutual respect between the majority and the minorities.
Lastly, the Department for the Protection of National Minorities receives and investigates complaints from bodies, organisations or individuals about government documents that fail to respect the rights of members of minorities.

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Discussion

Violence – with the fear that it engendered – and discrimination are increasingly part of everyday life for the Roma, particularly although not exclusively in Central and Eastern Europe. The consultative bodies have so far taken too few initiatives and the voices of Roma representatives have too often gone unheeded. However, there are examples of positive experiences, including those referred to below.
In Hungary, the "Government package of medium-term measures to improve the living standards of the Gypsies" includes anti-discrimination measures based on government studies of how various pieces of anti-discrimination legislation are being implemented, assessment of pilot projects to train young Roma for police careers, and training within the police forces.
In Spain, the National Development Programme for Gypsy Communities is addressing the problem of discrimination.
A few days after the meeting, the murder of a Sudanese student in the Czech Republic triggered a general debate in that country about the problem of racism and skinhead movements, and the Roma question has been raised frequently.
In the Slovak Republic, the Government Council for National Minorities has held an extraordinary meeting from which 10 conclusions were submitted to the government, with the aim of preventing intolerance and violence against Roma citizens. These texts form a basis for Government Resolution No. 310.
Generally speaking, consultative bodies have a major role to play in establishing comprehensive legislation against violence and discrimination, particularly in countries that have not already such legislation or where the laws is not applied. In many countries, the response of the legal authorities to incidents of violence and discrimination is limited. In other countries there are no administrative courts to deal with cases of administrative or legal discrimination.
Moreover, it would seem that very few countries have so far embarked on public campaigns against racism and intolerance. Ultimately, however, positive, comprehensive policies for developing or integrating Roma communities will never succeed unless a real effort is made to combat the intolerance and racism too often directed at those communities.

coche.gif (924 bytes)Conclusions 

The work of many of the consultative bodies is developing and that must be welcomed, but the fact remains that they are still largely powerless when not backed by real political will. In most cases, the bodies are in the process of establishing themselves and do not yet have major political influence. It is the task of governments to make proper use of a policy instrument that offers an untold wealth of experience on the Roma question.
The bodies suffer from a lack of political legitimacy and can never hope to enjoy the legitimacy conferred by direct elections (7). Nor has the problem of representation of the Roma and their various factions on all the consultative bodies yet been solved. In a number of countries, the role of the consultative bodies in laying down comprehensive policies is to be welcomed. The idea of drawing up action plans for the development of Roma communities (as in Spain, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic) is relatively new but already widely accepted. It is a matter of regret that combating violence and discrimination against the Roma is still not a priority for most public policy makers.

coche.gif (924 bytes) Discussion 

The Czech representative said that the Roma need not necessarily be regarded a national minority in order for their problems to be tackled, but could also be approached as a social entity. Such an approach would, on the one hand, have the advantage of addressing all the Roma communities and not just those that had declared themselves as such in countries where ethnic origin was the subject of a census question. On the other hand, it could also justify the Roma receiving more attention and support than certain other minorities. However, other representatives insisted it was important that the Roma question should continue to feature on political agendas.
Education policies for the Roma were seen as a fundamental priority, given the decline in job opportunities for unskilled workers. Governments were also urged to support Roma efforts to develop small and medium-sized businesses within their own communities.
The question of positive discrimination was raised but no consensus was reached.
Many of the Roma representatives stressed that there was a need for unified national and international Roma bodies and even for a European Roma policy. The Slovak representative made the point that the intolerance shown towards the Roma in Europe, and particularly in the Czech and Slovak Republics, was not the fault of the Roma themselves, but of societies that were too inward-looking and democratically under-developed.
Finally, while some of the consultative bodies represented all the minorities in a country and others included only Roma representatives, it was essential in both cases for governments to accord the Roma a sufficient level of representation to give a voice to all the various factions and viewpoints within their communities.
In relation to the mass emigration of Czech Roma, the point was made that the countries concerned – on the one hand the Czech Republic and, on the other, Canada, the United Kingdom and the other destination countries for Czech and Slovak emigrants – had not engaged in constructive debate about this serious problem. The immediate issue of the Czech migrants should not be allowed to obscure the fact that the problem of Roma migration affected, had affected or almost certainly would affect, all the states represented at the meeting, whether they were countries of origin or destinations for the migrants.
Hundreds of Portuguese Gypsies were currently living in Spain; hundreds of Finnish Roma were in Sweden; tens of thousands of Romanian Roma were in other Central and Eastern European countries while thousands of Roma from those countries were in Austria, where some of them had lived for many years; 1,410 Macedonian Roma families had emigrated to Germany… et cetera. It was therefore essential that governments embarked on proper, comprehensive policies to improve the living conditions of the Roma and launch a full-scale assault on intolerance and discrimination. It was suggested that a case study be made of the Latvian Roma – who, although affected by unemployment, were not emigrating – in order to identify the reasons for their attachment to their country of origin and thus help other countries design policies to prevent new waves of migration.
However, preventive policies were not enough: the humanitarian problems caused by migration also had to be tackled, and one way of doing this was to establish an independent information network that would enable local authorities, overwhelmed by mass population movements, to deal with migrants in a humanitarian and informed way. It seemed important that government authorities and Roma organisation in countries of origin should continue to care for migrants even after they had reached their destination countries – if only in order to provide frontline assistance. It was also necessary not only to attempt to prevent future waves of migration but also to draw up comprehensive, task-sharing response strategies in order to cope with new migration if it did occur. Lastly, a recommendation was made that the practices of immigration services in destination countries should be monitored to ensure that governments were honouring their international commitments, and that a new and comprehensive look should be taken at conditions for granting refugee status.
After the main meeting, the delegates met the participants in a training course for young Roma leaders which was being held in Helsinki at the same time. The encounter illustrated the risk that international bodies take if they – however unwittingly – create situations where Roma of different generations find themselves in psychological competition, particularly for leadership. It also demonstrated how relatively advanced the younger Roma were in their awareness and acceptance of mechanisms for co-operation with majority societies. The final impression made by the encounter was of the dynamic and developing nature of the Roma identity.
Suggestions for future co-operation between consultative bodies

coche.gif (924 bytes) Appendix : List of participants 

bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Austria
The Roma Ethnic Advisory Council
Mrs Renata ERICH
Member of the Roma Ethnic Advisory Council
Romano Centro, Urschenböckgasse 8
1110 Vienna, Austria
Tel/fax: +43 1 749 63 36
bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Spain
National Consultative Commission for Gypsies
Avenida de la Ciencia, Edificio Pablo Olavide, Bloque 3 - 1° B
Tel.: +34 95 455 82 36/440 92 64 (work) - Fax: +34 95 455 42 00
bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Estonia
Mrs Signe KAPLAN
Ministry of Social Affairs of Estonia/Family Office Specialist
29 Gonsiori, Tallinn EE 0100
Tel.: +372 6 269 756 - Fax: +372 6 269 740
Lenileiter 15-8, Türi, Estonia
Tel.: +372 6 238 57384
Eeste, Nalga E. Emmo 16-6
bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Finland
The Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Mrs Outi OJALA / Head of the Advisory Board on Romani Affairs/ Member of the European Parliament
E.P. RMA 621, 97-112 rue Belliard, B-1047 Brussels
Tel.: +32 2 284 55 36 - Fax: +32 2 284 95 36
Romani Population Education Unit
Hakaniemenkatu 2, 00530 Helsinki, Finland
Tel.: +358 9 160 43 10 - Fax: +358 9 160 43 12
Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Tel.: +358 9 7747 7309 - Fax: +358 9 7747 7865 - Tel./fax: +358 9 878 80 35
Mr Iluka Paavo Kalervo LOUNELA / Secretary of the Advisory Board on Romani Affairs
Tel.: +358 9 160 43 10 - Fax: +358 9 160 43 12
 bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Hungary
State Secretary responsible for Minority Issues
Kossuth Lajos tér. 4, 1055 BUDAPEST, Hungary
Tel.: +36 1 268 4824 - Fax: +36 1 268 3142 - E-mail:
accompanied by :
Kossuth Lajos tér. 4, 1055 BUDAPEST, Hungary
Tel.: +36 1 268 3851 - Fax: +36 1 268 3851
Mr Florian FARKAS, President / Gypsy Minority Government of Hungary
Rakoczi ut. 80, H-1074 BUDAPEST, Hungary
Tel/fax: +36 1 122 1502
accompanied by :
Mrs Marianna MAJOR / Gypsy Minority Government of Hungary
Rakoczi ut. 80, H-1074 BUDAPEST, Hungary
Tel/fax: +36 1 122 1502
 bulletf.gif (807 bytes) Latvia
The Consultative Council of Nationalities
Naturalisation Board/Deputy Head of the Department of Foreign Relations and Press
Smilsu iela, 1/3-44, 1050 RIGA
Tel: +371 722 17 71 - Fax: +371 722 64 40 - E-mail:
Mr Normunds RUDEVICS
President of the association of Roma/Gypsies of Latvia
11 Novembra Kratsmala 9-27, 1050 RIGA, Latvia
Tel.: +371 295 2917 -Fax: +371 718 8182 -E-mail:
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Lituanie
The Council of National Communities
Department of Regional Problems and National Minorities to the Government of the Republic of Lithuania
Assistant Director
Kosciuskos 30, 2600-VILNIUS, Lithuania
Tel./fax: +370 2 61 94 31
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)"The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"
The Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations
President of the Union of Roma of Macedonia
Member of the Council for Inter-Ethnic Relations, Komercijalna Banka, Kej Dimitar Vlahov 4, 91000 SKOPJE

Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Human Rights Department, Desk Officer,6, Dame Gruev Street, 91000 SKOPJE
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Czech Republic
The Office of the Nationalities /Council of the Czech Republic Government
Mr Ing. Karel HOLOMEK
Association Romanies in Moravia
Helsinki Citizen's Assembly/ Roma Section
Dominikanske Namesti 4/5, CZ 602 00 BRNO, Czech Republic
Tel.: +420 5 4221 02 65 - Fax: +420 4 4321 1171
Secretary of the Office of the Nationalities /Council of the Czech Republic Government
Nábr. E. Beneše 4, 118 01 Prague 1, Czech Republic
Tel.: +420 2 240 02313 - Fax: +420 2 24 002 728 - E-mail:
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Romania
The Council of National Minorities
Mr Albert-Iulius ROSTAS
Guvernul României
Piata Victoriei, nr.1, BUCHAREST, Romania
Tel.: +40 1 230 6208/ + 40 1 614 3400/1321 - Fax: +40 1 230 7187
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Rapporteur
Mlle Angèle POSTOLLE
Mas de Clergue
34700 Saint Privat, France
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Slovakia
The Council for Minorities of the Slovak Republic
Secretary of the Council for Minorities
The Slovak Republic Government Office
Namestie Svobody 1 , 813 70 BRATISLAVA , Slovakia
Phone: +421 7 3595 186/3595 425 - Fax: +421 7 396 175
Director of the elementary school of Lomnicka
Zakladna Skola, Druztevná 18, 065 03 PODOLINEC, Slovakia
Phone: +421 963 914 24 - Fax: +421 963 23420
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Organisers
The Council of Europe in co-operation with the OSCE/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights/Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)OSCE/ODIHR
Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues
19 Ujazdowskie Avenue
00-522 WARSAW
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Ukraine
The Council of Representatives of the Organisations of National Minorities
Co-President of the Ukrainian Association of Roma
Teacher of Ukrainian language Chair of Odessa State University
POB 324, 270 000 ODESSA, Ukraine

State Committee for Nationalities and Migration
Chief Administrative Officer of the Directorate for International and Legal Affairs
21/8 Instytutska Street, 252021 KYIV, Ukraine

Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine
1, Mihailovskaya sqv, KYIV 252018, Ukraine

Second Secretary of the Embassy of Ukraine in Finland
Embassy of Ukraine in Finland
Vahaniityntie 9, 00570 HELSINKI, Finland
bulletf.gif (807 bytes)Secretariat of the Council of Europe
Coordinator of Activities on Roma/Gypsies
Coordonnateur des Activités concernant les Roms/Tsiganes
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg

Mrs Françoise KEMPF
Assistant to the Coordinator of Activities on Roma/Gypsies
Assistante du Coordonnateur des Activités concernant les Roms/Tsiganes
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg

Mrs Brigitte THOMAS
Council of Europe
67075 Strasbourg

separ.gif (1104 bytes)

1) Some participants criticised the fact that the Hungarian and Roma minorities were not represented in proportion to their numbers. (back to the text)
2) The creation of this post – held by Mr Branislav Balaz, who is not of Roma origin but is a member of the Roma organisation ROI – caused internal controversy, as the Council had originally proposed creating a post for a "Commissioner responsible for the Roma question and for drawing up a document for consideration by the Council". (back to the text)
3) The Minister without portfolio also chairs the Government Council for National Minorities. (back to the text)
4) This is a permanent civil service post with the Government Council. (back to the text)
5) See also Marcia Rooker’s report on the Meeting of National Consultative Bodies between Roma/Gypsies and Governments, Budapest, 21-22 November 1996, Council of Europe. (back to the text)
6) For general information on the Finnish Advisory Board on Romani Affairs see Marcia Rooker’s report on the Meeting of National Consultative Bodies between Roma/Gypsies and Governments, Budapest, 21-22 November 1996, Council of Europe. (back to the text)
7) For more detail on this subject, see Marcia Rooker’s report on the Meeting of National Consultative Bodies between Roma/Gypsies and Governments, Budapest, 21-22 November 1996, Council of Europe (MG-S-ROM (97) 7 rev.). (back to the text)