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07 July, 2008

Campaign in support of victimized Romani women of Europe

The saddest memory of a journey I undertook through East Europe in the 1980s as the Communist regimes were collapsing is that of an incident in Budapest, capital of Romania.

As I was walking through a roadside market, an elderly gypsy woman, who was selling some handicraft products, tried to attract my attention, hoping to make a sale. My young guide, a fresh college graduate, immediately flew into a rage and started shouting at her. The torrent of abuse did not end until I drew her away.

I remonstrated with her for being unduly harsh on an old woman who had done nothing more than what any street vendor anywhere on earth would do. Her response was a litany of complaints against the gypsies, whom she painted as the filthiest, rottenest people on earth. I could not believe that a girl in her twenties who grew up in a Communist society, and knew no other world, could carry so much ethnic hatred in her pretty little frame.
Romania, I gathered, had Europe’s largest gypsy community -- estimated at between one million and two million.

The gypsies of Europe, officially classified as Romanis, are nomadic people, believed to be of Indian origin. They are to be found all over Europe. Under Nazi occupation, there were efforts to exterminate them. (See account at the site of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum).

The European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), an international public interest law organization established in 1996, is now engaged in a range of activities aimed at combating anti-Romani racism and human rights abuse of Roma. The approach of the ERRC involves, in particular, strategic litigation, international advocacy, research and policy development, and human rights training of Romani activists.

What has prompted me to write about European gypsies today is a forwarded message from a human rights group about a campaign in support of Romani women who were subjected to forced sterilization. Below is the text of the message:

Today (3 July 2008), a coalition comprising the Ostrava-based Group of Women Harmed by Sterilization, the ERRC and the Peacework Development Fund launch a global campaign seeking support for Romani women victimized by coerced sterilization practices in Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The campaign is supported by the Open Society Institute's Public Health Program and the Heinrich Boll Stiftung, Warsaw.

The governments concerned have failed to react, through public apologies and compensation for the harms inflicted upon Romani women, to 5 years of targeted advocacy and lobbying by the victims and their advocates. Today, the survivors and their advocates turn to the global human rights movement to strengthen their efforts to secure justice, beginning with action around the 2008 Women's Worlds Congress in Madrid, Spain, from 3-9 July, where the most pressing women's rights matters from around the world will feature.

The campaign includes a panel discussion on coerced sterilisation practices in Central Europe by survivors and their advocates, as well as a letter-writing campaign targeting key officials in Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia , calling on the respective governments to recognise the extreme human rights violations perpetrated on their territory and to ensure apologies and compensation for the survivors.

Tell the governments concerned that it is time for action! Support the Romani survivors of coerced sterilization in Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia by sending our postcard or letter, available on the ERRC website in English, Spanish, Czech, Hungarian and Slovak.

For updates on our work at the Madrid Congress, the pamphlet and the postcards/letters, please visit the ERRC website at:

Tell us you sent the letter or postcard, or otherwise supported the campaign, and join our online list of supporters by writing us at:

For further information or interviews, please contact:

Group of Women Harmed by Sterilization:
*Elena Gorolova (Czech, Romanes),

European Roma Rights Centre:
* Anita Danka (Hungarian, English), Staff Attorney,
*Ostalinda Maya (Spanish, English), Women's Rights Consultant,
*Monika Pacziga (Hungarian, English), Women's Rights Officer,

Peacework Development Fund:
*Gwendolyn Albert (Czech, English), Director of Women's Initiatives Network,

During the Congress, the representatives can be reached on the following mobile numbers: +34.627.212.118 or +36.20.398.8303 or +420.774.895.444.


Anonymous said...

Budapest is NOT the capital of Romania...

B.R.P.Bhaskar said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for kindly drawing attention to the slip. While the Communist regimes were collapsing, I had occasion to vist all the East European countries to report for Deccan Herald. The incident narrated here happened in Bucharest, capital of Romania. Hungary, of which Budapest is the capital, too, has a large gypsy population which has experienced discrimination.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for letting us know about this campaign. I can't believe that such a Nazi practice still continues.

Ostalinda said...

Czech nationalists want to relocate Romanies to India
Prague, 30.7.2008, 16:04, (ROMEA)

The Czech National Party wants to succeed in the general elections in
2010 with radical anti-Romany rhetoric formulated in a 150-page study
called "The Final Solution to the Gipsy Issue in the Czech Lands" that
it will present in a month, Lidove noviny (LN) writes today.

The name evokes Nazi Germany and its final solution to the Jewish
issue, but the nationalists claim they do no want to kill Romanies,
but that they want to buy land in India and to relocate Romanies
there, LN writes.

The team of the study authors is headed by party member Jiri Gaudin
and party chairwoman Petra Edelmannova is also a member, according to
party spokesman Pavel Sedlacek, LN writes.

The team was allegedly assisted by a few experts from "the academy
environment," who, however, request anonymity, LN writes.

Ivan Vesely, chairman of the Romany association Dzeno, told LN that
Romanies "have lived here for 500 years and we are still considered

Sedlacek told LN the study looks at the Romany issue in a
"comprehensive way - where it originated and why no one has as yet
solved it."

He said the study concludes that repatriation is the sole possible
solution after all other attempts to cope with the issue have failed.

"It must be solved on an all-European basis, land must be bought in
India and the people must be given the opportunity to live on their
land and according to their own ideas," LN quotes from the study.

Sedlacek said the word "final" that is connected with the study does
not mean that the party would like to exterminate the Romanies, but
because the matter should at last be tackled.

Miroslav Mares, expert in extremism, told LN that he thinks the
nationalists will fail in the elections.

"The Romany issue is not that strong. According to public opinion
polls strong anti-Romany prejudices do exist in society, but
(Miroslav) Sladek who based his election campaign on anti-Romany
rhetoric in 1998, failed," Mares said.

Sladek was then chairman of the extreme right Association for the
Republic-Republican Party of Czechoslovakia (SPR-RSC).