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: http://www.errc.org/cikk.php?cikk=2965.
Tell us you sent the letter or postcard, or otherwise supported the campaign, and join our online list of supporters by writing us at: email@example.com.
For further information or interviews, please contact:
Group of Women Harmed by Sterilization:
*Elena Gorolova (Czech, Romanes), firstname.lastname@example.org
European Roma Rights Centre:
* Anita Danka (Hungarian, English), Staff Attorney, email@example.com
*Ostalinda Maya (Spanish, English), Women's Rights Consultant, firstname.lastname@example.org
*Monika Pacziga (Hungarian, English), Women's Rights Officer, email@example.com
Peacework Development Fund:
*Gwendolyn Albert (Czech, English), Director of Women's Initiatives Network, firstname.lastname@example.org
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.