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Project on Ethnic Relations PER Logo

Bucharest, Romania
March 21-22, 1997


The most serious threats to the Romani communities of Central and EasternEurope are violence and discrimination. An international workshop on theprevention of anti-Romani violence and discrimination, sponsored by theProject on Ethnic Relations (PER) and the OSCE Office for DemocraticInstitutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was held in Bucharest on March 21-22,1997. The workshop was organized with the cooperation of the RomanianGovernment Department for the Protection of National Minorities, and RromaniCRISS (a Romani organization based in Bucharest).

After the fall of Communism in Central and Eastern Europe, violence againstthe Roma erupted with a vehemence that took many governments and the Roma bysurprise. Faced with the multiple stresses and insecurities of economies andsocieties in transition, many in the majority populations found thepolitically and economically marginalized Roma an all too inviting targetfor scapegoating. The result was widespread discrimination against Romaniindividuals and groups--biased treatment in the media, denial of access topublic establishments, and discrimination and mistreatment at the workplace,in schools, and in health programs--all punctuated by sporadic outbreaks ofmob or skinhead violence.

The Bucharest workshop was primarily concerned with government responses toviolent attacks against the Roma. There has been a marked reluctance on thepart of national and local authorities to recognize the ethnic nature ofanti-Romani violence, and they have tended to underplay the frequentlyracist character of some incidents. The failure of central authorities topublicly and persistently condemn ethnic violence sends a clear message topopulations already saturated with negative images of the Roma.

Aimed at devising practical measures, the workshop took up representativecases of anti-Romani violence and discrimination and considered domesticlegislation and other legal remedies in various countries of the region.Workshop participants acknowledged that there are no simple preventiveprograms and that concerted, joint efforts by governments, non-governmentalentities, and Romani leaders will be required.

This report was written by Jennifer Tanaka of Rromani CRISS. Robert A.Feldmesser, PER's senior editor, prepared the final manuscript. Participantsin the meeting have not reviewed this report, for which PER assumes fullresponsibility.

Livia B. Plaks, Executive Director
Project on Ethnic Relations

Princeton, New Jersey
June 1997


Although the Roma everywhere in Europe face continuing difficulties, theircurrent situation in Central and Eastern Europe is an especially precariousone, due both to their greater numbers and to the political andsocioeconomic climates of the countries in the region. Despite thedemocratization processes under way in this part of Europe, the Roma'spost-1989 experience has been marked by increasing violence and new forms ofdiscrimination. In various parts of the region, violent attacks have beencarried out by community vigilante groups, by skinheads and other extremistgroups, and in some cases by police and other law-enforcement officers. Bothdirect and indirect forms of discrimination are caused in part by thedeep-rooted negative attitudes held by the majority populations.

Cycles of marginalization have repeated themselves throughout the centuriesduring which Roma have inhabited the region. In some cases, survival tacticshanded down through generations of Roma have deepened the social exclusionof this minority. The Roma continue to be beset by high levels of illiteracyand poor living conditions. If forced settlement and the denial oftraditional trades during the Communist period led the majority of Roma intopositions of unskilled labor in factories and agricultural cooperatives,then the economic restructuring of the 1990s has resulted in unemploymentfor a large portion of the Roma.

At the same time, Roma are under severe demographic stress, as a result of ahigh birth rate, a largely youthful population, and a generally highmortality rate. It is estimated that, at some point in the not too distantfuture, they will represent the largest minority in Europe. The pressuresgenerated by these conditions have contributed to increased migration fromthe East to the West, and thence to a number of repatriation agreements thathave returned Roma to their home countries, with few prospects for betteringtheir situations.

A number of governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) haveinitiated projects and programs aimed at improving the status of the Roma inCentral and Eastern Europe. However, recent assessments of the situation ofthe Roma in the region have led to the conclusion that more concrete andlong-term actions must be taken, especially by the governments of thecountries in the region. A series of conferences, training workshops, andprojects have been conducted, aimed at alleviating the problems ofanti-Romani violence and discrimination through the implementation ofpreventive measures and activities.

The workshop reported on here was one in that series. It was held on March21 and 22, 1997, in Bucharest. Its goals were to continue the dialogue, toupdate information on the issues, and to evaluate the measures taken so far,in light of progress made and obstacles encountered. The participantsrepresented public authorities, intergovernmental institutions, Roma, andNGO activists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Macedonia, Poland, Romania, andYugoslavia. The absence of participants from the Czech and Slovak republicswas noted with regret.

Two broad categories of action served as the guiding themes of the workshopdiscussions: civil-society approaches and legal and administrativemechanisms.


Participants described civil-society approaches as having an indirect, yetindispensable, role in the prevention of violence and discrimination. Theseapproaches include a wide range of activities. Among those discussed were:

  • monitoring, investigating, and reporting cases of violence anddiscrimination against the Roma;
  • educating the Roma about their civil and human rights and the relevantmechanisms for the redress of grievances;
  • providing legal representation for victims of anti-Romani actions;
  • engaging in advocacy and lobbying efforts, on both national andinternational levels, for effective legal remedies for abuses against theRoma;
  • encouraging negotiations between local authorities and the Roma inconflict situations;
  • organizing training and dialogue sessions that bring together Roma andlaw-enforcement officers, in order to increase mutual understanding andidentify strategies for the prevention of future conflicts; and
  • facilitating local projects in Romani communities that address thesocioeconomic factors, such as schooling, employment, and health, thatcontribute to tensions in community relations.

These activities took both "confrontational" and "cooperative" forms. Oneparticipant described his organization as using both approaches:confrontational at the national level, exerting pressure to change policies,and more cooperative at the local level, carrying out joint actions toimprove community relations.

Representatives of organizations in Hungary and Romania mentioned that theyalso try to systematically study the relevant phenomena, establishing atypology of such incidents and undertaking a quantitative analysis. Otherparticipants said that interventions were also made with regard to theindependent media, which play so important a role in the shaping of publicattitudes and mentalities.


The legal and administrative mechanisms discussed included offices andprograms initiated by governments and ministries, as well as laws regulatingacts of violence and discrimination. Indeed, one of the co-sponsors of theworkshop was the new Romanian Department for the Protection of NationalMinorities, in which there is an Office for the Integration of Roma. Thedepartment seeks to provide an administrative and political framework foraddressing issues related to Roma and other minorities.

The representative of the Romanian police described the Mob ViolencePrevention Program, and he also discussed previous activities to improve theability of the police to deal with situations of potential conflict. Arepresentative of the Romanian gendarmerie described his organization'sdeployment of force in such situations.

In Hungary, the Ombudsman Office for the Protection of Minorities wasdescribed as an important mechanism for obtaining legal representation forRomani victims and for evaluating legislation and administrative procedureswith regard to their constitutionality and their respect for human andminority rights. A representative of the Bulgarian Ministry of Labor andSocial Welfare discussed programs designed to increase employmentopportunities among the Roma.

Participants agreed that two factors were essential in dealing withdiscrimination and violence: the enactment and enforcement of laws thatclearly defined discriminatory acts and provided for stiff punishments; andassurances of both moral and material reparations for the victims whenviolence does take place.


One term that recurred frequently during the workshop was "partnership." Itwas pointed out that various partners have been engaged, in differentcapacities, in the implementation of measures aimed at reducingdiscrimination and violence against the Roma.

However, the discussions also revealed the persistence of adversarialattitudes between police and government authorities, on the one hand, andRoma and NGO activists, on the other. Opinions differed as to the rootcauses of this situation. The representative of the Romanian policesuggested that it was due principally to the "self-marginalization" of theRoma, their refusal to go to school, and their particular value system,including a subculture that manifested itself in an "aggressive" lack ofknowledge of and respect for the law. Representatives of Romani andhuman-rights organizations gave greater emphasis to discriminatoryenforcement of the law, failure of the authorities to recognize and confrontracism and discrimination, and the hostile stereotypes of Roma.

NGO representatives said that one of the problems they encountered was thelack of a clear mode of implementation in local administration. Trainingactivities have focused on the police more than on local authorities, and sothat the latter often do not know how to work with NGOs and even resistparticipating in cooperative projects. One participant stated that animportant related problem is that the respective roles and competencies ofgovernment bodies and NGOs are often not clear.

Another factor, it was pointed out, is the failure to identify and prosecutethe perpetrators of violence and discrimination against Roma. This failureamounts to a signal from the authorities that they will tolerate suchactions. Furthermore, without the resolution of the criminal cases, civilvenues for redress of grievances remain blocked. There is a need tosensitize the functionaries in the justice ministries. Indeed, ill treatmentand excessive use of firearms by law-enforcement officials were also pointsof contention raised by some Romani participants.

Romani participants from Romania and Bulgaria also expressed concerns aboutexcessive police violence during organized raids in Romani communities. Themotive for these raids is said to be the apprehension of suspectedcriminals. In Romania, these raids are even carried out within the MobViolence Prevention Program. However, the representative of the Romanianpolice insisted that the raids were targeted not on Romani zones but oncriminal zones. It was also noted that, at least in Romania, the police hadimproved their ability to prevent the escalation of local tensions into openconflict. The example was given of cooperation and communication amongpolice, Romani NGOs, and local authorities in the Romanian town of Tanganu.In addition, the Romanian general prosecutor's office, in response toletters from Romani organizations, had created a database and wascommunicating the information in it on a regular basis.

The issue of "Romani criminality" was also raised. Romani participantsstated that the habit police and media have of reporting the Romaniethnicity of criminal suspects had the effect of reinforcing negativestereotypes and of inducing a sense of "collective culpability" among theRoma. A positive step in this area was the declaration by the Hungarianombudsman that the inclusion of ethnic membership in crime news wascontradictory to both the Hungarian Law on Data Protection (1992) and theLaw on Minorities (1993). Self-identification as a member of a nationalminority, said the declaration, is a matter of personal choice, andtherefore the identification of suspects as "Gypsies" by police officers wascontrary to the law.

Another encouraging sign was the establishment of the Roma Press Center inHungary. With financial support from the Hungarian government, itfacilitates the flow of information from the Roma themselves. An example ofthe effectiveness of such information was the recent incident involving theexpulsion of Romanian Roma residing illegally in Poland. Although theexpulsion was within the law, it was carried out at night and by force,without allowing the Roma even to gather their belongings. There was astrong reaction in the press, and the parliament also issued a strongcritical statement. The practice is no longer being carried out.

Clear declarations by public officials against discriminatory practices andviolence would also be helpful. The government of Hungary has recently madepublic recognition of the existence of anti-Romani discrimination andpledged to take measures aimed at improving the situation.


The consensus among the participants was that a comprehensive, long-termapproach to the problems of the Roma was needed. Such an approach wouldintegrate social, economic, cultural, political, legal, and civil actions.The following specific recommendations were made:

Working for a more understanding perspective. Confrontational attitudes onthe part of both many of the Romani rights organizations and publicofficials should be put aside in favor of seeking common ground for theidentification and implementation of practical measures to preventdiscrimination and violence. Efforts should be made to improve communicationamong the parties involved and to seek an appropriate language foraddressing the issues at hand. Included here would be an officialrecognition of the right to self-designation as Roma, instead of Tsigan.

Taking public stands against violence and discrimination. There should beclear declarations of the political will to address these problems. Thefirst step should be an explicit recognition of the existence ofdiscrimination in the Central and East European countries, and this shouldbe followed by an unequivocal condemnation of acts of discrimination andviolence. If the central authorities take a strong position, regional andlocal authorities are more likely to take appropriate actions themselves.

Promoting educational activities to combat racism and discrimination.Education is the vital strategy for changing attitudes toward the Roma.Educational efforts are needed among the Roma as well, to help them learn oftheir rights as citizens and as members of a minority and to instillconfidence in taking action against abuses that have been committed againstthem.

Encouraging dialogue and training for local authorities and for the Roma.Such activities should emphasize clarification of the roles and competenciesof both the local authorities (especially elected officials) and the NGOs,and methods of implementing local cooperative projects.

Increasing local access to and participation in consultative bodies. Anumber of relevant administrative mechanisms have been created in theCentral and East European countries--e.g., the Department for NationalMinorities in Romania. However, these are mostly centralized bodies, andthere is a need to extend access and participation down to the local level,where the majority of conflicts originate. Local minority councils should beprovided for as well as increased representation in local administrativeorgans.

Applying full legal remedies in cases of violence against Romanicommunities. Perpetrators of criminal acts of violence and discriminationagainst Roma have too often not been brought to justice, leading others tobelieve that they can engage in similar acts with impunity. At the veryleast, some of the high-profile incidents should be brought to a conclusion,both as a demonstration of the new policy and as a way of bringing somemoral relief to the Romani community.

Bringing judges in as partners in preventive activities. Efforts at trainingand cultivating partnerships among Romani and other NGOs, police and otherlaw-enforcement officers, lawyers, prosecutors, and local and regionalauthorities should now be expanded to include judges as well. Especiallydesirable would be an arrangement whereby the training is done by otherjudges from Central and East European countries.

Conducting legal clinics in local communities. Such clinics would be aimedat providing the Roma with greater access to legal aid. Local authoritiescould assist by arranging for space for the clinics, and Roma should take aleading role in cultivating and consolidating relations between the clinicsand the communities. An ombudsman's office can play an important role, too.

Introducing, reviewing, and modifying laws against discrimination andviolence. Legislation and provisions of the penal code should establish alegal framework for the prosecution of discriminatory practices and violentacts. The laws should clearly define the types of practices and acts thatare punishable; the laws should be effectively implemented; and thepunishments should be stiff enough to discourage potential perpetrators.

Evaluating procedures in law enforcement. There have been too many instancesof the excessive use of violence by law-enforcement officials, especially inthe context of organized raids. These instances should be objectivelyevaluated, and dialogue between Roma and law-enforcement officials should beinstituted to clarify the motives for the actions and to identifyalternative, nonviolent means of resolving the issues in question.Identification of membership in an ethnic or national minority in policereports should be discontinued. Some existing procedures should bereconsidered: those that require that complaints against public officials befiled through the military prosecutor, and those that delay civil remediesuntil after long-drawn-out criminal processes have been concluded. Also,there should be an inquiry into a number of legal cases that have been heldup or closed during the stage of investigative proceedings, in order toidentify the causes and to improve their current status.

Improving the image of the Roma in the mass media. Because of theirfundamental importance in shaping public opinion and attitudes, those whowork in the mass media should be made more aware of their responsibilitiesin reporting on Romani-related issues. Romani participation in reporting forthe mass media should be increased, and forums should be created fordialogue between Romani and non-Romani journalists.


The workshop underlined the importance of both civil-society approaches andlegal and administrative mechanisms in the prevention of violence anddiscrimination against the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. Although animpressive number of actions have been taken by governments and NGOs fromwithin the region and from outside it, these and other initiatives must besustained over the long term.

Some crucial actions were proposed that have so far been neglected. Amongthese were the training of judges and of local officials. Sincediscrimination and violence against the Roma occur predominantly at thelocal level, administrative mechanisms should be situated in the localcontext. Actions must also be directed toward combating racism and thedeep-rooted negative stereotypes of Roma. But there must also be a legalframework adequate to the task of administering the criminal-justice systemand prosecuting acts of discrimination and violence.

A wide range of activities was recommended, reflecting the need for acomprehensive, integrated approach, based on the firm political will of thegovernments concerned. Among these activities are some that would increaseschooling and employment among Roma. Measures to prevent discrimination andviolence require for their success cooperation among diverseactors--governmental and nongovernmental, Romani and non-Romani. There areimportant roles for the police, judiciary, local and central authorities,Romani organizations, other NGOs, and the media.



Dragan Jevremovic,  Romani Center


Anton Karagiozov,  Romani Social Foundation, Plovdiv

Milena Petrova,  Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare


Faik Abdi,  Parliament


Bea Bodrogi,  Bureau for the Protection of Rights of National and EthnicMinorities

Csilla Der,  European Roma Rights Center

Istvan Fretyan,  Office for National and Ethnic Minorities

Aladar Horvath,  Romani Civil Rights Foundation


Andrzej Mirga,  PER Romani Advisory Council


Nicoleta Bitu,  Rromani CRISS

Valerica Bojian,  Romanian Institute for Human Rights

Ioan Boldor,  Association of Christian Roma

Adrian Bunoaica,  Department for the Protection of National Minorities,Government of Romania

Adrian Camarasan,  Department for the Protection of National Minorities,Government of Romania

Florin Cioaba,  Association of Christian Roma

Dorin Ciuncan,  Office of the Attorney General

Nora Costache,  Young Generation of Roma

Vasile Daniel,  Ethnic Romani County

Radu Demetrescu,  Romanian Institute for Human Rights

Nicolae Emilian,  Romani Students Association

Silviu Erusencu,  General Inspectorate of Police

Anda Filip,  Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Ion Garulet,  The National Union Block

Nicolae Gheorghe,  Rromani CRISS

Raluca Grosescu,  Eastern Free Frontiers

Istvan Haller,  Liga Pro Europa

Mihai Ilarie,  Nicola Association, General Council of Roma in Romania

Mariana Ion,  PHOENIX Foundation

Ion Ionel,  Party of the Roma

Ovidiu Marchidan,  Romanian Gendarmerie

Gabriel Micu,  Department for the Protection of National Minorities,Government of Romania

Catalina Nicolae,  Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Dan Oprea,  Association for the Protection of Human Rights

Nicolae Paun,  Party of the Roma

Mihai Polea,  Ion Budai Deleanu Foundation

Iulian Radulescu,  Ion Budai Deleanu Foundation

Mirel Remescu,  Eastern Free Frontiers

Luminita Sega,  Office of the Attorney General

George Stoica,  Ministry of Justice

Razvan Strachinescu,  Romanian Institute for Human Rights

Jennifer Tanaka,  Rromani CRISS

Adrian Teodorescu,  General Inspectorate of Police

Gyorgy Tokay,  Department for the Protection of National Minorities,Government of Romania

Rudolf Varga,  Romani Unity

Costel Vasile,  Young Generation of Roma

Ioaneta Vintileanu,  General Inspectorate of Police

Florina Zoltan,  Romano Tolah Association


Livia Plaks,  Project on Ethnic Relations

Mark Temple,  American Embassy


Vladimir Macura,  Society for the Improvement of Romani Local Communities


John Murray,  Population and Migration Division/Activities on Roma/Gypsies


Jacek Paliszewski,  Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights


Hugh Massey,  Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees