Much of the work I did as an intern in Bosnia was on issues concerning the Roma community. Across Southern, Central and Eastern Europe, Roma are treated abysmally. The deprivation and persecution and vicious racism they face are shocking at first to an outsider, as these things fly in the face of everything the bright, liberal, human rights-advancing European project is supposed to stand for.
According to this IHT article, violent attacks against Hungarian Roma are increasing, with racists being egged on by far-right political parties.
Same awful, old story in Bulgaria, Greece, and Italy. Elsewhere, in places like Bosnia and Serbia, Roma are treated as though they don’t exist, as the European Roma Rights Centre once aptly put it, “non-constituents” –dis-empowered politically, kept landless and undocumented, and generally ignored by the state and by their fellow citizens unless they are linked to crime, in which case law enforcement responses are frequently out of all proportion and serve only to further alienate Roma from non-Roma communities.
Things are changing. There are Roma MEPs now, and there has been a tremendous growth in Roma civil society since the 90’s. (I’ve had the pleasure to meet and work with some really tremendous Roma community advocates.) And the European Court of Human Rights has handed down some important rulings on major Roma human rights issues, such as racial segregation of schools in the Czech Republic. Progress is made every day, in tiny, grueling increments, but there is still a long and uneven road ahead.