Saturday, June 19, 2004

From combined dispatches

BUDAPEST — As the only Gypsy legislator in the newly elected European Parliament, Livia Jaroka says she has a big task ahead in promoting the often-discriminated-against group.

Mrs. Jaroka, 29, was one of 24 Hungarians who won elections last Sunday to join the 732-seat body.

“It seems that I’m going to represent Gypsies throughout Europe, not just Hungary,” she told the Associated Press in the Hungarian capital. “It’ll be my job to stimulate dialogue between the majority society and Gypsy society.”

When the European Union enlarged to 25 countries on May 1 to include Eastern European states such as Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, the number of Roma, as Gypsies call themselves, in the European Union increased significantly.

Between 7 million and 9 million Gypsies live in Europe — 80 percent of them in countries that have just joined or are due to join the European Union over the next few years, according to World Bank estimates.

Most live in poverty and face discrimination in education, work and health care. Mrs. Jaroka, who is about to receive a doctorate from London University for her studies of Budapest’s Gypsies, grew up in modest conditions, but has been more fortunate than most of Hungary’s estimated 500,000 Roma, who make up about 5 percent of the country’s population of 10 million.

Mrs. Jaroka, who has a 10-month-old daughter, said she is not sure how long she wants to stay in the European Parliament.

“For the time being, I’m just thinking in terms of five years,” she said.

Among other just-elected members of the European Parliament are the Czech Republic’s only cosmonaut, a couple of TV stars from Britain and Italy, a Greek soccer expert and a Portuguese writer.

Ex-cosmonaut Vladimir Remek, a communist, will join former BBC-TV star and ex-Labor politician Robert Kilroy-Silk, who is taking up the UK Independence Party’s call for Britain to withdraw from the European Union.

A former EU official from the Netherlands, responsible for a damning 1999 report about fraud in the European Commission that led the entire body to resign, surprisingly won two seats for his “Transparent Europe” party.

“I did not win because of all the money I put into my campaign, because I don’t have any; and it cannot be because of my looks, because I don’t have a pretty face. It must be the message I put across,” said Paul van Buitenen.

Manolis Mavrommatis, a Greek newcomer to Brussels and Strasbourg, is also his country’s foremost expert on Italian soccer. And speaking of Italy, top TV reporter Lilli Gruber, who until recently was anchoring programs from Baghdad, outgunned the Forza Italia party of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after entering politics just two months ago.

Sinn Fein, the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, won its first two seats in the European Parliament as one of the strongest proponents of uniting Northern Ireland with Britain, Ian Paisley, stepped down after 25 years in that body.

Vasco Graca Moura, a fierce defender of Portuguese culture, was returned to the parliament, but his fellow author, Nobel literature laureate Jose Saramago, failed to win.

In Estonia, which also joined the EU on May 1, top fashion model Carmen Kass was unsuccessful in her bid for a European Parliament seat, winning just 2,315 votes.

In Lithuania, the fledgling Labor party of populist Russian-born Viktor Uspaskich scored a runaway success by capturing a likely five seats in the parliament. Mr. Uspaskich himself — a businessman dubbed “Agurkich” (“Mr. Gherkin,” because his photo appears on jars of his company’s pickles) — did not run for political office.

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