- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 25, 2006

Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, engage in a struggle for equal rights comparable to the struggle of blacks in the 1960s, according to testimony at a Helsinki Commission hearing this month.

Witnesses from Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania discussed the issues of segregated education, unequal housing opportunities and racist extremist political parties, hoping to raise awareness and gain American support.

“Purposefully or not, these [policies] have breathed life into a concept long dead: the concept that separate can be equal,” said Tano Bechev, program director at the Regional Policy Development Center in Sofia, Bulgaria.

“This is important because America experienced similar issues with African Americans and can help us learn from their experiences,” he said.

Madga Matache, executive director of the Romani Center for Social Intervention and Studies in Romania, said, “We need powerful figures to put pressure on our governments to help us. Hillary Clinton made a speech about Romani women’s issues, and that helps.”

Timea Junghaus, a Hungarian witness from the Open Society Institute, said, “It is assumed that countries in the European Union are democracies, but in Hungary, about 10 percent of the population are Roma. We have to question how this can be true democracy when 10 percent of the people live like this.”

The United Nations Development Program found in 2003, that Roma in Europe “endure living conditions closer to Sub-Sarahan Africa than to Europe.”

Ms. Junghaus pointed out that prejudicial mind-sets in Europe led to racial violence and marginalization. She mentioned a popular Internet game called “Olah Action,” in which players attempt to kill all the Roma in Hungary to “cleanse” it.

Nicolae Gheorghe, a senior adviser for the Office of Security and Cooperation in Europe, said, “We need to engage in a bit of self-criticism here. How do we internalize the stereotypes and perpetuate them? We need to encourage more Roma to vote and voice their concerns.”

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