Open letter of the Romano Centro to the OSCE
10 January 2000
On January 10, 2000, the Vienna-based non-governmental organisation Romano Centro sent the following letter to the Austrian Ambassador to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Dr Jutta Stefan.
Bastl. Austria acceded to the chairmanship of the OSCE in January. In the letter, Romano Centro appealed to OSCE to take seriously the precarious situation of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe and urged the Austrian government to take a leading role in engaging OSCE member states in addressing the situation of Roma in Eastern and Southeastern Europe. The letter was not addressed to the Foreign Minister, the Austrian representative at the OSCE, because Austria does not now have a government. The views expressed in the letter are not necessarily those of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC). The text of the letter follows:
Dear Ms Ambassador,
Romano Centro is an organisation with good contacts with other Romani organisations, above all in the former Communist countries, and an extensive library and documentation centre. We therefore believe we are well-informed on the situation of Roma in Eastern and Southeastern Europe.
We are placing high hopes in the Austrian chair of the OSCE this year, and we urge you not to underestimate the threatened situation of Roma. We expressly wish to assure you that the migration wave of Slovak Roma is only the first such wave of desperate Roma seeking anywhere where there are bearable living conditions. In many countries hatred of "Gypsies" by "Gadje" (non-Roma) has massively increased, making help urgently necessary. Not only the situation of Romani refugees from Kosovo-- welcome nowhere -- but also Roma in the ghettos of Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Hungary and the Czech Republic believe they can escape their situation only through flight. The states presently applying for European Union membership have to date been largely successful in hushing up the problem. Laws aimed at the improvement of the situation are not observed or are entirely impossible to implement. International observers often profess satisfaction with such false solutions. In our opinion these observers underestimate the potential for violence slumbering beneath the surface.
Because we are aware that it is very difficult to plan effective projects, allow us to submit several proposals and to declare ourselves prepared to assist in the development of such ideas:
1. Mr Nicolae Gheorghe, who has been employed by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights urgently needs support. Interns, who until now have been assigned to help him for several months at a time, do not seem to us very useful. We believe that Mr Gheorghe requires the assistance of a person with at least knowledge of English, office experience and knowledge of Roma. We would be willing to assist in a search for a qualified person, but would need to know under what conditions, and above all for how long such a person could be engaged.
2. A short while ago, a Romani delegation traveled to Slovakia with financial assistance from the European Commission in order to gain a deeper understanding of the situation of Roma there. After studying recent laws and the report of this group, we could imagine the usefulness of an independent observer from the OSCE to report for a period of several months on the situation in Slovakia. We believe that now is the proper time for such a mission. The OSCE should become aware to a much greater extent than it has been to date that Slovakia alone cannot resolve the problems of Roma and that these problems demand international engagement. Austria would certainly not stand alone if it adopted a more active role, as the actions of the United States at the OSCE meeting in Istanbul clearly show.
3. The original idea of Ms Avalone to send an observer to Kosovo to gain a better understanding of the particular situation of Roma there was worthwhile, as should be evident from the decision of Germany to adopt this idea and send Mr Stephan Muller to Kosovo. Sending a second person with knowledge of Romani and Serbian would distinctly assist Mr Muller's mission. We have recommendations for possible candidates for a second position.
4. The OSCE membership of Yugoslavia is at present suspended; because of the unfavorable economic situation in Yugoslavia, most of the Romani refugees there from Kosovo are in an especially difficult position. Desperate, many of them would like to leave, but the situation of Roma who have fled Kosovo to countries such as Macedonia, Montenegro and Italy is also fairly hopeless. Perhaps a useful step would be to determine a reasonable count of the number of Roma who cannot ever, or at least for a long period of time, return to Kosovo, in order to encourage humanitarian programs by other countries.
We urge you, Madame Ambassador, not to underestimate the potential for conflict that the ever-growing Romani population presents in many countries, and to present this letter to the Foreign Minister. Austria, as neighbouring country and first target-country for refugees, seems to us predestined to convince the other member states of the importance of paying attention to the Romani issue.
Renate M. Erich
Persons wishing to express similar concerns to the Austrian delegation to the OSCE are urged to direct correspondence to:
Ambassador Dr Jutta Stefan Bastl
Foreign Ministry of Austria
Fax: (43 1) 53 18 53 27
Romano Centro can be contacted at:
Tel/Fax: (43 1) 749 6336
Romano Centro maintains an internet website at: http://www-gewi.kfunigraz.ac.at/romani
Information on the situation of Roma in Kosovo is available at the Internet website of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC) at: www.errc.org.