The Roma in domestic and international politics: an emerging voice?

07 November 2001

Peter Vermeersch1

In countries here Roma constitute a sizeable minority, Romani activists have in recent years joined together to form interest groups in domestic and international political relations.

In the sphere of domestic politics, Romani activists have sometimes tried to enter politics through participation in mainstream parties. In other cases, they have established ethnic-based political parties for which they have sought electoral support from Romani communities. On the international level, one can observe attempts to establish representative international Romani organisations aimed at constructing a common identity for all Roma and influencing the agendas of international bodies, such as the Council of Europe or the institutions of the European Union.

However, gaining access to politics has been far from easy for the Roma. Today, their political strength in many countries still falls short of what their total population size would suggest and warrant. This is especially noticeable in the composition of national parliaments in European countries with large Romani communities. Arguably, it is one of the central functions of any democratic parliament to represent the entire electorate of a country, without excluding certain demographic groups.2 Because many parliaments contain none or, at most, a few Romani Members of Parliament, they fail to reflect the diversity of the population at large.

Not having a strong enough voice in domestic politics is also a complaint increasingly expressed by Romani activists and Romani politicians themselves. They contend that there is a need for a mechanism or strategy to enhance the representation of the Roma, not only for reasons of creating a better democracy, but also because Roma should have a voice in the design of new policy initiatives directed at Romani communities. Those states that have initiated new policies targeting the problems facing the Roma frequently have no democratically elected representatives from the group in question to help design policy.

Furthermore, because of their general lack of political participation, Roma again run the danger of being cast in a too familiar role - that of a target group, a group alien to the national culture, or a "problem" group. To combat racism, there is clearly an urgent need for an image of Roma as an integral part of the population of the countries in which they live, both as ordinary citizens and contributors to the policy-making process. The lack of real participation of Roma in debates about policy and legislation is problematic, and the symbolic aspect of having no Roma in parliament potentially also has negative ramifications.

Looking at the international stage, one could ask whether the growing international presence of Romani politicians, and their relative success in attracting the attention of media and international governmental bodies, compensates for a lack of domestic participation. Indeed, the International Romani Union (IRU), the organisation that claims to be the most important international "voice" of the Roma, has recently taken the lead in this process by declaring in July 2000 that it aimed not only to be the foremost promoter of the Romani cause, but nothing less than "the political representation of all Roma in the world."3 Such an attempt at international "representation" may be a powerful means for the Roma to gain credibility for their cause in the international arena. But as this article will argue, at the same time it raises new questions about its representative character and accountability. Moreover, it certainly does not diminish the need for a serious increase of Romani participation in domestic politics.

One often hears the argument that the reason for the lack of Romani participation, both in domestic and international political arenas, lies with the minority itself: its lack of organisation, its failure to garner mass support, and the factionalism among its potential leaders.4 However, there are clearly many elements at play, and a more detailed picture should be drawn. There seems to be a complex of obstacles that prevent Roma from translating their presence into political power. This article explores these obstacles. It also aims to raise some topics for further discussion. In order to treat this topic systematically, the article will first look at the political participation of Roma in the narrow sense of the word, meaning the electoral behaviour of the individual members of the ethnic group and their involvement in political parties. In the second part of the article, the focus shifts to the "political mobilisation" of the Roma, a term which I use to refer to a much broader field, including non-electoral forms of political activity, such as protest, advocacy, or extra-parliamentary attempts to influence individual politicians, parties or media. Romani political mobilisation also includes the influence exerted by Roma in advisory bodies appointed by the government with the purpose of drawing Roma into the deliberative process.

As the emergence of Romani politics has been most visible in the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe, I will select some illustrative material from a number of countries in that region. It is certainly not the purpose of this article to provide an exhaustive survey, or to go deeply into details in various countries. Experiences differ significantly from country to country and one should be aware of generalising too much. But arguably, there are a number of factors that are relevant to all cases and can fuel in-depth discussion on this topic.

Romani participation in mainstream political parties

Since the beginning of the 1990s, several Romani candidates in various countries in Central and Eastern Europe have entered parliamentary elections for mainstream political parties. In some instances, Romani candidates were able to enter the central arenas of political power by participating in or forging alliances with such a political party. This seems to have been possible especially in the beginning of the 1990s, in those cases where the formation of political parties was centred on the split between Communists and anti-Communists. The primary example is Czechoslovakia, where in the 1990 elections a total of 11 MPs, who identified themselves as Roma were elected to the federal- and republic-level parliaments of the country as candidates for the large dissident movements, Public Against Violence (VPN) and Civic Forum (OF). Later, mainstream parties brought only a very limited number of Roma into parliament. In the 1998 elections in the Czech Republic, one candidate who identified herself as Romani was elected for the Freedom Union (US). In Hungary, the liberal Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) brought two Romani candidates into the parliament in 1990 and one in 1994. The Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) brought one Romani MP in the National Assembly in 1990. In Bulgaria, each of the elections of 1990, 1994 and 1997 brought one person explicitly declaring himself to be Romani into parliament on a mainstream party ticket (no Roma were elected to parliament during general elections in 1991). In the most recent Bulgarian elections in June 2001, a Romani candidate from the list of the National Movement Simeon II (NDSV)5 and one from the Coalition For Bulgaria, an electoral coalition led by the Socialist Party, were elected. In the November 2000 Romanian parliamentary elections, the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PDSR) brought one candidate who identifies himself as Romani into parliament.

The total record of Roma elected for mainstream parties is very low, but this is perhaps not surprising since the number of Roma in winnable positions on mainstream party lists in general has remained low in all these countries. Roma are not only underrepresented in national legislatures, they have only rarely been included in mainstream political parties. Arguably, mainstream political movements have rarely considered Roma as potential contributors to a country's political, cultural and economic capital. This may also be related to the way politicians in general have referred to the Romani minority in their public discourse: When not avoiding the topic of Romani representation for fear of losing votes, they have often used anti-Romani rhetoric to buttress populist campaigns.6 Therefore, increased Romani participation can only be achieved if mainstream political discourse produces more nuanced, differentiated and positive perceptions of Roma. Such a discourse will also have to persuade non-Romani audiences that a vital aspect of their democracies is indeed to have an increased participation of marginalised groups, such as the Roma, in all spheres of public life. Mainstream political parties can contribute to this worthy cause by actively investing in potential Romani politicians. At the non-electoral level, such parties could take specific initiatives, such as organising discussion workshops to make their future and current politicians think about how to make their parties more ethnically diverse, or holding information sessions to encourage Roma to stand in elections. For historical reasons, Roma have usually very limited experience with public office, so before actually putting Roma on election lists, a party could decide to focus on attracting Roma to politics through organising political education. It is, however, essential that the process does not stop there, and that Roma are in the end effectively included in a given party's candidate list in places where they have a realistic chance of winning seats in parliament.

Participation through Romani political parties

In certain cases, Romani activists have believed that it is more fruitful to build Romani political representation by establishing specific Romani political parties that aim to attract and represent an ethnic constituency. The international community has generally perceived ethnic-based politics as an effective way for minorities to gain access to the political arena. However, attempts by Roma in this area to date have not been very successful. In some countries, large numbers of comparable Romani parties have been established and are now competing among each other. Moreover, besides the legitimate claim of wanting to have more Roma in politics, Romani ethnic parties have often failed to formulate clear ideas with respect to the concrete problems of the educational system, unemployment, or poverty. And most importantly, Romani parties and coalitions have simply not been able to attract the support of voters. For instance, the political party Romani Civic Initiative (ROI) in the Czech and Slovak Republics has participated on its own in a number of national elections, without the close affiliation it had with the Civic Forum in the 1990 Czechoslovak elections, but has never come even close to passing the parliamentary threshold of 5 percent. Recent attempts in Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia point in the same direction. In the November 2000 elections in Romania, two Romani parties were standing. Their most successful candidate, a member of the Romani Party (Partida Rromilor), receaved only 0.66 percent of the votes for the Chamber of Deputies. Given the 5 percent threshold, this was far from enough to send a representative to parliament. Nevertheless, the Romani Party was able to fill in the reserved minority seat. Also, as part of a pre-election agreement, a member of the Romani Party was put on the list of the Romanian Social Democratic Party (PDSR) and has indeed been elected to parliament.7 This means that, together with the Romani candidate who has been elected from the PDSR list, the current Romanian parliament contains two deputies who identify themselves as Romani representatives. The Bulgarian electoral system does not allow the formation of political parties on the basis of ethnicity,8 but in the elections of June 2001, the Romani organisation EvroRoma formed an electoral coalition with the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), which over the last decade has represented a predominantly ethnic Turkish constituency. This coalition party managed to gain 21 seats, but no Romani candidates were elected. A coalition called the National Union Tsar Kiro, which was known to be an electoral coalition of Romani organisations, also failed to attract a high number of voters and foundered at 0.60 percent of the vote.

Mr Aladar Horvath and Ms Agnes Daroczi at the Gypsy Minority Self-Government Elections in Hungary, January 1999.
Photo: ERRC

The only exception to the rule of failed Romani parties and coalitions to date has been Macedonia, where two Romani MPs secured seats in parliament in 1990 on the list of a party called Party for the Total Emancipation of Roma in Macedonia (PCER). In the current Macedonian parliament, there is one MP for a party called the Union of Roma in Macedonia. In Slovakia, a number of parties, including ROI, have recently attempted to bring Romani politicians together on one electoral platform, in order to form a united front in the next parliamentary elections in the autumn of 2002. Although this has been a useful exercise, it remains to be seen whether this platform will survive until the elections. Already one Slovak Romani party called the Slovak Romani Initiative (RIS) was not willing to participate. Instead, RIS signed a co-operation agreement with current populist opposition party Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the party of former premier Vladimír Me?iar not exactly a party that is known for its pro-minority stance, but nevertheless apparently perceived by RIS as a safer bet in electoral terms.9 

Mobilisation: Roma protesting racist policies in Italy, 1997. Photo: Piero Collacicchi

In general, Romani parties based solely on ethnic affiliation in all of these countries have done very poorly in elections, though there have been a few exceptions on the municipal level. As with political parties of ethnic minorities in general, there are a number of possible factors that may have caused this. For example, the structural characteristics of the electorate may have had an influence: The younger age structure of the Romani communities means that a smaller share of their population is of voting age. Apart from structural reasons, there are arguably also more substantive causes for their low voter support. One such reason could be that those few Romani party representatives who have been elected in the past have not been able to change the situation of Roma and have not been able to gain the trust of voters. This might point to the general difficulty of establishing a party programme that represents the demands of the Romani minority as a whole. It may also be the case that Romani communities fear that casting votes for ethnic parties would further marginalise them or would keep their communities outside central politics. Or perhaps the poor results of those parties are merely the result of the fact that these parties have difficulties in communicating their programmes to potential voters.10

Also, the electoral system may, to some extent, have a crucial influence on the success or failure of Romani parties. For example, electoral thresholds in the Slovak and Czech Republics - designed to prevent fragmentation - have stopped smaller parties from entering the legislature. This has made it more difficult for parties that want to attract voters on the principle of minority membership. For Romani parties in the Czech Republic, for example, the electoral threshold - five percent - is somewhat higher than the proportion of Roma among the total number of citizens. As a result, it is not very likely that Czech Roma will get into parliament through an ethnic political party.11 Not surprisingly, in recent national elections in the Czech Republic, there have been no serious attempts to form Romani electoral coalitions. Romania equally maintains a five percent parliamentary threshold, but has introduced special provisions regarding the election of deputies representing minority political parties. As a result, ethnic minority parties there that fail to pass the threshold can make use of a reserved seat in parliament. In Hungary, parties also have to meet a five percent threshold, while a system of secured seats in parliament has not yet been introduced, even though it is constitutionally required.12 Instead, however, an elaborate system of minority self-governments there has created a special form of minority representation for issues related to the collective rights that national and ethnic minorities enjoy in Hungary, more specifically, rights in the field of education, media, and culture, and the collective use of minority languages.13 In Bulgaria, as mentioned above, representation on an ethnic basis is discouraged through law. However, some political parties there specifically recruit from an ethnically bounded constituency.

Evaluating Romani participation in electoral politics

What does the current situation in the countries cited above say about the current political representation of Roma in national parliaments? With regard to "descriptive representation" - meaning the representation of the demographic characteristics of the electorate - the composition of the above mentioned parliaments is clearly problematic, since they largely exclude Roma as a demographic group. Romani political parties have not been able to get representatives into parliament, and the Romani MPs from mainstream parties have been few. One could, however, hope that at least there would be some form of "substantive representation" - the representation of the policy interests of that part of the electorate, even without the presence of Roma themselves in parliament. However, as described above, there are indications that there are serious defects in the latter form of representation too. Politicians have often pandered to voters' hostility towards Roma in order to get elected. Many Romani activists have felt that their demands were not taken seriously by non-ethnic political parties, even if these had strongly supported minority rights in their programme declarations. Romani candidates who have occasionally appeared on mainstream party lists have often felt that they were not in a strong enough position to enhance the scope of Romani representation through that party. Instances of mainstream parties supporting Romani candidates are now often considered by Roma as evidence of shrewd political calculation rather than as a dedication to tolerance and acceptance or to real initiatives toward policy building.

One could argue that in order to enhance the substantive representation of Roma, a better descriptive representation of them in parliament is needed. There are some mechanisms that, at least, could lead to a better descriptive representation of Roma. For example, lowering the parliamentary threshold can be seen as a way of facilitating the presence of minority members in parliament. A system of reserved seats, however, provides a more effective mechanism to guarantee a minimal presence of Roma in parliament. Although such minimal presence will not necessarily directly lead to a better substantive representation of Romani interests, it can be important for at least two reasons: It can symbolise the idea that Roma should be considered an essential part of the national electorate, and that as such they need representation in the national parliament; and it could help to trigger a process of political emancipation. For example, elected Roma would have the guarantee of being able to gain experience in parliamentary representation and would almost certainly enhance the profile of the ethnic party they represent. At present, such a system of guaranteed seats for the Roma exists in Romania and is being debated in Hungary.14 If, however, one does not regard the support for ethnic political parties as a good way of enhancing Romani political representation, then one should probably look for a solution in the direction of making mainstream political parties more inclusive towards Romani politicians and Romani interests.

Romani political mobilisation and advocacy

However important the above discussion about direct Romani participation in politics is, there is more to politics than just elections. Elected representatives are not the only ones capable of defending the interests of a given population. Non-elected actors today have an increasing influence on the formation and monitoring of public policy. In the case of Roma, these players are mostly domestic or international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the field of human rights, but also Romani self-help organisations, expert networks and advisory boards consulted by policy-makers. This collection of actors can be seen as an example of an advocacy network. An advocacy network is, in the words of Keck and Sikkink, a network "organised to promote causes, principled ideas and norms," which often involves "individuals advocating policy changes that cannot be easily linked to a rationalist understanding of their 'interests'" (advocates plead the causes of others).15 The question then is: What influence have advocacy networks had on the process of Romani political mobilisation in Central and Eastern Europe?

Let us first have a look at advocacy actors in general and their role in political mobilisation. On the one hand, advocacy actors are generally independent organisations or individuals and do not engage the support of any political group in any country. On the other hand, they are to some extent political, because they defend norms that are seen as valid across state borders, and that activity often includes scrutinising those governments that do not comply with those norms. For example, research on international NGOs in the human rights sector shows that these organisations generally have played a crucial role in transforming state sovereignty.16 First of all, they have contributed a great deal to the establishment of human rights standards in international law. Secondly, in many cases, they have supported domestic civil society in protesting a state's violations of international norms. Through their activities, they have demonstrated that the power of political leaders is limited. Their involvement may lead governments to change policy, or in certain cases, it may trigger the transformation of a whole political regime.

During the last decade of the 20th century, a number of international human rights NGOs started to research and document the human rights situation of the Roma in Europe. Particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, they found that Roma were disproportionately affected by the economic and political changes after 1989 and had become the number one victim of discrimination. However, protecting Roma from discrimination or changing their situation were not among the priorities of the new political leaders, who were ostensibly preoccupied with other aspects of transition politics. At the beginning of the 1990s, international human rights NGOs started to criticise those governments that ignored the unacceptible living conditions of many Roma. For example, in this period, Human Rights Watch published a series of reports on the situation of the Roma in Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, concentrating on a wide range of issues, from education to unequal access to public and private services.17

What has the result of this attention been? First, the advocacy network around Romani issues made governments and society more aware of the normative context of minority treatment. By doing so, they also offered a powerful tool to ethnically-based Romani NGOs and Romani political parties, which now could draw upon the language of international human rights in their claims towards governments and in their attempts to attract support from ordinary Romani citizens. Advocacy actors have also criticised discriminatory language and thus attempted to produce a more positive image of Roma.18

Furthermore, increased attention to Roma went hand in hand with a flow of financial and technical resources to the new democracies through private foundations and international organisations (for example the European Union's Phare program). New funds became available to organisations that explicitly worked toward defending the rights of Romani minorities and supporting the establishment of new Romani civic organizations. The Soros Foundations network, for instance, has been a prominent defender of such a strategy and has made financial support available to a large number of projects and initiatives.19 These have been partly directed towards human rights reporting and the legal protection of Roma, which is, for example, the focus of the European Roma Rights Center, and partly towards the development of Romani communities themselves, like the Roma Participation Program of the Open Society Institute (OSI), which among other things organises training workshops for Romani activists.

The advocacy network has also tried to promote the values of democracy. Certain international NGOs have tried to act as a source of education in the field of democracy for Romani audiences, or they have offered the wider public a new perspective on the social situation of Roma through emphasising universal norms of equality. Moreover, as the lack of political representation of Roma has increasingly been seen as a democratic deficit, certain NGOs have started to take the lead in fostering better representation. Some recent OSI programs, for example, have been explicitly linked to the engagement of Roma in politics.20 Another international NGO - Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) - has also contributed to the formation of a credible Romani leadership by organising roundtable discussions, through which politicians in power and Romani activists have been brought together. In Romania and Bulgaria, international and domestic NGOs have played a major role in bringing Roma into dialogue with government.

Lastly, one of the political consequences of the increased attention from human rights NGOs has been the growing awareness of international governmental organisations of the plight of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe. International criticism expressed by NGOs ostensibly led to enhanced monitoring of the situation of Roma by international governmental organisations. Human rights NGOs have intentionally directed communication towards the international community, as they are often seen as more credible forums than local representative organisations. Ostensibly, it is as a result of lobbying by human rights NGOs that now both the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have special bodies that monitor the position of the Roma in their respective member states. The example of the OSCE is an interesting one, as its special body for Romani affairs, the Contact Point for Roma and Sinti Issues, which is a part of the OSCE's Warsaw-based Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, has recently also started directly fostering Romani political participation, and it held a conference on the issue in December 2000 in Prague.

Advocacy and problems of political representation

As illustrated above, the growth of an advocacy network around Romani issues has triggered processes of domestic Romani mobilisation in Central and Eastern Europe and will probably continue to do so. It has also triggered a process of change in governmental attitudes towards the problems facing Roma, and it has indirectly fostered domestic Romani activism. Furthermore, the advocacy network appears to have revived an international Romani movement that had more or less come to a halt at the end of the 1980s. International associations that have attempted to ground themselves within Romani communities, such as the Roma National Congress (RNC), have made explicit use of the language of international human rights. In the second half of the 1990s, a new impetus was also given to the International Romani Union (IRU). In this sense, the emergence of a network of international NGOs, which are active in the field of human rights and focus on the Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, has been a significant factor determining the growth of Romani political aspirations and the formation of Romani political identity.

Advocacy actors have been able to play such an important role in politics because both governments and Romani activists have taken them seriously. Governments have regarded advocacy actors as credible critics of the situation of the oppressed because such actors represent internationally valid principles, not just the private interests of individual groups.21 Romani activists themselves have found in advocacy organisations useful tools for pressuring governments and mobilising communities.

However, there is also an important problem attached to the role of Roma in advocacy organisations: They have increasingly become regarded as the replacement of an elected Romani representation. As stated above, advocacy organisations have not aimed to speak for the people in the sense of articulating the claims of one group (as politicians sometimes do). Rather, they have aimed to speak in the name of "an idea" (for example, the idea that Roma should not suffer discrimination and that social injustice should be addressed). However, governments have increasingly approached Romani collaborators in advocacy organisations with requests to advise them on policy. Since Romani participation in democratically elected politics has been low, many countries now tend to include Romani individuals from advocacy organisations in the preparation of policy. For example, in recent years, the Slovak government created the position of Government Commissioner for Roma Affairs, while the Czech Republic and Hungary have both organised interministerial bodies for Romani issues. These institutions contain a number of experts and activists from NGOs. Especially when the people recruited for such government advisory positions are Roma, the impression may be created that they act as representatives of a Romani constituency, while in fact, they only act as experts or advisors. A number of Romani activists probably see this kind of expert function as a way to influence government from a Romani perspective without having to deal with the problems of electoral mobilisation discussed earlier in this article.

Mr Emil Scuka, at the International Romani Union congress, Prague, July 2000, where he was elected president of the organisation.
Photo: ERRC

On the international level, one can see a similar problem. Arguably, one of the main motivations for transforming the IRU from a pressure group into an organisation aspiring to represent "all Roma in the world", has been the increasing need for a representative Romani partner in politics. Romani representatives are needed to enter dialogue with international organisations. It is questionable, however, if this gap can be filled by an organisation like the IRU. Its officers have been elected by the members of the organisation and are in this sense not really representative of a wider Romani population. Moreover, the IRU has more than once been criticised for its lack of support from ordinary Roma.22

When governments today want to design policy on problems that affect Roma, in present circumstances they have no possibility to include democratically elected Romani voices in the deliberative process. To solve this problem, advisory and expert bodies have been established in which a number of Roma from NGOs are included. In itself, this is a legitimate method of policy-making. However, it should be clear that these Roma are not representing a Romani constituency and that they cannot make up for the lack of Romani participation in the democratically elected bodies. This point may sound obvious, but is often overlooked by both governments and Roma. Governments may create the false impression that urgent work is no longer required on the issue of the inclusion of Roma in politics, because they have Romani experts with whom they can deliberate on policy measures. Roma have, sometimes legitimately, complained that Romani experts and advocacy actors have no real constituency and are thus not accountable to such a constituency.

In order to avoid such misunderstandings, a clear distinction should be made between the different roles of potential Romani politicians and advocacy actors (Romani and non-Romani). On one hand, to secure a Romani voice in politics, a certain degree of electoral representation should be reached in either ethnically-based or non-ethnically based political parties. On the other hand, advocacy actors and Romani advisors - although they must of course be very well informed about perspectives within Romani communities - are not the political representation of a Romani constituency. Their activity of continual monitoring and highlighting problems of inequality and human rights abuse, however, can provide a stimulating context for a more representative involvement of Romani individuals and groups in domestic and international politics.


It has not been the purpose of this article to present a clear conclusion about how the involvement of Roma in politics should be increased. The aim is rather to offer some background for a growing discussion about the roles of advocacy actors and political activists. At present, the direct involvement of Roma in domestic representative political bodies is still very limited. I have tried to point to a number of reasons for this phenomenon. This deficit, however, is increasingly perceived as a problem, not only from the normative viewpoint that the whole population should be represented in a democracy, but also because many states increasingly feel the need to develop policies that target the problems that Roma face. In the debates leading to the design of such policies, Roma are often unheard. As this article has tried to show, there are various ways in which Romani political participation and mobilisation can be increased. Given the current need for more adequate and effective policies to tackle the situation of Roma, such an increase will be required both in the electoral arena and in non-representative organisations. Dialogue between Romani experts from non-representative organisations and policy makers is arguably an important step in the direction of including the Romani voice in policy-making. The consultation of such experts and advisors should, however, not be seen as something that can or should replace elected Romani politicians.


  1. Peter Vermeersch is Research Assistant of the Fund for Scientific Research, Flanders, at the Department of Political Science of the University of Leuven (Belgium).
  2. There is a growing body of literature in political theory arguing that the exclusion of certain marginalised groups in political institutions undercuts democracy. Many authors have argued that the self-representation of minorities in the policy formation process should be increased as this will make access of the population to political elites more equal. There is, however, considerable debate about how self-representation should be increased. As Kymlicka, for example, notes: "Demands for group representation appeal to some of the most basic practices of representative democracy, and some forms of group representation may be able to play an important if limited role within a democratic political system. However, any proposal for group representation must answer a number of difficult questions in terms of identifying the truly disadvantaged group and holding their 'representative' accountable." (Kymlicka, Will, Multicultural Citizenship, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995, pp.149-150).
  3. International Romani Union Charter, article 1.00
  4. The Slovak Government has even gone so far to reproach the Roma themselves for their lack of political representation: "So far [the Roma] have not achieved such a level of social structures that would make them to support, in higher numbers, a certain Romany political party defending their interests. The fragmentation of Romany political parties has prevented them from entering the political scene as a relevant entity. The solution for safeguarding the interests of associations of the Romany national minority is the establishment of non-governmental, Romany and non-Romany civil associations and generally beneficial societies. The Romany minority themselves must also realise their co-responsibility for their destiny" (Government of the Slovak Republic, The Strategy of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the Solution of the Problems of the Roma National Minority, Bratislava, 1999, p.1).
  5. Following high-speed mobilisation, the coalition of Simeon II, overwhelmingly won the latest elections (42.74% of the vote). He now has 120 of the 240 available parliamentary seats. Simeon II was the Bulgarian Tsar until he was ten years old. In 1946, he was deposed as a result of an arguably unconstitutional referendum which abolished the monarchy.
  6. See Vermeersch, Peter, "Romani political participation and racism: Reflections on recent developments in Hungary and Slovakia", Roma Rights, No. 4, 2000.
  7. Project on Ethnic Relations, "Roma and Elections in Romania", 2000.
  8. Based on the idea that ethnic cleavage, if politicised, could form a threat to state sovereignty, Article 11 of the Bulgarian Constitution bans parties based on ethnic or religious membership. However, ethnicity plays an important role in party development. The Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS) party represents a constituency of mostly Turkish Bulgarians.
  9. In the 1998 elections, HZDS had two Romani candidates coming from ROI on its list. However, the Romani candidate in the best place on the list died several weeks before the elections and was not replaced. The other Romani candidate was not elected.
  10. A number of NGOs in various countries have observed that Roma vote for a variety of parties. In some cases Romani voters are attracted to parties that have a clear anti-minority stance. For example, during the Romanian parliamentary elections of November 2000, the organisation Romani Criss observed that a surprisingly high number of Roma voted for the nationalist Great Romania Party (RM). See Necula, Ciprian, "Draft Report of the Local and General Election Monitoring, Romania 2000", Roma Center for Social Intervention and Studies, Romani Criss, November 2000.
  11. The Romani population in the Czech Republic is estimated to be, at most, approximately 3 percent of the total population. Official figures for Romani presence in the Czech Republic are under 1 percent of the population.
  12. See Article 68, para. 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of Hungary and Article 20, para. 1 of Act LXXVII of 1993 on the Rights of National and Ethnic Minorities.
  13. A critical reflection on the self-government system in Hungary can be found in Cahn, Claude, "Smoke and Mirrors: Roma and minority policy in Hungary", on pp. 35-40 in this issue of Roma Rights.
  14. See for example, Project on Ethnic Relations, Parliamentary Representation of Minorities in Hungary: Legal and Political Issues, 2000.
  15. Keck, Margaret and Kathryn Sikkink, Activists Beyond Borders: Advocacy Networks in International Politics, Cornell University Press, Ithaca and London, 1998, pp.8-9.
  16. See Risse, Thomas and Kathryn Sikkink, "The Socialization of International Human Rights Norms into Domestic Practices: Introduction", in T. Risse, S. C. Ropp and K. Sikkink (eds), The Power of Human Rights. International Norms and Domestic Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999, pp.1-38.
  17. See Helsinki Watch, Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Gypsies of Bulgaria, New York, 1991; Human Rights Watch, Struggling for Ethnic Identity: Czechoslovakia?s Endangered Gypsies, New York, 1992; Human Rights Watch, Struggling for Ethnic Identity: The Gypsies of Hungary, New York, 1993; Helsinki Watch, Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Persecution of Gypsies in Romania, New York, 1991.
  18. There are clearly limits to what advocacy actors can do in this respect. For example, NGOs do not have direct control over public opinion. Government officials and the media play a huge role in shaping the attitudes of the majority towards minority citizens. The emigration of Romani refugees from Central and Eastern Europe to European Union countries, for example, has very noticeably brought about an increase in attention from EU governments and has induced emotional debates in the countries from where they have fled. The role of politicians in power has been of overriding importance here. Domestic Romani activists have tried to persuade the public that Romani emigration is in fact the result of failure of policies to prevent discrimination or secure equal social and economic opportunity. In contrast, the Central and Eastern Europe governments themselves have often portrayed Romani emigration as purely driven by economic calculation. Although human rights NGOs have tried to emphasize the human rights concerns of those fleeing the country, politicians in the domestic arena seem mostly to have reinforced prejudiced views about Roma when discussing this subject.
  19. For example, in 1999 the Soros Foundations network spent a total of approximately 7 million USD on Romani programs (see
  20. See the OSI programs "Public administration training program for elected Roma leaders" and "Roma political leadership program", both organized in Budapest (see
  21. Some authors have argued that, precisely because advocacy organisations act from the perspective of a normative agenda, they tend to neglect the real needs of communities. For such an argument with regard to organisations working on the rights of Roma, see Trehan, Nidhi, "In the name of the Roma? The role of private foundations and NGOs" in Guy, Will (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma in Central and Eastern Europe, University of Hertfordshire Press, Hertfordshire, 2001, pp.134-149.
  22. See, for example, Acton, Thomas and Ilona Klimanova "The International Romani Union: An East European Answer to a West European Question?" in Guy, Will (ed.), Between Past and Future: The Roma of Central and Eastern Europe, University of Hertfordshire Press, Hertfordshire, 2001, p.162.



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