Slovakia's Roma hope Europe will give them new freedoms

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The Independent Online

From a stage festooned with blue and yellow balloons, the band is belting out a Fun Lovin' Criminals number. "Euro rallies" are being held every the day this week around Bratislava, to rouse a largely apathetic population to vote in a weekend referendum on EU membership.

But 200 miles to the east, in the town of Kosice, Slovakian citizens are having a very different campaign experience. A delegation of EU politicians is visiting the urban ghettoes of the Roma, or gypsies, who make up about 10 per cent of the population.

As Ulla Sandbaek, a Danish MEP and champion of unfashionable causes in Brussels, walks through the crowd, a woman shouts: "Go away and take your cameras away too. We're tired of you all coming to gawp at us and then going away doing nothing."

The MEP and her translator calm the crowd and listen to a litany of complaints – of near 100 per cent unemployment in the ghetto, how children are sent to schools for the mentally subnormal and claims of forced sterilisation.

Ms Sandbaek says that in a week the delegation has seen discrimination against Roma in schooling, employment, housing and reproductive health. "When Slovakia joins the EU, something will have to be done or these people will be taking their government to the European Court," she said. As the delegation leaves she asks: "How many of you will use the opening of borders to leave?" A man replies: "Oh, all of us. As soon as possible. I would like to go to England!" These people are clearly more eager Europeans than their compatriots at the pop rally.

Sue Lloyd-Roberts' film on Slovakia's Roma will be on BBC2's 'Newsnight' tonight