Letter: Gypsies in the Ghetto

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The Independent Online
Sir: I have studied the social and political situations of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic during the past two years. I am pleased to note that the British media is devoting more attention to Europe's most silent victims of racism ("Czech cities plan `apartheid' wall around gypsy ghettoes", 27 May) . The situation is even more difficult than you portrayed. I have often been shocked by the violent reactions that otherwise respectable Czech citizens have towards their Roma neighbours.

Many of the Romanies who live in the Czech Republic today were relocated to the north Bohemian and Moravian industrial heartland as manual workers by the Czechoslovak Communist government in the 1950s. There never was a comprehensive resettlement plan that would help coexistence between old and new settlers. The consequences are obvious today.

Violence between the two communities is an everyday matter. In education, Roma children (who often cannot speak Czech very well) are placed in schools for less able children. In the work place, Czechs will not employ Romanies. While national unemployment rates are around 4 per cent, among the Romas they are over 90 per cent.

There are, however, situations where Czechs and Romanies live well together, as in the southern Bohemian town of Krumlov. There are also some human rights organisations that bravely lobby government for more affirmative action.

From the UK, much can be done. As a prospective member of the European Union, the Czech Republic is very likely to listen to international pressures. The European Union has included the Roma question in the negotiations for accession. The EU human rights policy, however, is still embryonic. It is up to governments like the British to push human rights at the heart of the pre-accession strategy.


St Antony's College, Oxford