Emancipation: Problems and challenges

Thanks to the founding of Roma organizations, world-wide lobbying, cooperation with international organisations and the institutionalisation of their issues, the Roma today are in a position to influence political processes on a national and international level. Over the past years, great progress was made in the European context: ever since the political changes in Eastern Europe, various departments of the European Council have been dealing with Roma issues. Due to the fact that they were not issued on an obligatory/mandatory basis, however, their numerous recommendations did not turn into any significant actions.

Both the so-called "Permanent Conference of Local and Regional Authorities" as part of the European Council, and the human rights committee of the European Parliament repeatedly dealt with the situation of the Roma. After in 1990 the RIU was accepted into the OSZE, in 1994 a Permanent office of contact for Sinti and Roma was established in Warsaw as part of the Conference. Yet, the very fact that their problems are being institutionalised often does not meet with the Roma’s agreement. So far, success in the realisation of Roma demands has not only been impaired by resistance from the various governments, as the Roma themselves differ greatly in opinion and standpoint. [Current situation] There are still heavy internal discussions on the minority status of the Roma. Whereas some organisations support the recognition of the Roma as a "non-territorial" nation or "trans-national" minority, others claim the recognition of the Roma as a national or ethnic minority. In light of future progress, a status combining national and trans-national membership needs to be found.

Other tensions within the "Romani movement" result from the heterogeneity of their leading group. This group consists of people who are highly respected among the Roma but, due to their lack of formal education, poorly equipped to handle modern structures of administration.

The rest of the group consists of a growing number of mostly younger people, who have experienced the educational system of the majority population and at the same time kept their ethnic identity.

The contrast between traditional power structures and modern democratic leadership has caused a dramatic increase in Romani organisations over the last years, as well as triggered competition for the right of representation. Some conflicts could be avoided by the founding of larger unifying organisations. In this sense, the founding of the Permanent Conference of Roma and Sinti Organisations in 1994 is of great importance, as it is meant to become a forum of discussion for the great variety of goals and strategies of Romani politics on a European level with the aim of turning the conference into a political partner of international institutions and organisations.

A common politics or way of action most often fails because of the different orientations of the various Roma organisations. Some of them focus mainly on the dramatic social and economic situation of the Roma, demanding adequate measures from the governments. By solving their social problems, they hope to improve the Roma’s social status. Yet, their activities so far have not shown any significant success due to the fact these measures would require enormous investments, which the various states are unable to make. Moreover, it is almost impossible to get a majority to support such projects in the parliament or society of these states.

The civil-rights campaigners of the Romani movement, on the other hand, define their issues mostly in a political way. They ask for an improved legal status for the Roma, demanding complete recognition of their linguistic, cultural and political rights as a minority. The members of these organisations believe that all the other issues can only be solved once this primary goal has been achieved. Although recently many states have recognised the rights of the Roma in different ways and the new democracies of Middle and Eastern Europe have passed minority laws, discrimination and inequality persist. Despite the founding of political representations and counselling committees, political parties and governing committees, the influence and power of Roma politicians has remained minor to this day. As a consequence, the Roma’s high unemployment rate, their poor education, healthcare and housing has hardly improved at all. [Racism]

There is thus a lot of work lying ahead for the "Romani movement": existing political and economic resistances must be overcome, internal potentials of conflict must be resolved, a common political line must be found and democratic structures must be established within the Roma representations in order to guarantee the improvement of social status, minority rights and political influence on a long-term basis.


Berliner Institut für Vergleichende Sozialforschung e. V. (ed.) (2000) Die Roma. Eine transnationale europäische Bevölkerung, Berlin.
Mirga, Andrzej / Gheorge, Nicolae (1998) Anerkennung als Nation oder Minderheitenrechte?. In: Pogrom 199, pp. 23.
Project On Ethnic Relations (ed.) (1997) The Roma in the twenty-first century: A policy paper. Princeton.
Project On Ethnic Relations (ed.) (2001) Leadership, representation and the status of the roma. Princeton.
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