Emancipatory activities on an international level

As in the case of Germany, attempts were made in France to unite all the Roma groups living in the country within one common representation. France moreover functioned as a starting point for endeavours to move the initiated process of self-organisation to an international level.

In 1959, Ionel Rotaru founded the Roma World Committee (CMG) in Paris, which equally represented Roma, Manusch and Kalé.

In 1962, the National Roma Union was established. From the CMG, which was dissolved by the French government in 1965, the Comité International Tsigane (CIT) evolved. Headed by Vanko Rouda, the committee worked to transcend existing borders among Roma resulting from national, religious, and group differences. The CIT established offices in other countries, made contact with foreign organisations and worked closely with the Romani Evangelical Church founded in 1952 by Clement Le Cossec.

Its declared aim was to stop world-wide forced assimilation and improve the Roma’s legal and social conditions. For this purpose, the CIT used modern strategies: public relations, media campaigns, demonstrations and lobbying which intended to make governments and society change their ways of thinking and help the Roma achieve a higher level of equality.

The awakening of the "Romani Movement"

The launching of the so-called "Romani Movement" triggered a radical change in the behaviour of Roma society in dealing with political and social realities: for the longest time, the Roma’s destiny had been defined from "outside" by the various systems of power and majority populations. For the most part, the Roma themselves had passively accepted this fate. Their behavioural pattern corresponded throughout centuries to that of a so-called "exit society", as it was characterised by avoidance of conflicts and escape from unfavourable conditions.

Towards the early 1970s, a small but proper Roma elite had formed, which for the first time voiced Roma issues in public and showed opposition against the Roma’s prescribed social and economic status. Whereas earlier, the majority population had been informed indirectly with the problems of the Roma, they were now confronted with issues by the Roma themselves.

The striving for equality and social recognition to a great degree resulted from a change in the way the Roma dealt with their own identity. Assimilation to the majority population and self denial were replaced by clear support and acceptance of Roma culture. Integration no longer was to depend on the loss of cultural identity. The Roma demanded to be recognised and respected by society as Roma. Along with political demands, there was the attempt to describe the history and culture of the Roma from the inside and make this accessible to Non-Roma.

The First International Romani Congress (1971)

The founding of the International Romani Congress (RIC) in 1971 constitutes the breakthrough of the new political movement. Its first conference in London with participants from 14 states was an expression of the need for "international unity", the fight against social marginalisation and a common striving for a positive future.

Based on the existence of a so-called "Romani Nation", the song "Gelem, Gelem" was declared the official Romani Hymn and a common flag was created. The motto "Opre Roma!" became the political credo of the Romani Movement and its fight for social justice and equality. The choice of the term "Rom" as official designation was to do away with old prejudices and help create new self confidence. Slobodan Beberski was elected for president, Dr. Jan Cibula for vice-president, and Grattan Puxon for general secretary, five commissions were established which dealt with war crimes, social and educational conditions, as well as the language and culture of the Roma.

Increasing Self-Organisation – Founding of the International Romani Union (1978)

The London Congress triggered and strengthened world-wide emancipatory activities, which resulted in the formation of another two politically active Roma organisations in and outside Europe. Consequently, the Second Romani Congress, which took place in Geneva in April 1978, already had the participation of no less than 50 Roma organisations from all over Europe, the United States, India and Pakistan. An important step for the future was the founding of the International Romani Union (RIU), joining regional and national representatives. In the following years and decades, the Union managed to make governments pay closer attention to Roma issues and push Roma lobbying with and within the international community. In 1979 the RIU was accepted into the economic and social councils of the UN as a private organisation.

The international recognition of the Roma movement gained new impulses, with support from India. Indian politicians worked to establish and intensify cultural contacts between the Roma and their country of origin. In the course of an international Roma festival that took place in Chandigarh, Indian Prime Minister Indira Ghandi received a Roma delegation, assuring the Roma India’s support in the presence of the United Nations.

Recognition of Genocide - Institutionalisation of Roma-Politics

The Third Roma World Congress was held in Götting in 1981. In light of ongoing violations of civil rights, 300 delegates from 22 countries demanded for the Helsinki File to be applied to Roma and Sinti people.

Another emphasis of discussion worked on under the patronage of the "Gesellschaft für bedrohte Völker" ("Society for the protection of endangered peoples") was the fate of the Roma during the time of national socialism. The German government was asked to recognize the Roma genocide and work out an appropriate solution to the problem of reparation.

In the course of a reception of representatives of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma with Chancellor Schmidt (as well as later with oppositional leader Kohl), this official recognition of the genocide was achieved in 1982. Furthermore, foundations for reparation and financing of the Sinti and Roma organisations were laid.

This success had positive effects on the self-confidence of the entire movement. Additionally, in the period of time between the third and fourth congresses an improvement of the Roma’s social conditions and the conservation of their national and minority rights was achieved in several countries. At several meetings with representatives of different institutions of the UN, the UNESCO, the European Council, and the EC, Roma issues were discussed by international committees. In this way, the kind of conditions needed for the successful work of Roma organisations could be established. In 1986, the International Romani Union became a member of UNICEF.

Emancipation of Roma in Eastern Europe

Ever since the First Congress in 1971, most emancipatory activities originated in Western Europe. The scarce improvements achieved in the East were dependant on the regimes of totalitarian communist systems, which denied the Roma to represent themselves as an ethnic group and suppressed civil rights movements. The Czech Roma Union accordingly had to stop its activities in 1973. Yugoslavian Roma had only at the beginning played a significant role within the international movement. Later, the Yugoslav state likewise prohibited the Roma’s political emancipation, allowing nothing else but folkloric activities to take place.

With the political changes in socialist countries, however, the emphasis of international Roma politics in the 80s immediately shifted to the East. Within a short amount of time, regional and trans-regional unions formed in all Eastern European countries with significant Roma minorities. Yet the beginnings of this social, political and cultural process of renewal proved to be difficult, as there were major tensions among the Roma due to cultural and social heterogeneity, gaps between democratic principles and traditional authorities as well as political sympathies and personal ambitions. Moreover, there was great political opposition to Roma self-organisation.

Despite the differences between individual organisations, alliances could be established in order to ensure an at least partly united form of action. The resolution of internal conflicts was fundamental, especially because the individual organisations in the Eastern and South Eastern European countries hardly differed from each other in their demands (recognition of the Roma as an ethnic and national minority, financial support of independant cultural centres, presence in the media and according representation on political committees).

New international impulses

Along with their activities on a national level, the Eastern and South Eastern European Roma strengthened their contacts with the West. Roma representatives from former Eastern states were accepted into international committees and actively participated in the political endeavours of the International Romani Union. Individual Roma from Eastern and South Eastern Europe presented the issues of Eastern European Roma at international conferences and achieved their discussions in the KSZE.

On the initiatives by the Roma and Cinti Union/Hamburg, EUROM and, shortly after, the Roma National Congress (RNC), a second major international Roma organisation, was founded. This organisation focused its activities on the recognition of the Roma as a European minority and the passing of a "Roma Charter" by international organisations, which would officially lay down Roma rights.

Political Participation

The breakdown of the communist regime did not only enable the Roma to carry out lobbying activities in their own countries, extending these to an international level. It also offered the possibility to participate in national politics. They approached sympathetic political parties to be included on electoral nominee lists, or founded their own parties, which in turn formed alliances with larger parties of similar ideological orientation. In this way, Roma candidates in Romania, the Czech republic and Hungary managed to enter parliament.


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Image Printable version
Image From the invitation to the 2nd world congress of the Roma (1978)
Image Press statement of Dr. Jan Cibula (1978)
Image Romani Rose about the emancipation process and the necessity of cultural opening (1980)
Image Gelem, Gelem
Image Gelem, Gelem
Second World Roma Congress (Genf), 1978
The first international conference after the accession of the Romani Union in the UN (Paris), 1979
Romani Flag