Saturday, June 30, 2012



This is hard for me to say, but on Wednesday, the leadership of the Massachusetts House of Representatives chose not to support a bill that would ban the use of electric shocks on disabled people in the state. Massachusetts is the only state in the country where this still takes place.
I started my petition after I saw this abuse firsthand as a teacher's aide at the Judge Rotenberg Center. I had no idea that you and more than 250,000 others would join me, and together demand Massachusetts lawmakers stop the abuse of my former students -- thank you.

Even though this bill didn't pass, I'm incredibly proud of the attention we've brought to the abuse taking place at the JRC. Here are some of the things that we've accomplished:

  • The United Nations has announced that they are now investigating the JRC's use of electric shocks to see if they meet the international guidelines for torture.
  • Anderson Cooper exposed that the JRC has been misleading the public about having FDA approval for its electric shock machines, and the campaign has been covered by media from CNN to Fox News.
  • More than 30 human rights and disability organizations came out in support of our efforts.

It was always going to be a hard fight -- the JRC spent millions of dollars on lawyers, lobbyists and public relations professionals to influence these lawmakers. But thanks to your support, the world knows what goes on in Canton, Massachusetts, and the JRC won’t be able to escape scrutiny like before.

For the moment, we haven't won this campaign -- but the petition will still be updated with information about the effort to protect the disabled in Massachusetts. And I hope you will keep talking about this issue with your friends, families and legislators.

Again, thank you for supporting my campaign,

Gregory Miller

Former JRC Employee

P.S. New York is now considering a bill that would ban state tax dollars from being used at the JRC if they continue shocking students, and disability advocates are asking for help to make sure it passes.
At a “special needs school” in Canton, Massachusetts, children and teenagers with autism and other disabilities are being administered electric shocks as a means of controlling their behaviors. As a former Teacher’s Assistant, I regret having participated firsthand at this school - The Judge Rotenberg Center (JRC).

The human rights abuses taking place at the JRC are well documented. The United Nations is aware of the JRC and has called these shocks “torture”, and says that “The prohibition of torture is absolute.” Yet the school continues to use a powerfully painful electric shock device on students to control their behaviors. These devices are reportedly much stronger than police stun guns and were created by the founder of the Judge Rotenberg Center.

The Judge Rotenberg Center must immediately stop its practice of shocking special needs students.

Rather than shocking students for only severe behaviors, student behavior plans at JRC dictated that we shock certain students for even the most minor of behavioral issues like closing their eyes for 15 seconds while sitting at the desk, pulling apart a loose piece of thread, tearing an empty used paper cup, or for standing up and raising a hand to ask to go to the bathroom. In some classrooms, very often students who observe their peers being shocked react in fear by standing up out of their seat, yelling or crying, or throwing down their task -- and are then shocked for these reactions.

A non-verbal nearly blind girl with cerebral palsy was shocked as part of her behavioral plan for making a moaning sound and for attempts to hold a staff’s hand (her attempts to communicate and to be loved).

In 2002, 18 year-old Andre McCollins was strapped down and shocked for hours at the JRC. He begged for the shocks to stop and when they did, he was left in a catatonic state for days which resulted in permanent damage. Video of Andre’s shock treatment was sealed until recently and you can view it here.

The JRC’s founder, Dr. Matthew Israel, resigned after being charged with misleading a grand jury by destroying video footage of other students being shocked.

Not only does the JRC need to immediately stop this practice but Massachusetts legislators need to make these shock procedures illegal. These students are among Massachusetts’ most vulnerable citizens and have no voice of their own to describe their pain. They need your help.

Demand that the JRC stop shocking students now!

Thursday, June 28, 2012




Skopje, Macedonia

nov_val’s website


Brian C. Aggeler, Deputy Chief of Mission.

Good afternoon.

Earlier this year, in announcing the United States’ intention to participate in the “Decade” as an observer, Secretary of State Clinton said in Sofia: “For too long, Roma citizens have been marginalized and isolated, prevented from contributing their talents and participating in their societies.

This is a critical matter of human rights, and it affects millions of men, women, and children across the continent.” The Secretary reaffirmed that helping to promote and protect the inalienable human rights of Roma individuals everywhere is both her long-standing personal commitment, and a priority for the Obama Administration.

The United States is home to perhaps a million Roma who, like other members of different racial and ethnic minorities, have experienced discrimination and roadblocks to their full participation in society and enjoyment of equal rights. Though challenges still remain, the United States has witnessed considerable progress in respect for the human rights of those who have been marginalized. This includes women, members of diverse ethnic, racial, and religious minority groups and, more recently, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons.

Here in Europe members of Roma communities have also been demanding – and deserve – legal and social equality.

The cost of discrimination is very high both morally and economically; as Vaclav Havel famously put it, the treatment of the Roma is “a litmus test not of democracy but of a civil society.”

The European project that began in the wake of two destructive and fratricidal wars today stands as a sign of hope and progress, especially in terms of protecting and promoting democracy and human rights. It is time to complete that work and end the marginalization suffered by members of Roma communities.

We in the U.S. government work toward that goal in several ways. In the past three years, the State Department has invested more than two million dollars in programs designed to improve the lives of Roma in Europe. We are supporting a program to provide legal services and public legal education in Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Macedonia, as well as training for NGO leaders to improve their effectiveness in engaging in local, national, and regional advocacy. Other programs focus on youth civic engagement and promoting interethnic dialogue in Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Moldova.
The U.S. Agency for International Development meanwhile has invested more than eight million dollars in assistance to improve the status of Romani communities in the Western Balkans. USAID has supported, for example, scholarships, tutoring, and mentoring to Roma NGOs and students in Macedonia, the relocation of a Roma community from a lead-poisoned camp in northern Kosovo, Romani women’s inclusion in a network of Serbian business women, and microcredit to Roma entrepreneurs in Albania.

Our embassies also engage in outreach to Roma communities and the public at large. We host events commemorating International Roma Day, embassy roundtables, film screenings, and concerts.

Additionally we bring Romani individuals from across Europe to visit and study in the United States through our International Visitor Leadership Programs.

We hope that more countries will participate in the Decade, as members or observers, and reinforce with us the core mission of eliminating discrimination and closing the unacceptable gaps between Roma and the rest of society.

We welcome Kosovo’s request to join the Decade and encourage all member states to accept Kosovo’s membership. Kosovo’s desire to join the Decade shows its commitment to continuing to develop its multiethnic democracy, and its inclusion in the Decade would provide more opportunities for the thousands of Roma, Ashkali, and Egyptians living in Kosovo to advance economically, socially, and politically. It would also support Kosovo’s continued regional integration, a key to strengthening regional stability.

As a nation, the United States has learned the terrible cost that discrimination and exclusion can impose on a society. Only through respect for the human rights and dignity of every individual, regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, or other differences, can we achieve the security, economic prosperity, and cultural richness that stems from embracing diversity.

Now that the United States has become an observer to the Decade of Roma Inclusion, we look forward to participating in the Decade’s meetings and events, and we will use this venue to engage governments, NGOs, and Romani civil society on these important human rights issues. We will, as Secretary Clinton said, stand with you as a partner.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012


European Court of Human Rights rules against Hungary over police abuse of Roma family

The Strasbourg-based human-rights court has ruled that Hungarian police abused a Roma family almost two years ago, human rights watchdog TASZ told MTI on Tuesday.

Police turned up to a private house of a Roma family holding a christening feast on the evening of Sept. 4, 2010 in the northeast Hungarian village of Tiszaluc, after complaints of loud music. The family complied with the demand to turn down the volume, yet several police officers returned later and assaulted the family with truncheons and used tear gas, TASZ said.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled against Hungary in the judgment published on Tuesday, concluding that the Hungarian state had violated the ban on degrading treatment in connection with the police action.

According to the judgment, a woman “fell over, and then six or seven male officers dragged her on the ground to, and banged her against, the police car. While being dragged, her breasts became exposed, since her pullover was torn. She suffered bruises on her neck and her eyes were burning badly.”

TASZ said the Roma involved in the incident filed a criminal report against police officers but it was rejected. Later on, TASZ took up their case and filed another criminal report. It was also turned down and the investigation was discontinued.

In the meantime, criminal proceedings were conducted against the woman and other attendees in the feast on charges of obstructing justice. The woman was found guilty and received a one year’s suspended prison sentence. Her appeal is pending.

The bill on indictment bore the signature of the same person who decided to discontinue investigation, TASZ said.

The police told MTI that it would provide information about the affair later.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Czech Republic: Romani students set up Crisis Committee



A group of Romani intellectuals and students have established a Crisis Committee to improve society's view of Romani people and approach toward them. The group will engage in cooperation with state institutions and town halls. David Tišer, a member of the group, has provided the Czech Press Agency with the group's declaration. Tišer says the association is comprised of 160 Romani college students and intellectuals so far.

Tišer said the young Roma were spurred to action by a recent case in Slovakia in which an off-duty patrol officer shot dead three and wounded two members of a Romani family in Hurbanovo. Police do not yet know what caused the incident and have not confirmed that it was racially motivated.

Tišer also mentioned violent crimes against Romani people in the Czech Republic and pointed out the number of fabricated cases falsely accusing Romani people of having committed various crimes. A 15-year-old boy in Břeclav recently claimed to have been assaulted by Romani people; he lost a kidney as a result of the injuries sustained. However, it was later revealed that he had injured himself in a fall and invented the story of the assault to cover up the truth. Before police solved the case, tensions in Břeclav increased between Czechs and Romani people. Tišer said the Břeclav scandal had "done significant damage to the many years of work by everyone striving for Romani inclusion" within a matter of days".

Around 250 000 Romani people are estimated to live in the Czech Republic. Roughly one-third of them live in so-called ghettos, which the committee says are becoming targets for hatred.
The committee describes "pressure by right-wing extremists and 'adaptable' citizens". They also criticize the approach taken by the media. "Until now we have passively borne everything going on around us, both Romani people living in the ghettos and the rest of us - let's call them the 'invisible' Romani people," the committee's declaration reads. They also believe Czech politicians are keeping quiet about racially motivated crimes and are not condemning racist behavior.

The declaration says the committee wants to contribute toward addressing the "disturbing situation" in the Czech Republic and to partner with town halls and other institutions. "We want to actively contribute to change in society and we are willing to devote our free time to helping prevent an escalation of the situation," the declaration reads.

The Crisis Committee of Romani intellectuals and students is yet another group prompted to action by recent events that says it wants to contribute toward improving the lives of Romani people and the perception of them. Ten days ago the Czech Prime Minister received the leadership of the Statewide Association of Romani People in the Czech Republic (Celostátní asociace Romů ČR) and negotiated possible measures with them.

Declaration of the Crisis Committee in full translation:

On 19 June 2012, a "Crisis Committee" was initiated by young Romani people. The group is comprised of intellectuals and students who want to contribute toward positive society-wide change and to transform perceptions of the Romani minority in the Czech Republic.

We are disturbed by the civic and political situation in the Czech Republic as it relates to the Romani national minority. The current economic crisis is being reflected in a societal crisis. According to qualified estimates there are a total of around 200 000 Romani people living in the Czech Republic, of whom 80 000 live in excluded localities. These localities are becoming targets for hatred.

Until now we have passively borne everything going on around us, both Romani people living in the ghettos and the rest of us - let's call them the 'invisible' Romani people. The constant pressure from right-wing extremists and "adaptable" citizens, the behavior of the media, and the positions expressed by the public have drained the Romani people's reserves of patience.

We intend to present ourselves as an association offering partnership for dialogue during our common efforts to address this disturbing situation. We offer our capacity and we are willing to transmit our life and work experience. We want to actively contribute to change in society and we are willing to devote our free time to helping prevent an escalation of the situation.

We will also monitor the work of the media and express our view of the way in which news related to the Romani national minority is reported. We disagree with the way in which media outlets currently behave in this respect.

The Crisis Committee also agrees that there is a lack of any kind of statements by Czech politicians regarding these racially motivated crimes, as well as lack of condemnation of racist behavior. As the saying goes, "Silence is consent." We hope this saying cannot be accurately applied to rank-and-file politicians. There is a need, now more than ever before, for politicians to speak out about these scandals and publicly condemn them. Expressions of racism are not normal and in countries with developed political cultures such expressions are harshly punished.
The Crisis Committee has agreed on its basic rules of operation and plans for the future. The membership base will continue to expand, as will the possible topics on which we will be able to offer expertise to state institutions, municipalities, and others interested. We call on all people who are not indifferent to this situation and want to offer their capabilities to collaborate with us.
František Kostlán, Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert



Kawczynski warns of new wave of ‘Roma-phobia’



Financial instability, political uncertainty and the need for scapegoats are fuelling a new wave of ‘Roma-phobia,’ Rudko Kawczynski will tell the Parliamentary Assembly later this week.

The President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum is scheduled to address parliamentarians on Thursday 28 June, when the assembly receives Annette Groth’s report ‘Roma migrants in Europe.’

Kawczynski is expected to rubber-stamp the report’s main conclusions. He will say Roma people are “scorned” first for their ethnic identity and cultural heritage and then “cursed” again for daring to leave the countries in which they face prejudice.

Kawczynski will confirm that Europe’s failure to tackle systemic anti-Roma racism has crushed hopes that human rights are universal. He is expected to detail the “bleak situation,” the violence, intimidation and the serial humiliations faced by Roma people across Europe.

The ERTF president will blast projects which achieve no long term gains for Roma people and will call on the assembly to add its voice to the forces arguing for change.

Monday, June 25, 2012


While I'm not a big advocate for gay marriage (purely on grounds of my questioning of the institution of marriage), I do support Ellen.
And now, I support J.C. Penny's,
and I really appreciate Bill O'Reilly's comments and support.


Hamlet in Slovakia


“Gypsy” opens on Wednesday, June 27 at Film Forum.
Running time: 100 minutes; in Romany and Slovak w/English subtitles.

The depiction of a foreign culture is inevitably complicated by an audience’s outside perspective. In most cases, it’s not quite enough for a filmmaker to present foreignness with objective accuracy, because the audience already has preexisting stereotypes and expectations of how things should be represented. However, some of the most interesting depictions of foreign cultures can juggle and conflate stereotype with reality, following the idea that, for example, most audiences imagine space aliens to have green skin and large heads. Martin Šulík’s new film “Gypsy” seems to have a constant self-awareness of Romani (gypsy) stereotypes, and aims at dissolving them—or at least portraying them fairly—with sympathetic and ambivalent characterizations. The Romani have been living in Europe since sometime around theEleventh Century, but they’ve never fully integrated, and have retained their own social and cultural identities, while remaining somewhat enigmatic and distinctly foreign to most of the people they live amongst.

Rather than becoming a strict documentary of Roma life, “Gypsy” takes on the mood of a Shakespearean tragedy—but set in a Slovak village that’s decorated with rusted cars, stray dogs, and shanty houses. Within the first ten minutes, the father of fourteen-year-old Adam (Jan Mizigar) turns up dead; his mother remarries her dead husband’s brother, a sleazy thug named Zigo (Miroslav Gulyas); and Adam begins receiving visits from the ghost of his father, who somewhat vaguely suggests that Zigo was his murderer. Šulík applies the great lesson of neorealism—that the best way to depict the struggles of a people is by depicting the struggles of one person at a time. (And on another note, Šulík also used nonprofessional Roma actors.) The rest of the film is largely about the irresolvable conflicts surrounding Adam, who becomes a sort of cipher for all of the struggles of the Romani in general. Adam likes boxing, likes spending time with his neighbor girlfriend Julka (Martina Kotlarova), and seems to want a better life for himself.

He is thoughtful and impressionable, and all of the other characters see this in him—as a sort of blank slate that they can help, train, use, or influence. Zigo, the loan shark and petty criminal stepfather, wants to makes Adam his apprentice; the parish priest and boxing instructor (who’s perfectly epitomized in a shot of his office wall, on which hangs a picture of the pope next to a photo of Mohammed Ali) wants to save Adam by finding him a job and keeping him from stealing; a well-meaning ethnomusicologist visits the village, befriends Adam, and tries to convince him to enroll in engineering school on a scholarship; and the ghost of his father advises him on how to live an honorable life, but also vaguely suggests that he should avenge his death by murdering Zigo. Faced with this overwhelming confluence of choices and influences, which are all seemingly incompatible with one another, Adam stoically runs from one obligation to the next, unsure of whom to trust, and building up to the film’s implicit statement of “you wouldn’t know what to do either.”

Alongside Adam’s desperate need to choose how to live, most of the other Romani from the village want their lives to be different, too—from a nameless youth who’s kicked out of boxing training for sniffing glue, to a Roma that wants to move to England so that he might be mistaken for a Pakistani. In the end, the film doesn’t really pass judgments or suggest easy solutions. Even Zigo, who’s more or less the villain of the story, seems to be justified—at least partially—in his petty crimes, as a sort of Roma martyr who personifies the “us versus them” attitude. At times, the sheer density of these sympathetic yet tragic portraits is pretty overwhelming—something like being in small room crowded with too many interesting people.

But by characterizing the Romani with stark, sympathetic contrasts—as both thieves and victims, pariahs and martyrs—and by trying to give each person unique and ambivalent motivations, “Gypsy” offers a complex and fascinating portrait of Romani life

Sunday, June 24, 2012


The author in first grade.

I am Roma, but for many years I denied my origins for fear of being called a Gypsy. I grew up in Romania, where one meaning of tigan — tzigane, Zigeuner, cigány, cigan, “Gypsy” in other European languages — is “a person who engages in harmful or illegal activities.” The name comes from a medieval Greek word that means “untouchable,” and derivatives — like “gypped” or “gypsy cab” — refer to stealing and cheating.

My parents and grandparents were well aware of the negative stereotypes of the Gypsies as rootless thieves and beggars, and they took pains to protect me. As a little girl, my mother dressed me in pale colors and cut my hair short so I would not look like a Gypsy. My father warned me never to steal, and to always associate with smart people. I can understand why my grandfather, a blacksmith, was so proud of buying a “corner of the village” and building houses for his children. My grandmother was a healer — not through magical powers but by volunteering to take people to the best doctors in the capital.

Still, all these efforts couldn’t stop my classmates’ parents from reproaching my first-grade teacher for giving the highest award to me, a Gypsy. That confirmed my grandfather’s belief that there is no use acting “as if I were an official from the Ministry,” as he would put it, since there was “no such thing as a Gypsy teacher, priest or lawyer.” He too wanted to be like “the others,” but he was also aware of the invisible limits that kept Gypsies separate.
I grew up believing it was better not to be a Gypsy, yet I couldn’t fully belong to “normal” society, either. I learned that I must not be the best in school.

Like an ostrich, I buried my head — in books. I spent hours reading and dreaming of discovering another world. I wanted badly to live a different kind of life, and I waited for the right moment to “escape.”

My childhood dreams started to come true in 2006, when I traveled to the United States — my first trip abroad. At 22, a new world opened up to me, full of freedom, adventure, romance and beauty. I connected immediately with people from all over the world, feeling like one of them. Attending weddings and receptions, I wore fashionable evening gowns. I craned my neck at skyscrapers in New York, explored museums in Washington and visited my first American university campus. I felt the salty breeze of the Atlantic and breathed the mountain air of the Appalachians. I felt like Alice in Wonderland (or Gypsy in Wanderland).

A musician friend, Nelson Emokpae, wrote a song to me — the refrain was, “Princess, who are you?”

I stayed for three months. Just before I returned to Romania, there was an incident involving some misplaced money. Though I was never accused, the fear that I might be suspected of thievery put me on the defensive and onto an emotional roller-coaster. I didn’t expect this incident, and in an unguarded moment the repressed image of Gypsy thieves and beggars that I had long kept in the closet broke loose.

Seeing myself mirrored in that shameful image terrified me. I was confused and felt a need to explain my reaction. That was when I came out. I couldn’t stop crying when I said, for the first time, “I am a Gypsy woman” — this to my friend, Harley Flack, cousin of the singer Roberta Flack. As a black man, he knew well the impact of negative stereotypes.

For many years I had kept away from “Gypsies,” which left me not knowing who I was. But his encouragement, along with the many positive experiences I had in the United States, gave me the strength to sort out my identity.

I soon came to understand that “Gypsy” connotes not only panhandling and rootlessness, but also fantasy, soul-wrenching violin music and freedom. In Nashville, where I go to college, or in New York where I often visit, people don’t know much about Gypsies and usually haven’t met any. They often presume that I must have a cool, carefree lifestyle, like Esmeralda in the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

This is the romantic image of Gypsies — mysterious people who wander the world in caravans and live in colorful chaos. Their children run barefoot in the dirt, their girls wear brightly colored dresses and long-flowing hair, and old women read the future. Gypsy history is written in song, and the pen is the violin bow. It is an image popularized in films like Emil Loteanu’s Soviet-era Queen of the Gypsies, whose heroes are free as the wind: Zobar is a bold and courageous horse thief; Rada, his love, bewitches men with her dark eyes and tempestuous dancing. It made me feel interesting and exotic.

But the other image, the one my parents tried to protect me from, is never far behind: In Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies (1988), the sordid underground world of Gypsy thieves made my heart heavy. Young Perhan, the hero, dreams of a house and an honest life, but is trapped in criminal activities; he is the eternal Gypsy outcast.

About 700 years ago, when the Roma first entered Europe, the locals assumed the dark-skinned people were from Egypt — hence the English “Gypsies.” In fact, they originally came from northern India, and “Roma” is what they called themselves.

The exotic culture and resistance to assimilation of these wandering people led to widespread discrimination and persecution, contributing to the broad dispersal of the Roma throughout Europe. They were enslaved in the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (present-day Romania) from the 14th to the 19th centuries, and forcibly assimilated under the Communists. All the while, the Roma tried to protect their customs and traditions by moving on, reinforcing their image as nomads.

The discrimination and pressure to assimilate continue to this day: Last December, an Italian girl’s claim that she was raped by Gypsies, later recanted by the girl, led a mob to burn down a Romani camp in Turin; the year before, President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the expulsion of illegal Roma from France.

Estimates of the number of Roma vary widely, from 8 million to 12 million, in part because the Roma do not always register their ethnicity. Centuries of living in different lands have left them with a diversity of languages and religions, even within specific regions, and just a minority today speak only Romani. The largest groupings in Europe are in Romania, Hungary, the former Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; there are sizable populations in France, Italy, Spain, Russia and the United States.

My family didn’t speak Romani or follow the nomadic lifestyle. However, my grandfather was a blacksmith, a common Romani occupation. My mother’s light skin allowed me to conceal my roots, but my father, whose darker skin would have drawn attention, avoided coming around my school.

They worked hard so I could get educated — my mother collected trash and cleaned stairs and my father was a welder — and they enabled me to attend university in the United States, at Vanderbilt, where I am now.

Today, most Roma are settled, like my family, but they have not yet found their place in the world. A majority of the Roma cannot find jobs, decent housing or decent medical care.

Many Romani children do not attend school; according to a 2011 Unicef report, only about a fifth of Romani children in Europe attend primary school. And many of those who do are bullied and do not dream of becoming professionals or earning awards.

Many Roma continue to roam. Some do so, because settling down would mean losing their source of livelihood; others because they have no place to go. As the poorest and most stigmatized people in Europe, they have no choice but to remain on the fringes. Whatever the advantages of permanent settlement, they are dwarfed by immediate needs.

I know now that this is why I so long denied my ethnic identity: Like many other settled Roma, I wanted neither to fit nor fight the stereotypes. And since I declared my identity three years ago, I cannot say how many relatives and friends, both in the United States and Romania, have told me that I am not “that kind of Gypsy,” or that I should “get over” my ethnic explorations because they will limit my further development.

Yet many of these same people also see “Gypsy” the way the Gershwins did in that song: “You and you alone bring out the Gypsy in me,” so that I feel pride and long to shout, “I am a real Gypsy! My life is as full and beautiful as the Gypsy you imagine!” Today, if someone tried to insult me by calling me a Gypsy, I would laugh and take it as a compliment.

I firmly believe we will get rid of the stigma not by suppressing the Gypsy in us, but by folding Gypsy beauty, romance and freedom into the ancient Romani nation, allowing us to maintain our extraordinary culture and to take our place in the world. We are the archetypical, multinational “people without borders”: Multicultural by definition, we can contribute to the construction of identity in the 21st century.

Pride in being Roma liberates the Gypsy in me. It expresses itself through the full range of emotions. It gives me courage and empowers me: I see no limits to developing my potential and performing at the highest level. It makes me refuse absurd conventions. I open doors by telling stories, and I let charm and creativity be part of my life. I do ballet, but I will join a Gypsy dance anytime. My hair is long and sometimes I wear bright colors; they look good with my dark skin.

Saturday, June 23, 2012



By Radu Marinas


Andrei Pungovschi / AFP - Getty Images. Roma children play outside a former chemical plant.

(Reuters) - A Romanian mayor, criticized by rights groups for relocating Roma gypsy families and building a concrete wall to separate off a Roma neighborhood, scored the biggest share of the vote in local elections, official data showed on Thursday.

Catalin Chereches, the incumbent 33-year-old mayor of Baia Mare, won 86 percent in Sunday's election, which was held just days after local authorities relocated dozens of Roma families to the administrative buildings of a dismantled copper plant.

Rights groups have criticized Chereches's policies and accused him of trying to set up a ghetto.
They say the construction of the 1.8 meter (six feet) high wall last year between a Roma neighborhood and a main road amounted to institutional racism and the new housing for relocated families was of poor quality and lacked sufficient kitchens and bathrooms.

Chereches, a member of the ruling left-leaning Social Liberal Union alliance (USL) which won most of the votes in local elections, said the relocation was not discriminatory and was only a temporary solution.

"This is just the first step in a project that aims to become the way, at an European level, of integrating the Roma people," Chereches told Reuters by telephone from Baia Mare in the far north of the country.

"It's just for one to three years until we identify land plots for those people to build houses."

About 620,000 Romanians describe themselves as Roma. Rights groups say many do not declare their background, some of them fearing discrimination, and the true number could be as high as 2.5 million. That would be the largest Roma community in Europe.

The vast majority live on the margins of society in abject poverty and pro-democracy groups say the state does not do enough to prevent discrimination.

Since Romania joined the European Union in 2007, hundreds of thousands of Roma have flooded European cities, complaining of racism and poverty at home.

The EU in May called on member states to do more to integrate their Roma populations and bring them closer to the economic and social mainstream.

Local Romanian media said authorities in Baia Mare began moving dozens of families in May from poor neighborhoods where they had lived in 20-year-old improvised buildings with no water, sewage or power supplies.

"There must be a process in place that gives all residents the chance to participate in any decisions that will affect their lives, and allows for them to genuinely participate without fear, harassment or intimidation," rights groups Amnesty International and Romani CRISS said in a statement.

Roma have a long history of being persecuted and during World War Two they were targeted by the Nazis. Although estimates vary, it is thought several hundred thousand died in concentration camps alongside millions of Jews.

France's repatriation of Roma in 2010 prompted one European Union official to recall the Nazis' persecution, overshadowed an EU summit and sparked a row between former French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Earlier this month, French authorities dismantled a Roma camp on the banks of the river Garonne in Toulouse.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Sophie Hares)

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Gypsy rights campaigner to receive BEM


A SOMERSET woman who represented the Romani Gypsy community in planning disputes has been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Romani rights campaigner Maggie Smith Bendall has worked on planning cases all over the country, including Somerset. She has been given a British Empire Medal in recognition of her voluntary service to community relations.

Mrs Smith Bendell said: "When I found out about the honour I couldn't speak for five minutes. For the first time in my life I was totally shocked and very tearful.

"I hope this will inspire the younger generation to come out and start doing things as I have done. I am still very involved with planning issues and I am also chair of the UK Association For Gipsy Women's Rights."

In October 2005, Mrs Smith Bendall defended gypsies who had occupied a field in North Curry and set up camp without planning permission.

Other local honours recipients include: Commodore Robert Mansergh of Charlton Horethorne – OBE for contribution to the reserve and cadet forces; Colin Irwin John Hamilton Drummond, chief executive, Viridor Waste – OBE for services to Technology and Innovation; Sally Lewis, chief executive officer, Avon and Somerset Probation Trust – OBE For services to Public Protection and reducing reoffending; Colin Frank Skellett, executive chairman, Wessex Water – OBE For services to business and to WaterAid; Keith Frederick Drodge, Grade C1, Ministry of Defence – MBE; Elizabeth Ann Mary Nelson, vice-president, Weldmar Hospicecare Trust, Dorset and vice-chairman, Motor Neurone Disease Association – MBE for services to palliative care and the Motor Neurone Disease Association; Philip Anthony Venner Crawford – BEM for services to farming and the rural

Maggie is also the author of two wonderful books
I recommend both books as delightful, informative and just plain good.
These books are published under the spelling  Smith Bendell

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


 On 19 June 1865, three years after Congress passed, and Abraham Lincoln signed a measure abolishing slavery in U.S. territories, slaves in Texas, found out 'they were free'.

This day has been celebrated in African American communities since then, and I wonder why white Americans do not celebrate it with the same zeal they celebrate Independence Day.
I'm just saying.

On 19 June 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, convicted of espionage in a highly questionable and contested trial at the height of the Red Scare and anti semitism, were executed in the electric chair at Ossinging New York.  They left two small boys who to this day work on proving their parents innocence.

On 19 June 2012, a busload of Catholic Nuns began a 9 state tour to protest GOP's draconian budget plans.
Oh, I can only imagine how upset the Vatican will be by these women daring to work for the poor and disenfranchised.

Nuns Bus Tour. Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, ...


EUROPE: Rights Groups Call for Effective Investigations of Crimes Against Roma

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Cancel Programming of "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding"
I just signed the following petition addressed to: The Learning Channel (TLC).

Cancel Programming of "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding"

This petition is to address The Learning Channel (TLC), as well as to the advertisers and sponsors of the show, "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding" (and its UK counterpart "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding"), which are blatant smear/ridicule campaigns against all Romani ("Gypsy") people.

Romani have long suffered persecution, prejudice, discrimination, ridicule, even murder and ethnic cleansing for their cultural heritage and misunderstood traditions throughout history. Shows like "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding" and "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" (UK version), not only shed Romani (and Irish Travelers) in a negative light, it openly ridicules a race of people so proud in their tradition and heritage.

Firecracker Productions and The Learning Channel (TLC) have found Romani people who are so outrageous in their living, in attempt to create sensationalism, high ratings, and high dollar figures; and in doing so, have disregarded that what is being portrayed as fact is actually inaccurate information.

The US version of the show has focused their entire season around one family; that alone cannot present an accurate portrayal of Romani (or Irish Travelers) as a whole.

TLC and Firecracker Productions, are obviously attempting to create "fact" in sensationalism and outrageousness, while disregarding the effect(s) that such deception are having on the Romani populace as a whole. TLC and Firecracker Productions have also created, in their misrepresentation(s), opinions based on deception among the general population to form false-opinions of the Romani people as a whole.

The family that is featured in the US version of the show are NOT living according to the Romani laws, and portraying them as the "stereotypical" Romani... or "Gypsy" is an outrage.

It is understood that TLC/Firecracker Productions paid these individuals to dress in certain ways, and act in certain manners - even going so far as to buy trailers and set them up as if this is where these individuals are living to give more "authentication" to the storyline.

Even more outrageous, one of the girls portrayed in the show "Mellie" is/was a stripper and is shown in the show performing lewd dance moves in the middle of department stores (among other places), then explains such moves as if this is "typical" Romani dance. It is not.

Romani people have, for years, attempted to keep their lives, their identities secret for the very reason that they have been persecuted and discriminated against. They have fought against stereotypical identification assignment, and in many countries of the world, they are still treated in such deplorable ways that are human rights violations, but yet no international government agency steps in to offer protection or aid to them, simply because of the stereotype "Gypsy".

My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding (and British version), further harms Romani by the portrayal of ridiculous and outrageous behavior, dress, and deception.

While we understand that you create your shows, and gain sponsorship ad placement spots, based on show ratings, the premise of the network "The Learning Channel" has become tainted to such a degree with this outrageous propaganda of lies. In this instance, the "learning" channel is promoting lies and sensationalism, as well as racism, racial profiling, and further promoting the negative effects which Romani have tried hard to rise above for generations.

We, the undersigned, petition The Learning Channel to cancel all future programming of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and any and all shows depicting Romani people in a negative light which are in consideration spin-off from the original show(s).

We, the undersigned, also petition all sponsors/advertisers to withdraw their relationship(s) with The Learning Channel until they remove all biased, deceptive, and racist programming which propagates the persecution, discrimination, ridicule, and stereotyping of a race of people based solely on the actions of one family group.

Thank you.

 http://www.facebook .com/pages/ Stop-Romani- Racist-Programmi ng-on-TLC/ 237041776414052

Someone pointed out that this would only allow one to sign via facebook.
Here's an alternate address which should work.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Throughout the Mundi Romani crew’s travels over the world, an astounding amount of live music was record- ed in Romani neighborhoods from Istanbul and Thessaloniki to the USA, through the whole Balkans region, Russia or Spain. Mundi Romani’s Musical Journey is a collection of some of the „underground” wonders of Romani music we have found along the way from India to the USA.
This is another great video from Mundi Romani.
It's a bit like Latcho Drom, but much shorter.
If you've got some time, I urge you to take this musical journey.
Mondi Romani have many wonderful videos.  I really encourage you to check them out.
Their address is in the sidebar under Internet Connections.

Friday, June 15, 2012






Targeting 'safe' countries of origin and denying health care to new arrivals is shortsighted and inhumane.

As Canadian Jews, we grew up hearing stories about how our families came to this country as refugees. We also heard about the relatives who never arrived because of the Canadian government's closed-door policy for Jews. Historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper's book None is Too Many told of this sad and ultimately deadly policy.

In the early 1900s, Jews fled persecution in European countries where anti-Semitism was rampant. They were not alone; the Roma and Sinti people were caught in the same web of hate.

When Hitler's forces overran Europe, it was the Jewish and Roma communities that were singled out for annihilation. And with the rest of the world engaged in either compliance or apathy, the Nazi plan almost succeeded.

Bearing the scars of the Holocaust, most Jews fled Europe to countries like Canada, which finally opened its doors with a new immigration policy.

However, the Roma mostly stayed behind, and there has been an enormous escalation of discrimination and bigotry against them, especially in Hungary. And with resurgence of neo-Nazism in parts of Hungary and elsewhere in Europe, Roma face violent attacks. Many have tried to flee to Canada, where doors have once again become hard to pry open.

Most recently, with the passage of refugee and immigration Bill C-31, alongside suggested cuts to refugees' health care, the federal government is creating what it calls "designated countries," or DCOs, that it considers "safe."

Refugees from DCOs will now have only a short time to prepare for their hearings, and will effectively lose their right of appeal. Additionally, refugees will have no access to primary or emergency health care, even in the case of pregnancy or heart attack.

While refugee claimants from DCOs are singled out for particularly alarming treatment under the new federal rules, the changes will harm all those claiming refugee status. Claimants will lose access to life-saving drugs, such as insulin, and to preventive care. Physicians across the country warn that these changes will result in severe illness and death.

While DCOs have yet to be named, Hungary will assuredly be on the list. If these policy changes come into effect, Roma refugee claimants will lose access to health care on June 30. We are also likely to see many more deportations of Roma back to Hungary.

Judaism teaches the concept of " tikkun olam," an exhortation to repair the world. If passed, Bill C-31 would be antithetical to these values. It is our hope that as Canadians hear more about the dangers of this legislation, they too will not stand by as refugees lose basic health care and persecuted groups or individuals are sent back to face violence in their home countries.

Today, we go on record as Jews and descendants of immigrants to say that we oppose cuts to refugee health care and the designation of so-called "safe" countries. Denying other human beings health care and a haven based on their country of origin is simply wrong. As Jews and human rights activists, we know well that countries deemed safe for the majority can be deadly for some minorities.

Pressure must continue. It's never too late to ask for changes or amendments to the regulations.

Ironically, we also understand that, were our families to arrive today under the federal government's new rules, they would be denied health care, and, ultimately, citizenship. Returning to the retrograde policies that inspired None is Too Many must be rejected.

Thursday, June 14, 2012



PHOTO A Rohingya protester cries during a rally to call for an end to the ongoing unrest and violence in Myanmar's Rakhine State, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Tuesday, June 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

BANGKOK — They have been called ogres and animals, terrorists and much worse – when their existence is even acknowledged.

Asia's more than 1 million ethnic Rohingya Muslims are considered by rights groups to be among the most persecuted people on Earth. Most live in an anachronistic purgatory without passports, unable to travel freely or call any place home.

In Myanmar, shaken this week by a bloody spasm of violence involving Rohingyas in which dozens of civilians died, they are almost universally despised. The military junta whose half-century of rule ended only last year treated them as foreigners – fueling a profound resentment now reflected in waves of vitriol being posted online.

"People feel it very acceptable to say that 'We will work on wiping out all the Rohingyas,'" said Debbie Stothard, an activist with the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, referring to hyperbolic Internet comments she called "disturbing."

The Myanmar government regards Rohingyas mostly as illegal migrants from Bangladesh, even though many of their families have lived in Myanmar for generations. Bangladesh rejects them just as stridently.

"This is the tragedy of being stateless," said Chris Lewa, who runs a non-governmental organization called the Arakan Project that advocates for the Rohingya cause worldwide.

"In Burma they're told they're illegals who should go back to Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, they're told they're Burmese who should go back home," Lewa said. "Unfortunately, they're just caught in the middle. They have been persecuted for decades, and it's only getting worse."

That was made painfully clear this week as Bangladeshi coast guard units turned back boatload after boatload of terrified Rohingya refugees trying to escape the violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state. The clashes between Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists have taken a roughly equal toll on both communities, though each blames the other for the violence.

The boats were filled with women and children, and Bangladesh defied international calls to accept them, saying the impoverished country's resources are already too strained.
A few have slipped through, including a month-old baby abandoned Wednesday in a boat after its occupants fled border guards. Three other Rohingyas have been treated for gunshot wounds at a hospital in the Bangladeshi town of Chittagong, including one who died.

The unrest, which has seen more than 2,500 homes charred and 30,000 people displaced internally, erupted after a mob lynched 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation for the rape and murder last month of a 27-year-old Buddhist woman, allegedly by Muslims.

On Thursday, Rakhine state was reportedly calm. But Rohingyas living there "very much feel like they're trapped in a box," said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. "They're surrounded by enemies, and there is an extremely high level of frustration."

The grudges go back far. Bitterness against the Rohingya in Myanmar has roots in a complex web of issues: the fear that Muslims are encroaching illegally on scarce land in a predominantly Buddhist country; the fact that the Rohingya look different than other Burmese; an effort by the former junta to portray them as foreigners.

Across the border in Bangladesh, civilians – not the government – are more tolerant. But even there, Rohingyas are largely unwanted because their presence in the overpopulated country only adds to competition for scarce resources and jobs.

Myanmar's government has the largest Rohingya population in the world: 800,000, according to the United Nations. Another 250,000 are in Bangladesh, and hundreds of thousands more are scattered around the world, primarily the Middle East.

Human Rights Watch and other independent advocacy groups say Rohingyas face discriminated routinely. In Myanmar, they are subjected to forced labor by the army, a humiliation not usually applied to ethnic Rakhine in the same area, Lewa said.

Rohingyas must get government permission to travel outside their own villages and to marry. Apparently concerned about population growth, authorities have barred Rohingyas from having more than two children.

In 1978, Myanmar's army drove more than 200,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh, according to rights groups and the U.S. Campaign for Burma. Some 10,000 died in squalid conditions, and the rest returned to Myanmar. The campaign was repeated in 1991-1992, and again a majority returned.
In 2009, five boatloads of haggard Rohingya migrants fleeing Myanmar were intercepted by Thai authorities. Rights groups allege they were detained and beaten, then forced back to sea, emaciated and bloodied, in vessels with no engines and little food or water. Hundreds are believed to have drowned.

The same year, Myanmar's consul general in Hong Kong – now a U.N. ambassador – described the Rohingya as "ugly as ogres" in an open letter to diplomats in which he compared their "dark brown" skin to that of the "fair and soft" ethnic Burmese majority.

The latest unrest has focused fresh attention on the Rohingyas' plight, but it has also galvanized a virulent new strain of resentment. Many Burmese have taken to the Internet to denounce the Rohingya as foreign invaders, with some comparing them to al-Qaida and the Taliban.

While vitriol has come from both sides, what makes the latest unrest unique is that virtually "the entire population is openly and completely against" them, said Sai Latt, a writer and Myanmar analyst studying at Canada's Simon Fraser University.

"We have heard of scholars, journalists, writers, celebrities, even the so-called democracy fighters openly making comments against Rohingyas," Sai Latt said.

One Burmese actress posted "I hate them 100%" on her Facebook wall on Monday as the fires burned. By Thursday, her comment had nearly 250 "likes."

Prominent Burmese language journals have reported "only the Rakhine side," Sai Latt said. And many people have lashed out at foreign media, accusing them of getting the story wrong.

Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent former political prisoner released in January, has said Rohingyas should not be mistreated but added they "are not an ethnic group in Myanmar at all." He blamed the recent violence on illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

The longtime leader of Myanmar's democracy movement, Aung San Suu Kyi, has shied away from the blame game, saying the problem should be tackled by fair application of the law.
Speaking in Geneva on a five-nation European tour, she said that "without rule of law, such communal strife will only continue.

"The present situation will need to be handled with delicacy and sensitivity," she told reporters.
The tide of nationalistic sentiment against the Rohingya puts Suu Kyi in a difficult position. Her conciliatory message risks alienating large blocs of supporters at a time when she and her National League for Democracy are trying to consolidate political gains attained after they entered Parliament for the first time in April.

The Rohingya speak a Bengali dialect similar to one spoken by residents of southern Bangladesh. And physically, they are almost indistinguishable from their Bangladeshi counterparts, said Lewa, of the Arakan Project.

But their history – specifically the amount of time they've lived in Myanmar, and who among them qualifies as a legitimate resident – is bitterly disputed.

Some say the Rohingya are descended from Arab settlers in the 7th century, and that their state was conquered by the Burmese in 1784. Later waves arrived from British-run colonial India in the 1800s, but like the colonists themselves, they were regarded as foreigners.

That view persisted through half a century of military rule. Myanmar's post-junta government does not recognize them as one of the country's 135 indigenous ethnic groups. And many people stridently believe they are not even a real ethnic group – rather, they are only illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
President Thein Sein has warned that any escalation could jeopardize the nation's fragile democratic reforms.

The International Crisis Group said that ironically, the nation's newfound freedoms may have helped contribute to the unrest.

"The loosening of authoritarian constraints may well have enabled this current crisis to take on a virulent intensity," the group said. "It is not uncommon that when an authoritarian state loosens its grip, old angers flare up and spread fast."
Associated Press writers Xinyan Yu, Jocelyn Gecker and Grant Peck in Bangkok and Frank Jordans in Geneva contributed to this report.
My dear sweet niece/cousin sent me this message.  As she asked, doesn't this story sound familiar.
Come on Aung San Suu Kyi, we are all counting on you.