Thursday, February 28, 2013


While on the subject of exploitative/racist shows, I did not mention a very good film called
'Searching for the Fourth Nail'.
I encourage everyone, especially those upset or confused by the depiction of Romani/Gypsies in such shows as My........Wedding (I still can't write that title) or American Gypsies, shamefully shown on National Geographic TV and produced by them.

It is a much more realistic portrayal of the lives of Roma in America.

Please check it out and support these filmmakers.





A documentary on travellers in Cambridgeshire was too ‘cutting edge’ for county council chiefs and a headteacher.

The makers of Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding approached the headteacher of Cottenham Primary School and Cambridgeshire County Council, asking if they could film Breda Doran, who works for the council in traveller relations.

A series of emails – revealed using freedom of information laws – shows how the council dealt with the filming request from the Cutting Edge series team.

At first, the reaction was positive from Kim Tolley, the council’s traveller education community inclusion manager, who wrote: “I’ve been approached by a producer who wants to film with Breda as part of a six-part Channel 4 documentary series.

“This is obviously a great opportunity, not only for Breda, but also for CREDS (Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service) to highlight the important work we do around raising the achievement of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children and young people.”

But Jan Wright, who has since retired as headteacher at the school, feared the documentary would damage relations after seeing My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and refused to allow film crews into the school.

She wrote: “I saw that programme and was not happy about the image it portrayed. I think the world of Breda and the wonderful work she does here and will not risk anything tarnishing all the years of work we have put in to improving relationships across our community. I’m afraid the answer is a definitive no.”

After the refusal, Ms Tolley said the council could not go ahead with helping the documentary fearing it would upset relations with the traveller community.

A spokesman for the council’s press office then replied: “That’s fine. I’m relieved the head feels the same way. And I think the offer of an interview with Breda – albeit wearing a different hat – will appease them. Not that it’s our job to appease them.”

The spokesman told the News: “Breda was approached by the TV production company in her capacity as a member of the traveller community (not as a council employee) to take part, but she chose not to. It was her decision.

“We did not want any documentary over which we had no editorial control to jeopardise the excellent work being done with travellers by the school and the Cambridgeshire Race Equality and Diversity Service (CREDS).”

The council was approached about the film in 2010 but the correspondence emerged this month.
Yeah. If only more would say no to racist shows like this and 'American Gypsy'.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013




By KRISTI EATON, Associated Press


Read more:

WOUNDED KNEE, S.D. (AP) — A Pine Ridge Indian Reservation resident who found herself in the middle of the 1973 Wounded Knee occupation said Wednesday amid ceremonial gunfire and chants that little has changed since the fatal standoff.

Faith White Dress was on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation 40 years ago when about 200 members of the American Indian Movement and their supporters huddled in houses, some with guns, to protest alleged corruption within the tribal government. Two Native Americans were killed, an activist went missing and a federal agent was wounded.

White Dress and others gathered Wednesday to remember the fatal 71-day standoff. During gunfire to mark the anniversary of the start of the occupation, she said the Oglala Sioux Tribe is still struggling.

"Unemployment is so high and the oppression is still so bad," she said. "I don't think it's going to take violence. It's going to take a gathering to determine how to bring jobs here. We need libraries. We need more of our children to have a better future."

Read more:

And Buffy St Marie sings it better than any of my words could say.




Czech men who father a child with a foreign woman from a non-EU country may be required to undergo DNA testing as of next year. If they have not married the mother of their daughter or son and want their child to have Czech citizenship, they may first have to prove their paternity. A draft law on citizenship under discussion in the lower house has proposed the measure.

Representatives of organizations assisting foreigners are criticizing the legislation as discriminatory and pointless, but the authors of the law say it will prevent false declarations of fatherhood being made in order to get residency. "The regulation separates mothers for no reason into those who are EU citizens and those who are citizens of other countries and discriminates against the children of unmarried parents. Those children would automatically lose their right to citizenship and therefore their right to something as fundamental as full health care during their first weeks of life," said Marie Heřmanová of the Migration Program of the NGO People in Need (Člověk v tísni).

According to lawyers at the Counseling Center for Citizenship/Civic and Human Rights (Poradna pro občanství, občanská a lidská práva) the legislation violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Czech Republic has undertaken to uphold. Currently the children of foreign-born women do receive citizenship should a Czech male declare himself to be their father.

According to the Czech Interior Ministry, this procedure is being abused, which is why the ministry has proposed tightening the rules. Allegedly such declarations are made in order for children and their mothers to get residency in the Czech Republic.

"The Czech Interior Ministry is unequivocally prioritizing its monitoring [of foreigners] over the interests of children," believes attorney Pavel Čižinský of the Counseling Center. Activists note that the law does not address what would happen to a child whose father cannot provide a DNA test for financial reasons (or because he is deceased) and note that since testing can cost anywhere between CZK 6 000 and CZK 20 000, some families may not be able to afford it.

The legal position of children prior to the confirmation of their biological father's identity is also not clear. Parents would have to pay for vaccinations, medical checkups and treatment on their own until the child was awarded citizenship.

The Czech ombudsman fundamentally disagrees with the regulation. Pavel Pořízek of the ombudsman's office said previously that foreign-born women living legally in the Czech Republic have no reason to fake their child's paternity. Speaking at a seminar on the law, he called the bill absurd. Allegedly, however, there have been dozens if not hundreds of such false declarations of paternity.

According to the ombudsman's office, current legislation should remain in effect and if the Czech Interior Ministry suspects a fraudulent declaration of paternity, it should reopen that child's citizenship proceedings. The Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner also favors preserving the current law.

Activists see another conflict in the fact that while Czech men fathering children with non-EU women would have to undergo paternity tests, the children of fathers and mothers who are both citizens of the former Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic would still be able to get Czech citizenship simply by declaring the child as theirs, even though the children or grandchildren of former emigrants, for example, need not have any ties to the Czech Republic in order to qualify for citizenship and don't even have to speak the Czech language. "The tendency to understand citizenship as a matter of 'blood', i.e., as ethnic, is unequivocally present in this law, as is the tendency to privilege citizenship applicants with ethnic roots over those who actually are at home here and are interested in living and working here," Heřmanová said.

Czech Press Agency, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

Thursday, February 21, 2013




When Malcolm X was shot, his wife—and mother of four—was left homeless, penniless, and pregnant with twins. But as a new movie tells the Betty Shabazz story, a daughter recalls how they all went on.

This Saturday, A&E Lifetime Network will recognize an important era in our nation’s history with an account of the friendship between my mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, and Coretta Scott-King. History referred to these extraordinary women, along with their friend Myrlie Evers-Williams, as “The Three Widows of the Movement.’’ However, even a cursory two-hour examination of their lives reveals their roles expanded far beyond that of surviving wives of famous husbands. Each of these exceptional women turned tragedy into triumph. Each one continued the legacy of her martyred husband. Each sacrificed personal freedom to become a warrior for social justice in her own right.

Betty, Coretta, and Myrlie treasured each other. They served as confidantes and friends to one another as they each adapted to life without their husbands and to rearing children who had been tragically deprived of their fathers.

Because my father directly challenged the government, neither he nor my mother have received the recognition they deserved over the years. So much could be learned from both. My sincerest hope is that the film, Betty and Coretta, will encourage all to learn more. And that it will empower a new generation of women to forge meaningful bonds of friendship and support.

My mother witnessed the martyrdom of her husband, Haj Malik Shabazz—Malcolm X—on Sunday Feb. 21, 1965, at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City. My older sisters, Attallah and Qubilah, and I were seated with our mother front row, stage right. We were present to hear my father address his new federation, the Organization of Afro American Unity (OAAU). I have no clear recollection of that horrific day because I wasn’t quite 3 years old. I know for many, it is a day that is vividly remembered. I’m told that our mother shielded my sisters and me with her body from the gunfire before attempting to save her husband with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Needless to say, her life was forever changed.

Betty Shabazz was the wife of a man who confronted a government that was historically unjust. Exactly one week prior to his assassination, we had been terrorized by a firebomb thrown into the nursery where my sisters and I slept. Long after my father’s assassination, surveillance of the family by the Nation of Islam (NOI), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) continued. On the day my father was slain, Betty was left alone—widowed, homeless (because of the firebomb), and penniless (because the millions of dollars my father raised for the NOI went to the NOI). In a fateful moment, she became a single parent of four babies—and was pregnant with twins.

Despite the significant tragedy, my mother refused to live her life as a victim. She possessed faith in God, self-respect, and a perspective that did not permit her to say, “No, I cannot do this.” She persevered to raise her six daughters, to safeguard the legacy of her husband, and to somehow earn a Masters of Arts degree in Public Health Education and a Ph.D. in Education Administration. She would often say to me, “Ilyasah, just as one must drink water, one must give back,” and that she did. She founded the Young Mothers Educational Development (YMED) program, which provided support for stigmatized pregnant unwed teens to complete their education. Dr. Shabazz joined the faculty of Medgar Evers College (MEC) as a professor. She taught health sciences, advanced to Director of Public Relations, and was eventually appointed as the college’s Cultural Attaché.

Exactly one week before his assassination, a firebomb was thrown into the nursery where my sisters and I slept.

Dr. Shabazz was selected to participate on United States delegations with Presidents Ford, Carter, and Clinton; and she also served her country as a delegate to the Women's International Conference in Bejing, China.

My mother accomplished a great deal in her life but what I will always remember most is her unwavering determination to protect her husband’s legacy from distortion. My father was a brilliant human rights strategist who was devoted to the cause of peace, equality, and freedom for all. Unfortunately, however, the legacy of Malcolm X was too often subject to unlawful, untruthful, and unfair reporting. In order to counter these effects, my mother worked with Pathfinder Press to ensure publication of reliable volumes that would accurately recount his life, words, and works. She established the Malcolm X Medical scholarship at Columbia University.

She was relentless in her efforts to have my father honored with a United States postage stamp. The Malcolm X Black Heritage stamp was issued in 1999, two years after my mother passed away. Dr. Betty Shabazz worked with Mayor Edward Koch to rename Lenox Avenue in Harlem, to Malcolm X Boulevard. She also formed a coalition of community, political, and educational leaders to establish the Malcolm X Memorial Center at the Audubon Ballroom. She was determined to transform
the place of fatal tragedy into one that would triumphantly honor her husband’s legacy.

When my mother passed away in 1997, President Clinton and many other leaders called with condolences and the United States flag was lowered to half-mast.

My mother fulfilled her husband’s expectation that she would ensure that his life and works are accurately recorded in history. “When you teach a man, you teach a community; when you teach a woman, you raise a nation.”

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Most of the 110,000 persons removed for reasons of 'national security' were school-age children, infants and young adults not yet of voting age."
- "Years of Infamy", Michi Weglyn

Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which permitted the military to circumvent the constitutional safeguards of American citizens in the name of national defense.

The order set into motion the exclusion from certain areas, and the evacuation and mass incarceration of 120,000 persons of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast, most of whom were U.S. citizens or legal permanent resident aliens.

These Japanese Americans, half of whom were children, were incarcerated for up to 4 years, without due process of law or any factual basis, in bleak, remote camps surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards.

They were forced to evacuate their homes and leave their jobs; in some cases family members were separated and put into different camps. President Roosevelt himself called the 10 facilities "concentration camps."

Some Japanese Americans died in the camps due to inadequate medical care and the emotional stresses they encountered. Several were killed by military guards posted for allegedly resisting orders.

At the time, Executive Order 9066 was justified as a "military necessity" to protect against domestic espionage and sabotage. However, it was later documented that "our government had in its possession proof that not one Japanese American, citizen or not, had engaged in espionage, not one had committed any act of sabotage." (Michi Weglyn, 1976).

Rather, the causes for this unprecedented action in American history, according to the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians, "were motivated largely by racial prejudice, wartime hysteria, and a failure of political leadership."

Almost 50 years later, through the efforts of leaders and advocates of the Japanese American community, Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act of 1988. Popularly known as the Japanese American Redress Bill, this act acknowledged that "a grave injustice was done" and mandated Congress to pay each victim of internment $20,000 in reparations.

The reparations were sent with a signed apology from the President of the United States on behalf of the American people. The period for reparations ended in August of 1998.

Despite this redress, the mental and physical health impacts of the trauma of the internment experience continue to affect tens of thousands of Japanese Americans. Health studies have shown a 2 times greater incidence of heart disease and premature death among former internees, compared to noninterned Japanese Americans.

Sunday, February 17, 2013



Hi friends,

I am not sure if you have seen the interview that Hungary's ambassador to Canada, László Pordány, gave to SUN TV's Michael Coren last year, in which he stated that the country's virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Roma Jobbik Party is not far-right in nature, but is simply radical right. He also claimed that the Magyar Gárda paramilitary group had no direct connections with Jobbik, which, of course, is completely false. The interview is a textbook case of someone trying to whitewash the rise of extremism in Hungary and even defend, or legitimize a far right party.

Here is the link:

A Hungarian academic, Christopher Adam, stumbled upon the SUN TV interview by accident last week on YouTube and wrote about it in his online publication. Despite the fact that it came out last year, its recent discovery led to three articles in Hungary's largest daily paper, Népszabadság, including one which cited Hungarian Foreign Ministry sources as saying that the incident may have diplomatic ramifications.

In order to draw attention to this issue, Christopher Adam has launched a petition, ultimately aimed at recalling Ambassador Pordány, as well as an English-language website on this topic: .

The actual English petition can be signed here:

The SUN TV interview is not a one-time example of very poor judgment and overt right-wing party politics on the part of the ambassador, but part of a longer series of similar incidents, as dam explains on my site. If you are interested in signing the petition, or know of others who might, we would very much appreciate your support.

As executive director of the Roma Community Centre in Toronto, I attended a meeting with Ambassador László Pordány at the Hungarian House in May 2011. When we met, Pordány was adamant that Hungarian Roma do not suffer human rights abuse and that they have come to Canada only due their 'economic situation' in Hungary. This same suggestion was made to me in a few months prior by Zoltan Balog, then Hungarian Minister of Social Inclusion, when we met at the Roma Community Centre. Due to this prior meeting, I came prepared to the meeting with Pordány knowing that he too would deny the true problem of the unrestrained war of hatred festering in Hungary. I had asked Mary Jo Leddy (a well respected, lifelong Canadian human & refugee rights advocate) to accompany me, and I showed Pordany a video clip from the neo-Nazi siege of the village of Gyongyospata during April 2011 following a Jobbik party rally, and inquired as to why the Hungarian police didn't intervene. His only response to me was "well, they are gone now". I responded with " yes, it only took three weeks and the intervention of the intervention of the Red Cross and Amnesty International before the police would moved towards ending the terror of Roma in Gyongyospata". Minister Jason Kenney met with these refugee families from this village at the Roma Community Centre in October 2011. Last year, April 2012, Ambassador Pordany attended the film screening in Ottawa of Karl Nerenberg's film about Roma refugees in Canada entitled "Never Come Back". During the Q & A following the film, a representative from the Hungarian Embassy went up on stage with a prepared speech from which he shared that the Hungarian Roma refugees have come to Canada solely because of economic conditions in Hungary. Never once did the words systemic discrimination, endemic hatred, or human rights violations ever emerge from his mouth. This February 2012, Hungary was found guilty by the International court of Human Rights of systemic discrimination from it its practice of systematically placing Roma children into schools for those with special needs.

László Pordány is a Fidesz party puppet and continues to lie to Canadians to cover up what the truth is in Hungary for the Roma minority. I support this petition 100% and sincerely hope that you will at least take the time to read it.

A petition is available at

Kind regards,

Gina Csanyi-Robah

Executive Director

Roma Community Centre

Roma Community Centre

1344 Bloor St. W.
Toronto, ON

M6H 1P2

Thursday, February 14, 2013





A new rap video exhorting Roma parents not to allow their kids to be sent to special schools for the mentally handicapped is currently doing the rounds on YouTube. So far it’s been seen over 25,000 times, a respectable number for the Czech Republic, and has several hundred ‘likes’. It’s the work of a Czech NGO involved in the decade-long struggle to get Roma kids into regular primary schools.

Nebud’ Dilino – a song by a young Romani foursome called United Gipsy Crew, currently creating a small buzz on social network sites and YouTube. The phrase translates roughly as ‘Don’t be stupid’, and in it four Roma kids from the Prague district of Zizkov call on parents not to send their kids to special school, where they’ll receive an inferior education.

The clip is the work of a Czech NGO called Slovo 21, which is financially supported by Germany’s Heinrich Boll Foundation. Slovo 21’s Lyubov Grunkovskaya says despite some progress in recent years, there’s still a disproportionately high number of Roma children attending remedial schools in the Czech Republic.

“If you compare the number of Czech children in special classes with the number of Roma children, you’ll see that the percentage of Romani children is much higher. But it’s just not logical that Romani children are more prone to mental disability. It’s been proved many times that those children are perfectly healthy; they’re not supposed to be there.”

The clip, which is shot in various locations around Prague, features a number of successful Roma people – a nurse, a TV journalist, a teacher – who didn’t go to special school but stayed within the mainstream education system, ending up at university and finally on the path to a fulfilling career. Most Roma receive an inferior education at a special school, then attend some sort of vocational school before getting a low-skilled job. If they find a job - many end up on the dole.

The process by which so many Roma children end up in special schools is a complex one, but it’s not as simple as a malevolent, paternalistic state making unilateral decisions about a child’s education. There is an element of parental consent involved. But as Lyubov Grunkovskaya points out, Roma parents – many of whom went to special schools themselves – are often ill-informed.

“Some of them studied at special schools themselves. So when the social workers recommend they send their kids there too, you know, because they studied there, because they know how it looks, they’re never informed that there is a difference in the study programmes, and a difference in what kind of kids should be there. So this clip is about informing parents that they have a choice, and that by placing their children in regular public schools, their children will have more opportunities in life.”

A 2007 European Court of Human Rights verdict ruled the practice by which so many Roma kids ended up in special schools amounted to segregation, and ordered the Czech authorities to make amends. Some things have improved, but some of the changes were simply cosmetic – special schools were renamed ‘practical’ schools by the Czech authorities for example. But the problem hasn’t gone away, and changing attitudes will take time.

Sunday, February 10, 2013



By Paul Polansky

Speech delievered at the UNICEF center in Rome on 21 December 2012 at a human rights conference


PHOTO: Jeff Pachoud/AFP/Getty Images

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For more than 20 years I have lived in Europe with Roma, Ashkali, Sinti, Kale and many other groups called Gypsies.

I live with them as an anthropologist, writer/poet, photographer, and human right activist. I have collected and filmed more than 400 of their oral histories in 19 countries. Their plight and tragedy, I have witnessed first-hand.

But are Roma/Gypsies really living under apartheid today in Europe?

The crime of apartheid is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group.

On November 30, 1973, the United Nations General Assembly opened for signature and ratification the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

Article II of the International Convention states among other things that the crime of apartheid shall include policies and practices of racial segregation … to divide the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group …and the expropriation of landed property belonging to a racial group or to members thereof.

Let me tell you what my personal experience has been with regards to those definitions of apartheid.

I first came across such a blatant act that would fit the above definitions in a small town in southern Spain where I lived in the area for almost 30 years. The mayor of the village of Antas (Almeria) declared that no Gitano, no Gypsy, was allowed to buy or rent a property in his municipality.

At the time I was not involved with the local Gitano community as a human rights activist but it raised a red flag to my sense of injustice. I had Gitano friends. I socialized with some of them. A Gypsy flamenco group performed at my house parties. Some of them even worked for me. But here in southern Spain a mayor had banned them from his town.

In 1991, I moved to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and found even worse forms of segregation. Roma children were not allowed to go to normal schools. This is a poem I wrote about one such incident I was involved in:

A SPECIAL SCHOOL (in the voice of a Romani father)

I’ve always known my daughter was bright.

Drawing pictures with many details,

memorizing all the songs of our ancestors,

playing the piano before she was five.

So I was surprised when the teacher came

to our home and told us

our daughter wasn’t ready for school.

Her Czech wasn’t good enough,

she needed help with her grammar.

My wife said that all six-year-olds

need help with their grammar.

The principal agreed to see us.

He said our daughter was a nice girl,

but she would be the only Gypsy in her class.

We finally agreed.

We signed the paper.

We didn’t want our little girl picked on.

But now when I walk her to school,

and I see the plaque on her building,

my heart breaks.

Why didn’t they tell us

her special school

was a center for

the mentally retarded. 

From Prague, I visited in Eastern Slovakia a Roma community that had been forced to leave their ancestral town of Letanovce because after several centuries the town had grown so big that the original Gypsy ghetto was now in the center on some of the most valuable property. Without any compensation for their homes and properties which had been in their families for countless generations, the Gypsies were told to leave. Their only solution was to find shelter in a nearby forest, five kilometers away, cut down some trees and build a few log cabins.

In the early 1990s I visited this Roma community near Letanovce because President Vaclav Havel had heard that they were a community with no electricity, water or sewage facilities. As president of the then nation of Czechoslovakia he had promised in 1992 to provide them with the basic necessities. However, after the breakup of Czechoslovakia he could not fulfill his promise.

After Slovakia became independent the town of Letanovce accused these 700 Roma of having built their homes fifty years ago without legal permission and now wanted to take them to court for cutting down the trees for their homes. The town also declared the forest surrounding the Romani homes as a national forest and hired a policeman to guard the forest to prevent the Roma from collecting kindling, their only source of fuel for heating and cooking.

This was not the only Roma community that had been forced to leave because their land had been overtaken by the enlargement of an ever increasing local population. In Eastern Slovakia I found countless Roma communities now living in abandon mines, living on toxic wasteland, after being forced out of their centuries-old downtown properties.

These forced evictions are not rare examples but the norm in most eastern European countries. Today most Gypsy ghettos are usually found near the municipal garbage dumps because that is the only lands that no one else wants.

Probably the best example and one of the most tragic of forced eviction without compensation occurred in Nish, the third largest city in Serbia, where I have a home and live part of the year collecting the oral histories of the local Roma and researching their arrival about 1,000 years ago in the Balkans as slave labor for the Orthodox Church.

Nish has almost six hundred years of documented census records of Gypsies living in their city. The first Turkish census taken in 1491 showed that Gypsies were living in Nish before the Turks arrived in the Balkans. Later a small number of Gypsies also came with the Turkish soldiers.

But that first historical census taken in 1491 showed that Gypsies were paying taxes in 18 Turkish regions around Nish. All the Gypsies were Christian. Listed in the census were 3,237 regular Gypsy families, and 211 widow families.

In the 1498 census there were more details. In Nish city there were several neighborhoods with 294 regular Gypsy families and five widow families. If there were five people per family then there were approx. 1,490 Gypsies in Nish, still mainly Christian.

By 1948 those original 600-year- old Gypsy neighborhoods were now congregated in what had become the center of Nish and some of the most valuable land in the city. Offers were made to buy that property and some Roma did sell, but most refused. Then in the spring of 1948 the worst flood in living memory inundated Nish, destroying almost all the Roma homes since most were made out of unbaked brick.

Most of the Roma families were evacuated to local school houses but after the floods receded the mayor of Nish refused to let the Roma return to their properties and rebuild. Despite many having legal documents to their property, the Roma were transported to surrounding villages and left to fend for themselves. No compensation was ever paid for their property.

The city of Nish then proceeded to build modern apartment buildings on the centuries-old Gypsy land for city officials and high-ranking army officers.

Those Romani families who could not find land in the villages slowly returned to Nish to build shanties on the outskirts of the city, on land near garbage dumps that no one else wanted. Some even built over the abandoned Jewish cemetery since all Jews in the city had been exterminated during the war by the occupying Germans. Nish city officials did not stop any of this new Roma construction or protest against it.

Today some Roma ghettos are once again under threat. After more than half a century Nish authorities are now claiming the Roma didn’t have permission to build. Once again some are under threat to leave or be evicted since their property has again become worth something.

In nearby Kosovo, which from 1999 until 2008 was under UN administration, and is today still monitored by the European Union, the situation is even worse.

In 1999 while NATO troops stood by and watched (with me), more than 100,000 Kosovo Gypsies (Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians) were forced from their homes which were then looted and dismantled. Most escaped abroad, but the poorest that didn’t have the resources to pay a smuggler to take them to Italy or Germany and safety, sought refuge in the Serbian enclave of North Mitrovica where I discovered them in a school house. Within a week the UNHCR took charge of them, and hurriedly housed them in tents on toxic waste land. When I complained to the highest ranking members of the UN in Kosovo about the health hazards of putting refugees on highly poisoned land, the Roma and Ashkali were assured that they would only be there for 45 days and then either returned to their homes or taken abroad.

As it turned out the Roma and Ashkali were kept on those lead-poisoned lands for the next 12 years with the UN claiming that nobody wanted Gypsies in their town. Hence the first-ever UN ghetto for Gypsies, at least for those who lived…for on these highly toxic lands every Roma and Ashkali child conceived was born with irreversible brain damage and usually ended up mentally retarded if they lived.

After more than 100 deaths and 12 years of publicizing their plight and deaths, we Romani rights activists finally got the UN, the EU, and their implementing partners such as Mercy Corps to build new housing for these refugees. But what did the UN do? They built another ghetto, on a small section of the Roma/Ashkali original ghetto, claiming there was nowhere else to put them. But in resettling them, the local Albanian municipality of South Mitrovica confiscated without compensation, and with UN approval, more than 20 hectares of land previously owned and occupied by the local Roma and Ashkali. The looted and dismantled homes which once housed more than 8,000 Roma/Ashkali whose steel-reinforced structures were still solid enough for their homes to be rebuilt were then destroyed by NATO bulldozers under a UN project to clean up the area.

Some Mitrovica Roma and Ashkali refused to return to the new ghetto. They did not want to once again be segregated from the local population where they would be stigmatized. Those who had relatives abroad from the 1999 Diaspora sought funds from them to pay smugglers to join their families in Italy and Germany and other EU countries.

I hope you can now see why so many Roma/Ashkali and other groups are still seeking safety and shelter abroad. But for Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia to qualify for possible membership in the European Union, countries such as Germany have made it a condition for these Balkan countries to take back these forced returnees.

But what do these Roma/Ashkali returnees have to return to? No homes, no jobs. Almost all without exception once again have to seek refuge in ghettos where local Roma/Ashkali are still segregated, still stigmatized.

In April this year the city of Belgrade with mainly EU funds started to build a new access road to their city freeway. The new road was designed to run through a community of Roma homes and shanties. To appease EU officials who didn’t want their funds used to make hundreds of Roma homeless, the mayor of Belgrade promised to provide these evicted Roma with alternative, adequate housing. Very few were given anything. For those Roma who long ago had left their own cities in Serbia to seek work in the capital of Serbia, the mayor of Belgrade had them deported to the address on their original ID cards.

Five families were transported back to Nish and dumped on the street. After an outcry from local NGOs the municipal authorities allowed these five families to occupy an abandon warehouse but without any water or electricity. After three months of protests by Amnesty International, the European Roma Rights Center and local NGOs, the new mayor of Nish, a former cardiologist (my cardiologist), relented and permitted the local water board to hook up the warehouse with a half inch diameter pipeline to the one toilet and one water basin on the property. After the water was turned on the original pipe burst. Nish city technicians refused to repair it, saying it was up to the Gypos to fix it if they wanted water.

By that time I was already involved in seeking aid for these five families so I paid for the pipeline to be fixed. It cost 30 Euros.

Today seven months after being allowed to live in this dusty, rat-infested warehouse where rain pours through the countless holes in the roof these families still do not have electricity for heating or cooking, only one light bulb per family. Although an official electrical line runs to a meter box in the warehouse, Nish city officials continue to refuse normal electricity for these families. According to the mayor’s office, laws have to be respected. The mayor’s spokesperson told me that it would cost more than 3,000 Euros for a report to be made to insure that a full hookup would be proper, safe and legal.

Shortly after moving into the warehouse one Romani woman died there. A few weeks later a Romani wife gave birth to a baby girl. That baby is now trying to survive under these conditions. Winter has arrived. Almost a meter of snow has fallen. Yet firewood promised by the mayor has yet to arrive. Soon the only water line will probably freeze. Will this baby survive? Will any of these Roma survive?

After the 1999 war in Kosovo many Serbs fled from Kosovo to Nish as refugees. The Nish town hall housed these Serbian refugees in a hotel and later provided adequate accommodation for them. But for Roma citizens there is no such treatment.

And that is really the bottom line. The Roma who have been documented in Nish for almost six hundred years are still not considered “real” citizens. They are still not considered human beings. They are still segregated and treated in such a manner that fleeing to another country is their only hope of salvation. But most can’t afford to flee, so they suffer what international law calls apartheid.

Is there apartheid in Europe?

Live with Roma, Ashkali, Sinti, or Kale and you too will soon experience apartheid first hand… in Europe.

Thank you.

Paul Polansky has been a true friend and tireless advocate of the Romani for many many years.
Thank you Paul

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Situation of Native Americans similar to that of Czech Roma


PHOTO The building of the Hacienda CDC organization in Portland, Oregon, USA, a nonprofit organization providing housing and programs for tenants. (PHOTO: David Beňák)

David Beňák, Patrik Banga and David Tišer, three civically active Romani men from the Czech Republic, are participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in the United States of America. Their visit will last approximately three weeks and will include several American cities where they will meet with representatives of organizations implementing interesting projects in the area of human rights, community work, and minority rights advocacy.

News server has been publishing David Beňák's journal of the trip. Below we translate one of those installments.

Our American experience: Day 11 and 12

Our second day in Portland, Oregon continued with a visit to two institutions. The city of Portland is interesting because the third-largest group of Native Americans in the country lives there, and in the afternoon we were guests of the Native American Youth and Family Center.

The suffering of Native Americans has been enormous, and I don't only mean the fact that they were pushed out of their territories and murdered. During the 20th century their children were also taken away from them and sent to live in boarding schools. This is a nation that has suffered great pain. Moments of their history are similar to many points of Romani history.

The Native American population is rather young and consists of a family with five children on average. The current generation is experiencing similar problems to those of the Romani community: Poverty, low educational attainment, indebtedness, lack of quality housing, discrimination, etc.

The center we visited was established in 1974. Its original aim was to offer children a path to self-realization through athletics. Currently the center focuses on culture, education, housing, and economic support for the community. It employs 100 people and provides services to more than 200 people a day.

What was interesting about the center is that the people running it decided to take matters into their own hands. The community needed housing, so the center decided to purchase 400 apartments and is now building houses which it leases for reasonable rents. They wanted to improve children's education, as the success rate of children at the public high schools was only 35 %, so they established their own school, attended by approximately 100 students, where they familiarize them with Native American cultural roots in addition to the regular curriculum. Members of the community needed work, so they established a firm to employ them; moreover, they provide training. The high point of the visit was a meeting with a group of elders.

Our day in Portland ended with a visit to the Hacienda CDC organization, a nonprofit that provides housing and programs for its tenants. The target group of the organization is 70 % Latinos, 19 % Somalis, and 9 % people of other ethnicities. Once again, the management approach there involved a certain principle of resource maintenance.

Non-governmental, non-profit organization financing in the USA: Tax write-offs as a commodity

During this visit we were familiarized in detail with the system for financing non-governmental, non-profit organizations in the USA. Tax write-offs are more like a commodity there. NGOs can request tax relief, and if they are granted it by the federal government or by a specific state, they can raise money through tax-deductible donations. Governments also offer grants, but that is only one part of NGO financing.

In general in the USA - just like in other EU countries and elsewhere - what is interesting is that many NGOs are financed from private resources. This gives nonprofits independence from the state and the opportunity to actively oppose municipalities or the state itself.

During the following day we traveled to the final destination of our trip, New York City, and before we could adjust to the time difference, our program was underway. Our first meeting in New York was with the Open Society Institute. There is probably no need to describe the activities of this foundation to most of you. We discussed the foundation's current programs and other opportunities for supporting the Romani NGO and nonprofit sector.

After that we were guests of the US mission to the United Nations, where we met with representatives of a relatively new nonprofit organization, Yoy Dally. This organization is implementing a small project in Romania and intends to develop its activities further.

David Beňák,translated by Gwendolyn Albert



Myanmar (Burma) has a long way to go on human rights. An issue that demands immediate attention is a crisis involving a sizable ethnic and religious group, the Rohingya – one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. This stateless people deserve citizenship and tolerance.


PHOTO A Myanmar soldier stands guard at the Bawdupa refugee camp for Muslims in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar on Jan. 8. Sectarian violence last year between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya forced many people, mostly Rohingya, into squalid camps. Op-ed contributor Benjamin J. Hayford writes: 'The first action needed is to recognize 800,000 Muslim Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar.'

Khin Maung Win/AP

The move toward greater freedom and representative government in Myanmar (Burma) over the last few years is a welcome one. But President Thein Sein and his associates in the military have a long way to go toward achieving democracy, human rights, and a market economy.

One area of human rights that demands immediate attention is a crisis involving a sizable ethnic and religious group, the Rohingya – one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, according to the United Nations.

Imagine life as part of a society that lacks a formal national identity. Now picture that society, devoid of citizenship, being persecuted for having different religious beliefs than the surrounding ethnicities within the country – barred from owning land, traveling, or even attending school.

This is the life of nearly 800,000 people in state of Rakhine, in western Myanmar. They have been called the “the Roma of Asia.” Rendered stateless by the passage of the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya, who are Muslim, are heavily impoverished and lack economic development. Unclaimed by the Burmese, who view them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, the Rohingya are disenfranchised and vulnerable.

Tensions in Rakhine State between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities last June and October led to violent clashes and dozens of deaths. About 115,000 people were internally displaced, the vast majority of them Rohingya. Many of their homes were burned to the ground.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who visited displacement camps in Rakhine in December, observed: "People from both communities ... are living in fear and want to go back to living a normal life. There is an urgent need for reconciliation."

If these ethnic and religious clashes are truly “internal affairs of a sovereign state” as the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims, then now is the time for the government to exercise responsible sovereignty and encourage tolerance locally.

President Thein Sein has established a 27-member Internal Investigation Commission to identify the root causes of inter-communal unrest. Deplorably, not a single Rohingya sits on the commission.

Amb. Ufuk Gokcen, permanent observer of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to the UN, exhorts Mr. Thein Sein to reach out to and talk with the Rohingya community. “Without a courageous political discourse and leadership on the part of the Government and opposition together, Government cannot initiate and sell to the nation an action to grant citizenship to Rohingya,” the ambassador says.

President Obama, too, has remarked on the unrest in Rakhine State. “For too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution. But there’s no excuse for violence against innocent people, and the Rohingya hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do,” he said at Yangon University in Myanmar on Nov. 19, during his historic visit to the country.

Granting citizenship to the nearly 800,000 Rohingya Muslims will accelerate Myanmar’s gradual increase in civil liberties and political freedom. Obtaining support from Buddhist monks would be key to gaining popular support for the change. Buddhists comprise almost 85 percent of Myanmar’s population. If the country’s Buddhist monks were to vocally support extending citizenship to Rohingya, then the stateless minority would have well-founded hope for recognition.

The United States has a role to play as well. Recent easing of US sanctions against Myanmar is a goodwill gesture to encourage democratization and comes partly at pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s request. Yet some human rights groups have too harshly criticized the move as premature. To its credit, the US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration assisted Rohingya refugees in Myanmar and neighboring countries with $24 million in aid in fiscal year 2012.

While this aid alleviates suffering, humanitarianism alone will not resolve the centuries-old ethnic and religious tension between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya. US diplomats in Myanmar should urge both Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein to work cooperatively toward granting the Rohingya citizenship and fostering religious and ethnic tolerance throughout Myanmar.

Today, Myanmar increasingly demonstrates more openness in reforms: Several political prisoners have been freed, peaceful demonstrations are allowed, and elections are held. However, the government is stalling on the Rohingya issue, their most pressing human rights concern.

National reconciliation between majority Buddhists and minorities, including Christians and Muslims, cannot be a toothless political catchphrase. Reconciliation comes only through action, and the first action needed is to recognize 800,000 Muslim Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar.

Benjamin J. Hayford is working on his master’s in international affairs at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.


Wednesday, February 6, 2013




The Roma make up about 7 percent of Hungary's 10 million people, and are overrepresented among the poor and unemployed. Discrimination is widespread. According to one survey, only about one-third of Hungarians would let their child be friends with a Roma child. A founding member of the ruling centre-right Fidesz party wrote in a Magyar Hirlap newspaper: "A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals."

Anton Pelinka, a professor of nationalism studies at the Central European University in
Budapest, stated that while anti-Roma sentiments have always existed in Hungary, in the last few years they have become "more open, more visible".

The Roma make up about 7 percent of Hungary's 10 million people, and are overrepresented among the poor and unemployed. Discrimination is widespread. According to one survey, only about one-third of Hungarians would let their child be friends with a Roma child. A founding member of the ruling centre-right Fidesz party wrote in a Magyar Hirlap newspaper: "A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals."

Anton Pelinka, a professor of nationalism studies at the Central European University in Budapest, stated that while anti-Roma sentiments have always existed in Hungary, in the last few years they have become "more open, more visible".

Critics blame the nationalist Jobbik party for inflaming racism against the Roma and the country's Jewish community. Jobbik became the third-strongest part in Hungary's 2010 national election, winning 17 percent of the vote. According to a poll conducted in 2012, Jobbik is the most popular party among Hungarians under the age of 30. Although Jobbik probably stands little chance of winning a national election, the party could siphon off support from centre-right Fidesz. Jobbik members often talk about "gypsy crime", blaming the Roma for an increase in violence. Jobbik Vice President Tamás Sneider said he was concerned about the increase in the Roma population, especially in the countryside. "the Gypsies terrorise and [threaten] Hungarian inhabitants," he claimed.

Jewish leaders said anti-Semitism is rising in the country in tandem with anti-Roma sentiments. In a 2012 survey by the Anti-Defamation League, over 60 percent of Hungarian respondents said that Jews "talk too much about the Holocaust" (at least 500,000 Jewish Hungarians are thought to have been killed during the Holocaust.) and 73 percent said Jews have too much power in the business world. Jobbik often talks about "Israeli colonisation" of Hungary. About 100,000 Jewish people live in Hungary.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013



Roma gypsy children in France are being educated in a police station - because schools refuse to let the children learn in regular classes.


PHOTO Roma people in the central French city of Lyon

France 24 reported that the 20 children, aged between six and 12, are being taught on the second-floor of a police station in Saint-Fons, Lyon, by one teacher.

The children do not receive school meals, and walk 1.5km home to their encampment by the city's bypass, according to the report.

France anti-racism charity MRAP called the situation a "ghetto" and said it denounced the move by authorities.

It said in a statement: "We condemn the refusal of the municipality to admit children in a school canteen, which forces them to return home by foot."

The makeshift school has "poor hygiene and safety," the charity said. "School should be a place where children integrate, but some officials have sought to make it a divider."

The temporary Roma camp in the city is controversial with Mayor Christiane Demontès attempting to have its inhabitants forcibly removed. Approximately 15,000 ethnic Roma, mostly originating from Bulgaria and Romania, live across France.

Friday, February 1, 2013





Human rights organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center are documenting an increase in violence and vandalism against the Roma and Jewish community of Hungary. Many Roma fearing for their families’ lives have arrived in Canada in an attempt to find a safe home.

What they are discovering are laws passed and changes of policy by the Harper government that make refugee claims in Canada more difficult, especially for those coming from countries on Immigration Minister Jason Kenney’s “safe” list – places where he says all citizens are safe and secure. Hungary is on that list.

According to our new laws, refugee claimants from “safe” countries have a few weeks to prepare their hearings, a process you and I couldn’t manage easily, and effectively lose their right of appeal. Further, people who claimed refugee status after Dec. 15, 2012, no longer have access to health care through the Interim Federal Health program, including pregnant women, children, and people facing acute crises such as heart attacks. Ask your federal MP to clarify how this is possible.

Kenney has travelled to Hungary and used Canadian tax dollars to underwrite a billboard campaign in Miskolc, a town with one of the largest Roma population in that country. The billboards urge Roma not to come to Canada, and state that “people will be returned very quickly” to Hungary. The mayor of that town has also responded, threatening that Roma who leave Miskolc and then are shipped back by Canada are not welcome, and will be denied housing and schools for their children. These actions and statements sound eerily familiar. The Roma are truly people without a home.

The following is an email I received from Gina Csanyi-Robah, the executive director of the Toronto Roma Community Centre:

“Dear Avrum: Almost every Roma child from Hungary and the Czech Republic that I have taught in Toronto has reported abuse at school – physical, verbal, and psychological violence from teachers and other students and their parents. Many have reported beatings by skinheads and have shown me scars on their bodies. Many have been deported now. I have had a number of reported teenage suicide attempts as deportation becomes eminent.

“In April 2011, 200 Hungarian Roma families were terrorized for three weeks by neo-Nazis who came to the village of Gyongyospata as participants in a Jobbik rally. Jobbik is a neo-Nazi styled political party that has representation in the Hungarian parliament. The thugs entered schools, stood outside homes, they followed people to the stores and shouted Hitler-like remarks and threatened death.”

The police stood by. The Red Cross stepped in. Gina added that many families from Gyongyospata are here as refugees claimants and that two families came to the Roma Centre and told their story to Kenney on Oct. 29, 2011. “These families have lost their asylum claim and are now in the process of removal,” Gina lamented.

What’s incredibly bizarre, while all of this is happening, Kenney was invited to light a flame of remembrance on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – Jan. 27 – by the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem. Somehow, along the road we have redefined our hands-on commitment to “never again” and forgotten we are “none is too many.”

Please fix this part of our world. It is broken. Call the Roma Community Centre at 1344 Bloor St. W., at 416-546-2524. See and/or the Facebook group: Toronto Roma Community Centre. Offer help.

After so much Holocaust education, we should know what to do.