“Roma in an Expanding Europe”
An international conference of this name took place from 29 June – 1 July 2003 in Budapest.
From 29 June to 1 July 2003, an international conference entitled “Roma in an Expanding Europe” was held in the Hungarian capital, organised by the World Bank, the “Open Society” Institute, and the European Commission. It brought together 450 participants, representing more than 30 different states – not just members of the European Union and those soon to join, but also delegates from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Canada and the USA. This is an indication that the problems of the Roma are of concern to people all over the world. Russia was represented at the conference by the organisations “Roma Cultural Autonomy” (Moscow), “Association of Roma” (Volgograd), and “Roma Ural” (Ekaterinburg), as well as by Stefania Kulaev and Aleksandr Klein, employees of our “North-Western Centre for the Social and Legal Protection of Roma (Gypsies)”.
At the opening of the conference, participants were welcomed by the Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, the President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn, and the Chairman of the “Open Society” Institute, George Soros.
In addition to those representing Roma organisations, high-ranking politicians were also invited to the conference: and thus, on 1 July 2003, in the Hungarian Parliament building, ministers from various European governments spoke of the position for Roma and of the measures being taken in the respective countries to solve the problems faced by them. Speeches were made by the Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, the Bulgarian Prime Minister Simeon Saxe-Coburg Gotha, the Czech Deputy Prime Minister Petr Mares, the Macedonian Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski, the Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic, the Romanian Prime Minister Adrian Nastase, the Minister for National and Ethnic Groups in Serbia and Montenegro Rasim Ljajic, and the Slovakian Minister of Culture Rudolf Chmel. Several of the speakers admitted the historical and ongoing guilt of the European States and governments towards the Roma people, and accepted that the unfavourable position of Roma today can only be alleviated if there is a combined effort by all parties. It was symbolic that the conference, with all its high-ranking speakers, was chaired in an honorary capacity by László Teleki – an ethnic Roma and the Hungarian State Secretary for Roma Affairs.
A great deal is being done in Hungary for the Roma, and it has been accepted that improving the lot of the Roma population is a very urgent problem that requires rapid action to be taken. In the Autumn of 2002, a council was set up on Roma affairs, of which the Hungarian Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy became Chairman. The council includes influential politicians, scientists, priests, lawyers, educators, and representatives of voluntary organisations. The special post of State Secretary for Roma Affairs was also created, which is currently occupied by László Teleki. The heads of many ministries and government departments have pledged the involvement of their representatives in solving the problems of the Roma people.
The conference schedule was very full. High-ranking politicians and distinguished representatives of Roma movements, including young Roma leaders, spoke at the plenary sessions. All those who spoke agreed that the basic problems faced by the Roma population in an expanding Europe are a low level of education, poverty, unemployment, and a poor state of health. Roma leaders also pointed out that Roma are full citizens of Europe, and thus it is necessary to fight discrimination against them in all areas of life. As well as the plenary sessions, numerous sectionals were held, dealing with various issues. These covered such topics as: overcoming discrimination; improving the quality and level of education; social policy on the labour market; how to break the vicious circle; integration and education: from individual projects to a complete strategy; boosting opportunities in the field of employment; improving health: overcoming obstacles; working with local self-government; women – leaders of the Roma movement and others. Participants at the conference heard speeches by specialists who shared their experience in solving current problems, and expressed their opinions with regard to these.
The working languages of the conference were English and Romanes, with simultaneous interpreting of all conferences (to this end, some ten Roma interpreters were invited to the conference, all of whom were fully fluent in these two languages). The fact that participants were able to speak in their native language and understand the speeches of their colleagues made the conference more accessible for representatives of Roma movements.
Participants at the conference also had access to a huge number of informative materials: there were hundreds of books, newspapers, booklets, CDs, and copies of reports on the protection of rights of Roma, which were freely available and delegates could take these back to their own countries and use them to distribute information and experience. The North-Western Centre for the Social and Legal Protection of Roma (Gypsies) provided the information exhibition of the conference with booklets and reports giving information on our group’s activities.
On the last day of the conference, in the “Vigado” concert hall, an extraordinary concert was performed by a symphony orchestra made up of one hundred Roma, who played well-known pieces of music from around the world. Popular Roma music stars also performed.