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The political climate of Central-Eastern Europe has witnessed rising nationalist tendencies and faltering economic conditions in recent years. The growing strength of-right movements has driven a political discourse of social exclusion and marginalization into the mainstream. This has been especially evident for the eight million Roma living across the region.

Violent attacks on Roma have led to the death of six people in Hungary and in the Czech Republic, Jan Dufek has called for a genocide against Gypsies. An off-duty police officer killed three Romani in Slovakia and Italian government personnel have been involved in the vilification of the country’s Roma minority for a number of years. The ever increasing number of cases reported across Europe make it clear that the problem now requires the immediate development and implementation of an supranational political agenda.

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Photo: Giusi Barbini (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Two Romani children

There have been a number of attempts to draft policy dealing with the Roma population of Central-Eastern Europe but these have a long and uneasy history. Many centuries of cohabitation without repetitive successful attempts at assimilating Roma into broader society have all failed to change this group's position on the fringe of society.

Nor has there been improvement in their relationship with the majority population from mere coexistence to a meaningful symbiosis. Although the deepening social gap over the region is beyond doubt, there is a parallel counter-movement aiming to find new ways of inclusion with the Romani people

Large-scale action and interaction

The opening of the borders after the EU’s expansion over the last decade has often even preceded by alarmist media statements expecting large numbers of Romani people migrating to Western European countries in the hope of better job opportunities or more protective social welfare systems. These predictions were not fulfilled partly because those making them highly overestimate the attraction of the current living conditions and the horizon of the majority of the Gypsy population. For many Romani groups even a smaller migration to nearby big cities is impossible.

The Roma 'problem' was reborn as an internal EU problem after the 2004 enlargement.

Instead, the Roma 'problem' was reborn as an internal EU problem after the 2004 enlargement. Humanitarian organisations and NGOs working in this field needed to direct focus on the so called ‘Gypsy problem’ on these new terms. Most organisations involved in this work operate in line with the European Commission’s Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS). Larger organisations like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International and above all the European Roma Rights Centre regularly monitor the Romas’ economical, social and legal status.

The World Bank and the Open Society Institute initiated the Decade of Roma Inclusion in 2005 with a meeting of several prime ministers of the region aiming to synchronise main policy guidelines and designed the Roma Education Fund (REF) supporting the development of Roma self-empowerment through helping to train Roma leaders.

Despite the €26.5 billion EU funding available in 2012, many NGOs have continued to struggle with funding as the EU usually supports the projects only up to 80% and national governments are usually reluctant to pay the rest. There is a vivid sense of stagnation throughout the region despite the considerable amount of money involved. Grassroots organisations pop up in local contexts experimenting with new strategies. But could those small-scale strategies be the key starting point towards a less abstract integration process?

Next page: The success of multi-level mentoring in Bag village, Hungary.

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