Romani (Gypsy) culture and social issues.
Sinti and Roma as National Minorities
in the Countries of Europe

By Romani Rose

The Roma and Sinti minorities are long established national minorities in their respective countries of residence in Western, South and Eastern Europe. For example, the attitudes of the 70,000 German Sinti and Roma regarding housing, careers, education, religion, etc. do not differ from the attitudes among the majority of the German population. They pursue their professions as business people, tradesmen, factory workers, clerical workers, academics, civil servants or artists. Like the Danes, Sorbians and Frieslanders in Germany, the 70,000 Sinti und Roma in Germany form a historically developed national minority.

However, in many states a large number of Roma are forced to live under extremely discriminatory conditions and to suffer exclusion and disadvantage. Following that, there are no equal opportunities and chances for them. Many families became victims of pogroms like those in Romania and live - especially in the states of South-Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Communist systems - in severe poverty. In February this year [1995], again neo-Nazi groups murdered with a bomb four Roma in Oberwart, Austria, and injured seriously with such attacks Roma children in Pisa, Italy, where in March 1995 a 13-year old girl lost her right arm and fingers of her left hand and a 3-year old boy lost his left eye.

The Sinti and Roma were victims of the Nazi Holocaust. The unique feature of this policy of genocide in Europe was the plan to annihilate completely all Sinti and Roma, like the Jews, solely on the grounds of so-called "race". By 1945, this plan had been largely completed. The Jewish communities and the Sinti and Roma were systematically murdered family by family, from infants to old folk, throughout the area of Europe under National-Socialist influence. 5,000 Sinti and Roma fell victim to the racist madness, not only through slaughter in the concentration camps, but mainly through mass-murder by firing squads and the mobile gas chambers used by the SS units. The genocide of the Sinti and Roma, like that of the Jews, was planned and organised centrally in the Reich Security Headquarters ("Reichssicherheitshauptamt") of Heinrich Himmler.

A realistic basis for preventing discrimination, for participation in political and social life and a binding basis in the fight against disadvantage, inequality of opportunities, poverty and racist attacks can only be attained by equal inclusion in the conventions and agreements on the protection of national minorities.

The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma is lobbying the Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], for equal and legally binding minority protection for the Sinti and Roma minorities in the member states. According to the summit meeting of the Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe, held in Vienna on October 9th 1993, this minority protection is now to be defined in the "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities" produced by the Council of Europe on November 21st 1994 and will be included in the "Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights for the Protection of National Minorities" at the end of 1995. These agreements must include the Roma and Sinti minorities in the individual European countries as well as the remaining national minorities and treat all minorities in the same way.

On February 25th 1995, the German Ministry of the Interior publicly declared concerning the "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities":
 

"The situation of the further minorities traditionally domiciled in Germany, the Frisians with German nationality in Northern Friesland and in the East-Frisian Saterland as well as the German Sinti and Roma, recognised as an ethnic minority in Germany, is equal to the national minorities of the Danes and the Sorbians with German nationality concerning the maintenance of their own identity, their need of protection and the support given by the state. That is why the German Government has proposed to the Lands (Bundeslander) to apply the Framework Convention also to these both groups. This shall be done in a binding way by an interpretative declaration of the Federal Republic of Germany together with the signing of the Convention in the Council of Europe. At the moment the Lands (Bundeslander) are discussing this proposal."


Fifty years after the National-Socialist Holocaust, the agreements mentioned above should not be permitted to create second-class minority rights for Sinti and Roma. The member states do have a special responsibility to recognise their Sinti and Roma minorities as national minorities and to sign the "Framework Convention" of the Council of Europe including Sinti and Roma.

The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma opposes any kind of "special regulations" for Sinti and Roma. The effect of regulations of this kind would simply be to relieve the member states of their individual responsibility for the Sinti and Roma minorities domiciled in these countries, enabling them to reject legally binding minority protection. Earlier recommendations of the Council of Europe already contained exclusion clauses of this kind with the only purpose being to exclude the Roma and Sinti minorities from the binding third part of the "European Charter for Minority Languages", from the "Framework Convention for National Minorities" and from the other international conventions for national minorities of the UN, CSCE and European Union. For example, the Recommendation 1203/1993 of February 2nd 1993 contains the following discriminatory and exclusive formulation according to the old racist ideology: "Gypsies are a non-territorial minority, scattered all over Europe, not having a country to call their own, a true European minority, but one that does not fit in the definitions of national or linguistic minorities." But the reality is that the German Sinti and Roma are Germans and Germany is their own home country. The Italian Roma and Sinti are Italians and Italy is their own home country. The Spanish Roma have Spain, the Austrian Roma and Sinti have Austria, the Hungarian Roma have Hungary and so on. Otherwise, Recommendation 1203 only contains legally non-binding and useless "conditional provisions" with formulations like "could", "should", "ought", "it is important", etc. By contrast, the Recommendation 1201/1993 for an "Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights for the Protection of National Minorities" contains binding protective provisions for national minorities that must be ratified, i.e. incorporated in legislation. The "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities" which also can be signed by all states of the OSCE, also contains concrete rights and binding guarantees that the states have to recognise as a law in their country once the Convention is signed.

In this respect, the Vice-Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Peter Leuprecht, said on July 11th 1994 in Strasbourg: "The Council of Europe knows that each definition of minorities has to be prevented which leads to further discrimination and exclusion. So the term of "National Minority" has to be defined so that Sinti and Roma are included."

It is no longer acceptable for the residential rights of the Roma and Sinti minorities in their respective domiciles to be the subject of recommendations and resolutions discussed in European bodies where they are identified in blanket terms such as "social group", "refugees" and "nomads" (see Recommendation 1203/1993). Like the majority population, the national minorities of Sinti and Roma in Europe have been living in their respective domiciles as historically developed minorities.

Freedom of movement and freedom of establishment can only be achieved by way of the Maastricht treaty on European Union. The speedy integration of the states of Eastern Europe into the European Union is an essential prerequisite for this goal.

Beyond this, it is necessary to provide help for refugee families who leave their countries because of persecution and violent racist attacks there - help and regulations within the framework of the Council of Europe, the European Union and the OSCE. Measures must be taken which are appropriate to the situation and which are based on current law and existing agreements. The same applies to people who have been stateless in the long term. Only a policy of this kind can be realistic and have prospects for success. The existing provisions for eliminating statelessness, the resolutions made at Maastricht to coordinate the taking in  of refugees and the declarations of the states of the European Union on the asylum question from February 1992 form an appropriate basis. If poverty and the other reasons for refugees leaving their countries are to be eliminated, it is urgently necessary to incorporate the countries of Eastern Europe into the European Union, not to introduce discriminatory "special regulations for Gypsies" or to exclude them from the legally binding rights of national minorities.

The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma also expressly welcomes the resolution of the "European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages" of January 21st 1994. This calls on the German Government to register and ratify the "Romanes" language used by the German Sinti and Roma along with Danish, Frisian and Sorbian in the legally binding third part of the "European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages." As an "historically developed" minority language under the terms of the Charter, the "Romanes" language used by German Sinti and Roma has its own "linguistic area" within the state territory of the Federal Republic of Germany and is therefore entitled to protection and promotion according to the binding third part of the Charter. It is against the law of the European Convention for Human Rights generally to exclude the Sinti and Roma minorities in the different countries of Europe from the binding rights of the Charter as some recommendations of the Council of Europe did in the past.

It must also be criticised that European bodies as well as the bureaucratic administration of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg treat the six million Sinti and Roma in Europe as so-called "migrants". The recommendations of the Council of Europe use this classification very consciously with the intention of excluding these groups from protection for national minorities. There can be no doubt that the authorities are aware that this classification as "migrants" is actually incorrect and unrealistic. Nonetheless, this old "gypsy" cliché, which has been used to identify six million people as "nomads" and "migrants", still continues to be used. The consequences of these strategies of the Council of Europe and European Union that are intended to deny the Sinti and Roma minorities their residential rights in the member states are demonstrated by the reports of the denaturalisation of ten thousand members of the minority in the Slovak or the Czech Republic.

By signing UN resolution 47/135 on February 3rd 1993, the Federal Republic of Germany along with the member states of the Council of Europe and the CSCE undertook "to ensure the protection of the existence and identity of national, ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic minorities using legal measures". Each state must fulfil this undertaking without distinction for the minorities in its own territory, including its own Roma and Sinti minorities. The principles of the UN resolution must also set an example for a policy adopted by the Council of Europe, European Union and CSCE that is free from exclusions and discrimination with regard to the Sinti and Roma minorities.

Apparently independent scientists make themselves available for such discriminatory practices by the government and contribute to the consolidation of existing structures of prejudice.

The declaration made by Mr. Leuprecht on July 11th 1994 is a good beginning for changing the old policy of the Council of Europe. The then Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Mrs. Catherine Lalumiere, had already written to the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma on January 4th 1994, hoping the term national minority "will be understood in such a way as to include Sinti and Roma". The OSCE has to develop its activities in this way. As necessary activities of the OSCE, I actually propose recommendations to protect the Sinti and Roma as national minorities and to protect their minority languages. I propose a recommendation of the OSCE for governmental support to the self-representative organisations of the Sinti and Roma minorities in their home countries and I propose an appeal of the OSCE to the European Commission on Human Rights.

We need a recommendation from the OSCE to the member states of the Council of Europe to sign the "Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities" of the Council of Europe (November 21st 1994) including the Sinti and Roma minorities as national minorities. Additionally, we need a recommendation from the OSCE to the member states to ratify the Romanes languages as minority languages in the individual European countries according to part III of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. More than 35 points of the legally binding part III do allow for the ratified protection of the Romanes languages.

Bureaus for the self-representation of the Sinti and Roma minorities in the member states are necessary. To work against the threat of discrimination, the member states of the OSCE should establish institutions for the political self-representation of the Sinti and Roma minorities, which have an independent status for publishing incidents of governmental arbitrariness and infringements with racially discriminating motivations.

The OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union should employ their financial funds to support the self-representative organisations of the Sinti and Roma minorities in their home countries and thus enable them to perform the task of self-representation. This includes the support of Bureaus for the Roma and Sinti organisations if the member states are not able to finance central and regional consulting Bureaus for the Roma and Sinti minorities.

The main aim of these Bureaus for the Roma and Sinti minorities should be to work towards removing legal, economic and social disadvantages. They should also have the task of informing the public about the situation of the minority in the member states. The executives of these Bureaus should be exclusively the independent Roma and Sinti organisations as "Non-Governmental Organisations". Delegates from the organisations should form the board of the Central Consulting Bureaus and decide together and independently about their working programme and projects. Only the members of the boards, and not intergovernmental or governmental institutions, should be responsible for the whole working of the Bureaus, for the task of remaining all-party and independent, and for the correct use of the supporting funds. The Bureaus should be open to all Roma and Sinti people without distinction and should offer them free consulting services in cases of discrimination and unfair disadvantage.

In Germany, the bureau of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg with its 5 staff members is financially supported by the Federal Government. Since 1991, the German Government has also supported the Cultural and Documentary Centre for German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg with 8 staff-members. The Central Council was founded in 1982 by 11 associations of the lands (Landesverbande) and regional associations of the German Sinti and Roma. The Central Council today includes 16 member-organisations and works as the representative of the German Sinti and Roma minority in the Federal Republic. Concerning the support from the German Government, there is the discriminatory situation whereby the Central Council and the Documentary Centre of German Sinti and Roma are still supported by the "Ministry for Youth, Families and the Elderly" in its competence for so-called "socially marginalised groups". The foundation of the Central Council working for civil and minority rights and against discrimination and the foundation of the Documentary Centre are mentioned in the annual Ministry report, in the chapter "Policies for the Elderly" between "Public and Private Social Welfare" and "The Elderly with Handicaps". This stigmatising practice is a follow-up to old propaganda clichés and prejudices against the minority by declaring Sinti and Roma a "socially marginalised group" by birth and not recognising them as a national minority with the same rights as the other citizens of the country. Sinti and Roma also have to be supported on an equal footing with the Danes and Sorbians in Germany by the Ministry of the Interior.

The further activity of the OSCE must be to check the practice of asylum procedures in Western Europe. According to article 24 of the OSCE Budapest Document, the OSCE authorities should contact officially the European Commission on Human Rights with an appeal that the Commission should investigate the practice of the asylum and refugee procedures in Western European countries. The Commission should also investigate the practice of various countries which qualify states including Romania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Macedonia, Poland and Serbia as "safe" countries for Roma families who left their home country because of persecution and public violence.

These necessary activities of the OSCE could be initiated by the ODIHR in Warsaw.


Romani Rose is the Chairman of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma in Heidelberg, Germany.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 1994/1995 Vol. 3 No. 2 issue of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Bulletin <http://www.osce.org/inst/odihr/docs/bulle3-2.htm>.

Posted 03 September 1999.



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