Increasing Political Participation and Countering a Rise in Extremism Top Concerns for Roma/Sinti

Photo of Ambassador Baer
Ambassador Baer speaking to Roma activists via a Google+ Video Hangout, Nov. 5, 2013

In advance of this week’s Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting on Romani issues, I met with a half-dozen Romani activists in a “Google+ Hang Out.”  It took us a few minutes to work out how to “hang out”, but after a few minor technical difficulties, we had a great hour long chat.  Some of  the participants will be in Vienna later this week for the SHDM, others won’t be able to make the trip—but all of them shared their impressions on a broad range of challenges facing Roma in the OSCE region.

They suggested that several recent high-profile stories in the media on events in Greece, Ireland, France, and Kosovo, illustrated the important role that Romani journalists can play in shifting discourse away from biased coverage and bringing important perspectives to media coverage of news stories involving Roma.  We discussed the challenges and opportunities in making sure that Romani voices are part of the public discourse.

The rise of extremism was raised by several participants in the discussion. Hate crimes against Roma remain under reported as ODIHR has noted in its new report on the  OSCE Action plan on Roma and Sinti. Better police training would enable police to document hate crimes more effectively.  There are successful examples of how hate crime documentation has helped serve as a fact base for effective policy responses, so this fact gathering process is really important.

Rising extremism has also shown itself in anti-Roma marches as well as in political parties that use anti-Roma discourse to win votes.  Several participants noted that recent economic challenges have contributed to an atmosphere where scapegoating is more common.

They also discussed the need for greater political participation of Roma at all levels of government. In some places, the number from Romani elected officials has actually decreased over the last decade and some countries have electoral frameworks that in impede minority political participation.

These were useful insights to get from Romani civil society as we start this week’s discussions, look ahead to Kyiv and consider ways the OSCE can do more.  The US places a high priority on integrating civil society into the OSCE’s work across all dimensions.  I’m going to look for more opportunities to reach out and get “virtual” advice and feedback from civil society when we can’t meet in person.  Let me know if there’s a topic that you think is ripe for “hanging out” on—I’ll be interested in ideas.