MINELRES: Fwd: Hungary puts Roma on the EU map with new MEP

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Wed Jun 30 17:01:43 2004

Original sender: Roma Network <romale@zahav.net.il>

INTERVIEW - Hungary puts Roma on the EU map with new MEP

By Sandor Peto 

BUDAPEST, June 14 (Reuters) - One of Hungary's new MEPs, a woman who
will be the only Roma in the 732-member European Parliament, says she
will represent all of Europe's gypsies and try to change perceptions
about the maligned ethnic minority. 

Livia Jaroka, 30, defies most stereotypes of Roma in both eastern Europe
and the West, with two university degrees and a PhD in the works. 

"The problems in Hungary are, sadly, also true in western European
countries," the sociologist and politician told Reuters in an interview
after Sunday's elections. 

"I have visited gypsy shanty towns in Greece which were even worse than
what we see in Hungary," she said. Hungary's estimated 450,000 Roma are
the largest minority in the country of 10 million. 

Jaroka stood for election for Hungary's moderate right-wing opposition
Fidesz party, which won 12 of Hungary's 24 allocated seats in the
European Parliament. 

She said her election meant Europe's 12-15 million Roma inhabitants, who
comprise some three percent of the EU's 450 million population, would
have a voice in Brussels for the first time. 

Roma speak different languages but share the common problems of poverty,
discrimination and lack of access to employment, housing and education. 

Last week a Hungarian school was fined for busing gypsy children, and
earlier this year Slovakia used 20,000 police and soldiers to quell
protests by impoverished Roma over welfare benefit cuts in the east of
the country. 

World Bank chief James Wolfensohn said last year that the Roma minority
has been discriminated against for centuries and Roma poverty in Europe
must be tackled by a concerted effort of national governments,
international organisations and NGOs. 


Looking to 2007 when Romania and Bulgaria, which both have large gypsy
populations, are likely to join the EU, Jaroka said she would try to
help create a more positive image for Roma. 

In the run-up to the accession of 10 mostly ex-communist countries to
the European Union on May 1, Roma were portrayed as scrounging criminals
bent on seeking better lives on state benefits in western Europe. 

Jaroka called for an end to what she called media hysteria in the West
over the Roma population. 

"In Europe the Roma issue is very often seen as a national security
issue -- as it appeared in Hungary also for a long time," she said. 

"This is the most typical depiction of the Roma issue. It's not
realistic at all and I think this is media hysteria." 

Few Roma actually had the will or the ability to leave their home
communities and head for the streets of London, Paris or Berlin, she

"I know from experience Roma cannot emigrate even if they would like
to," Jaroka said. 

"They don't want to go, not because they feel so happy, but because they
know they do not possess languages or financial security and skills that
they could get along elsewhere." 

Reporting by Sandor Peto, editing by Lisa Vaughan; Reuters Messaging
sandor.peto.reuters.com@reuters.net; +36 1 327 4744.