Europe and Its Roma (Gypsies)

Europe should act promptly against renewed persecution of a traditional scapegoat - the Roma, or Gypsies. The Roma's plight is most urgent in Kosovo, where they have joined Serbs as the latest victims of ethnic conflict.

Accused of collaborating with the Serbs or looting Albanian homes, Roma have been killed, beaten, and burned out of their houses. The threat may be the most dire Roma have faced since hundreds of thousands of them perished in Nazi death camps.

Anti-Gypsy prejudice has a long history in Europe. The sometimes nomadic Roma, who originated in India, are often unfairly stereotyped as beggars, thieves, and swindlers.

Never far below the surface, this prejudice has reemerged as the Roma flee persecution.

Italy has refused refugee status to thousands from Kosovo, claiming they aren't at risk. Spanish authorities last month bulldozed a shantytown housing 1,000 Roma refugees from Romania.

Finland instituted a visa requirement for Slovakian citizens after more than 1,000 Slovakian Roma flew to Helsinki seeking asylum. Authorities there will hear the refugee claims of those already in the country. But Switzerland recently turned back 85 visa-less Slovakian Roma at Zurich.

The European Union must step up efforts to guarantee the rights of Roma. Countries wishing to join the EU should be put on notice that mistreatment of minorities won't be tolerated. Last month the Czech Republic, responding to international criticism, amended its citizenship law, which had left tens of thousands of Czech Roma stateless. They will now be able to apply for Czech citizenship.

There should be no room for persecution of Roma or any other ethnic minority in late-20th-century Europe.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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