The European Roma Rights Center released a report on September 12 describing the ongoing human rights abuses and marginalization suffered by Roma in Poland. The report, entitled “The Limits of Solidarity: Roma in Poland After 1989”, examines episodes of racially motivated violence and discrimination against Roma, and the systematic judicial neglect of Romani victims. The document provides a detailed and troubling picture of the Roma’s exclusion from and persecution in many sectors of Polish society.
Foremost among ERRC’s many concerns is the racially motivated violence perpetrated on Roma individuals, and the failure of Poland’s legal system to come to many victims’ aid. In the late 1990s attacks by neo-Nazi groups on Roma have increased sharply, and many Romani are afraid to report attacks and harassment for fear their complaints will lead to further reprisals. Those incidents that are reported often lead to further abuse, and sometimes Romani victims are even inexplicably charged with a crime. According to the report, Polish police investigations into these crimes often fail to produce indictments or convictions, usually with the excuse that “authorities did not find sufficient evidence”.
The report also addresses the significant number of cases in which the police have been the aggressors, actively targeting Romani individuals in certain instances: “Police and other authorities in Poland have frequently abused members of the Romani communities by engaging in outright violence, unlawful arrests, searches, seizure of property, harassment or biased investigation.”
The government estimates that there are between 30,000 and 35,000 Roma in Poland, and claims that they enjoy greater prosperity than Roma in other Central and Eastern European countries. But ERRC’s monitors found that Roma experience discrimination in many sectors of Polish society. They are routinely denied access to basic housing and social welfare services, and even to bars, restaurants and airports. Solely because of their ethnicity, job-hunting Romani find few Polish employers willing to hire them, and state employment offices provide little support.
The report offers detailed recommendations for government action to fight endemic discrimination against and segregation of Roma communities and individuals, particularly children. ERRC calls for the end of funneling Roma students into special “Gypsy” classes or schools for mentally disabled children, accommodations for them within the mainstream schooling system, and the establishment of pre-school programs to help Roma children enter the system with an adequate understanding of the primary language.
ERRC also emphasizes the need for the development of a curriculum in Romani history, culture and language to be used in Poland’s schools, to promote awareness of the Roma’s social situation and unique traditions. Based on a study of the Romany language and other anthropological evidence, most scholars believe the Roma originated in northwestern India. They are believed to have moved westward into the Middle East and Europe in several waves between the 10th and 13th centuries, and perhaps as early as the 5th century A.D. The Roma’s history in these regions has been largely characterized by their persecution and rejection, and even today they are one of the poorest and most marginalized minorities in Europe.