Prague Roma festival opens human rights' discussion
A festival of Roma culture - entitled Khamoro 2001 - got underway in Prague on Tuesday. Khamoro - which translates as Sunshine - aims to celebrate Roma art, music and culture as well as focusing on the important issues faced by the Roma community throughout the world. One of these is the role and the rights of Roma in the European Union, and on the first day of Khamoro there was a seminar held to address this increasingly important issue. Peter Smith has the story.
According to Ramiro Cibrian, the EU Ambassador to Prague, a lack of statehood is no barrier to guaranteeing free and equal rights in the Union.
"In the European Union we have of course states but we have (also) a lot of voluntary organisations, plenty of NGOs, plenty of movements - we have a very lively civil society. In any case, under any circumstances, the Roma community is a part of the civil society of the EU, any by the way a very important one. In my view, it has a very important role to play like any other NGOs and many other communities."
But if the Roma are to be full participants in the future European civil society, they must be recognized as more than simply an influential pressure group - Ramiro Cibrian again.
"What is important is to recognize the Roma people as citizens with the full rights of the EU. My impression is that this is now the first objective, the first goal. There are plenty of cases of discrimination both inside the EU and the future member states and we are now focusing and concentrating on this issue."
Although racial barriers are always difficult to break down, Mr. Cibrian believes Czech membership of the EU should further boost the confidence and pride of the Roma people.
"Membership of the EU will bring to the Roma community in the Czech Republic an increased assurance of their own basic human rights - of their rights as citizens. I would like to emphasize that these rights are already now guaranteed in the candidate countries, but when the candidate countries join the Union they will be further ensured and further consolidated."
There have been concerns that minority issues could impinge upon the Czech Republic's accession to the EU - according to Mr. Cibrian, though, progress is being made in this area.
"The situation at the present time in the candidate countries is reasonably good - it is moving in the right direction. Here in the Czech Republic we have seen significant improvement in the respect of Roma rights, in the support for the integration efforts. I believe that this trend will continue and be reinforced as the Czech Republic joins the EU."