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Issue 42, October 1999

The Plight of the Roma

FOR THE ROMA minority capitalist restoration has meant a social disaster. They were the first to be sacked from the factories and pits and Roma unemployment is now around 80%. They are forced to survive in bad housing, on meagre social benefits, occasional work and petty theft.

Ostrava, for example, the Czech Republic's third city with a large Roma population, is the industrial heartland of the country, based on heavy industry. Jobs there have been decimated. The OKD coal mine had 80,000 workers in 1990 and now has 23,000. The Nova Hut steel works has contracted from 23,000 workers in 1990 to 15,000, while the Vitkovice steel workforce has fallen from 39,000 in 1990 to 19,000 today. Ostrava is where many of the Roma who have come to Britain are from.

The Roma suffer racist attacks from fascist skinheads and police harassment. There have been more than 30 racially-motivated murders of Roma since 1989. A 21-year-old Roma arrested for stealing bicycles was reported as having 'used a police gun against himself' in a police station. This case was not mentioned in the Czech media.

Children have to take an IQ test to determine which school they will attend. But Roma children often have little or no knowledge of Czech and the Romany culture stresses oral rather than written skills. Although Roma make up 5% of the school population, they out number non-Roma in 'special schools' by 27 to 1. Once in these schools it is virtually impossible to move into mainstream education.


Only common struggle can unite Czechs and Roma. That this is possible, as movements develop, was seen in a miners' demo in November 1993, which included Roma miners and railworkers, and in the strikes that broke out in February 1997, with wide Roma participation.

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