ABSTRACT

Although ten years ago it was a topic hardly ever mentioned beyond the narrow circles of human right activists, the situation of the Roma minorities in Central and Eastern Europe has recently become the subject of various ambitious empirical studies and publications (European Commission 2002, Ivanov 2002, Ringold and Tracy 2002, Ringold et al. 2003, World Bank et al. 2002, Vašečka et al. 2003). The new interest of Western countries and international organizations reflected in these studies is a result of changes in Europe’s political geography. With the Eastern enlargement of the European Union, the increasing social exclusion of Roma in countries such as Slovakia, Hungary or Romania has become a pan-European issue. This international dimension is the reason for the fear of the old member states that poverty, desperation, and open borders could result in a mass exodus to the West. In those countries in Central and Eastern Europe where Roma constitute a minority of significant size (such as Slovakia, where some estimate the Roma to constitute up to 8 or 10 percent of the population), the Roma issue has been conceived as one of the main obstacles to their European integration. At the same time, however, the national governments used the Roma issue as an effective way to demand EU support to resolve a problem which might indeed exceed the economic and political capacities of the transition countries.