Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Political Invisibility Vs. A New Type Of Leader For Europe’s Gypsy/ Roma People

There are between 12 and 16 million Roma living in Europe. Increased
persecution coupled with an absence of legal protection and the most
basic human rights are pushing Europe's Gypsy people to protect
themselves the way they have for over 600 years – they withdraw into
invisibility. Their life-expectancy is low, the general health of many
is often poor, their children are discriminated in school or are not
obtaining formal education at all. They are murdered by fire-bombs in
their sleep, women and children openly attacked in the streets, and
newspapers, radios and television stations rarely direct attention to
Europe's latest episode of a holocaust that never really left.

It seems that Roma are waking up to the fact that a new type of leader
is needed for their people, one who unites, at least to the outside, the
many separate tribes. He has to be Roma, for Gypsies can only be lead by
one of their own. One who builds bridges across the ancient divide
between Roma and the majority population and starts chipping away at the
many misconceptions held rigidly by both sides. A leader like Martin
Luther King comes to mind, a man of faith and dedication, who believed
in using civil disobedience and other peaceful means to cross the racial
divide here in the States. I have known such Roma men: Mateo
Maximoff, a Russian Gypsy, living in Paris. He was a man of religion, an
evangelical pastor. He had reached across the divide, was backed by
friends on both sides. Gypsies then, up to 1999, the year of his death,
were doing relatively well in France. He was and still is well known by
Roma here in the United States. There are Roma like him right here in
the States, just as there must be in Europe too, Roma men of faith,
dedicated and selfless. Change has to happen, and it has to happen now.

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