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Cablegate: Poland's Minority Roma Face Uphill Battles Despite

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DE RUEHWR #2273/01 3311612
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FM AMEMBASSY WARSAW
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INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 WARSAW 002273

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TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL SCUL PL
SUBJECT: POLAND'S MINORITY ROMA FACE UPHILL BATTLES DESPITE
GOVERNMENT EFFORTS

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. While Poland's Roma population is not as
large or significant as those in nearby countries, it remains
a community which faces significant challenges. The GOP has
recognized the distressing situation of the Roma minority in
Poland. In 2001 it created the Pilot Program for the Roma
Community in Malopolska (southern Poland) to promote the
integration of Roma; that program was launched nationwide in
2003, with an annual budget of $3.4 million. Poland,s
National Program to Counter Racial Discrimination and Related
Intolerances and a Team on Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia
further demonstrate the GOP,s efforts to improve the lives
of Polish Roma. The Common Commission for National and
Ethnic Minorities was created in 2005 to protect minorities,
rights and facilitate their involvement in government.
Increasing attention has also been paid to the promotion of
Roma culture and the commemoration of Romas, historical
struggles in festivals, publications, and exhibitions.
Nonetheless, the GOP has not fully implemented its ambitious
agenda, and as elsewhere in Central Europe, the Roma
community continues to face substantial challenges, including
failure to integrate into public life, inadequate education
and housing, significant unemployment, and widespread
societal discrimination. END SUMMARY

2. (U) PolOff and Interns met with various GOP and Roma
community leaders and consulted Ministry of Interior (MOI)
reports to develop this periodic update on the state of the
Roma minority in Poland.

BACKGROUND: ROMA IN POLAND
--------------------------

3. (U) The Roma population of Poland was almost entirely
destroyed during World War II. The remaining Roma were
forced to disperse and assimilate under the communist
government's compulsory settlement policy. The twin legacies
of Nazi massacres and communist authorities, forced
assimilation led the Roma to view state institutions as a
threat to their traditions and community. Roma opted instead
to further isolate their community from the rest of Polish
society.

4. (U) According to the 2002 census, approximately 12,900
Polish citizens are Roma, making it the fourth largest
national minority group after Germans, Belorussians, and
Ukrainians. Many claim the true number of Roma is much
higher * from 20,000 to 50,000 * noting that Roma
frequently deny their ethnicity out of fear that the police
will use such information against them. Roma communities are
most highly concentrated in Southern Poland and in the cities
of Tarnow, Olsztyn, Wroclaw, Andrychow, and Ciechanow. There
are four distinct ethnic groups: Polish Roma, Carpathian Roma
(or Bergitka), Kalderash, and Lovash. Polish Roma comprise
the largest group and maintain their own dialect and internal
community structure presided over by a judge.

5. (U) The Roma population is far from unified: in addition
to territorial divisions, the four Roma groups speak distinct
dialects and attempts to systematize the Roma language have
failed. Poland,s Roma community is smaller and has been less
pressured to assimilate than the Roma populations of
neighboring countries. As a result, the community tends to
be more traditional, less educated, and less likely to speak
Polish. The traditional unwritten legal code, Mageripen, is
still followed by many.

ISSUES FACING POLISH ROMA
-------------------------

6. (U) The Roma Community's isolation from mainstream Polish
society results in a lack of knowledge among other Polish
citizens about the minority and widespread, negative
stereotyping. The Polish Criminal Law penalizes all forms of
violence, public insult, and discrimination on the basis of
ethnic identities; however, many reports confirm that Roma
are continuously subject to racism and discrimination.
According to a 2004 Public Opinion Research Center poll, 56%
of Poles had negative views of Roma, the highest percentage
of any ethnic group. A 2002 European Roma Rights Center
(ERRC) report on the Roma in Poland cited racially motivated
violence and discrimination with regards to education,
employment, health care, housing, and social welfare.
Nevertheless, few cases of discrimination against Roma are
heard in court. In 2004, Amnesty International reported that
incidents against Roma were not properly investigated by
Polish law enforcement. Police have been known to racially
profile and discriminate against Roma and use excessive force
against them. The Roma community distrusts authorities,
making cooperation between police and Roma difficult.

WARSAW 00002273 002 OF 003


Roma Face Uphill Battle to Break the Cycle of Poverty
--------------------------------------------- --------

7. (U) One enduring, negative stereotype of the Roma
population is its perceived idleness. The majority of Roma
live without permanent employment. Many traditional
practices are no longer in demand and trade, especially of
Western cars, has become the most common Roma profession.
Others perform odd jobs, work illegally, and some beg; many
depend on social welfare. High unemployment rates are
exacerbated because many have limited or no Polish language
skills, lack qualifications and face employer discrimination.
Roma passivity in searching for a job also plays a part: a
1999 report conducted by the Association of the Roma in
Poland (ARP) found that only 32% of those questioned were
willing to work professionally.

8. (U) Poverty and discrimination force Roma to live in
segregated areas, in substandard dwellings without proper
sewage, running water, electricity, or heating. As many as
ten family members live in one room. Substandard housing
conditions, poor diets and limited access to health services,
lead to a higher instance of disease and shorter life spans.
Circulatory and respiratory system diseases, diabetes, and
viral type B hepatitis are frequent.

9. (U) Low levels of education further perpetuate the cycle
of poverty and unemployment. A 1999 ARP report demonstrated
that only two-thirds of Roma had finished elementary school
and only 0.8% had obtained some kind of higher education.
Roma children are behind and have trouble keeping up, in part
because parents cannot afford nursery school. Parents also
fear that Polish education is a means of indoctrination and
thereby a threat to Roma principles. Discrimination
additionally impedes the immersion of Roma children in Polish
schools: one third of Polish pupils in a recent poll stated
that they would prefer not to sit with &a Roma ) Gypsy.8
Roma parents often choose to place their children in classes
that cater exclusively to Roma children in order to protect
them from such hostility. These classes may provide a safe
haven from discrimination, but most Roma organizations see
them as substandard and believe they reinforce segregation.

10. (U) The Roma population's self-isolation leads to its
needs and concerns being ignored. Many Roma harbor a
negative view of politics and do not realize that political
participation could improve their standing. Although Roma
civil society organizations are on the rise, -- the MOI
currently has a list of over 50 Roma NGOs -- many are limited
to a small local area. Only two organizations, the Central
Roma Council and ARP, aim to represent larger Roma
communities.

GOP Programming Targets Gap in Education
----------------------------------------

11. (U) The GOP has recognized the poor situation of the
Roma in Poland and has made serious attempts to improve it on
multiple fronts. In 2003, the MOI instituted a Program for
the Roma Community across Poland, based on a previous pilot
program in the Malopolska region. The program was created to
address education, employment, health, living conditions, and
functional skills in civil society. The program has an
annual budget of $3.4 million (10 million PLN) through 2013,
with the possibility of an extension. A monitoring team
evaluates the program's progress and makes appropriate
changes when necessary. (Note: The program got off to a
rocky start with the GOP meeting only 50-60% of its budget
from 2003 to 2006. Although the GOP has since fulfilled its
financial commitment, some are skeptical that it will
continue to do so.)

12. (U) Education is the main priority of the program. In
order to promote integrated classrooms, a state-supported
Roma kindergarten was set up in 2005 in Czarna Gora that
brings Roma students up to the level of Polish ethnic
students. Attempts to increase pre-school attendance have
also been successful in narrowing the gap between Roma and
Polish education levels. Once Roma students are enrolled in
Polish schools, ethnic Roma assistants monitor their progress
and establish a rapport between Roma families and Polish
teachers.

13. (U) The GOP has made great strides in recognizing the
need to combat racial intolerance in Poland. In 2004, it
created a National Program to Counter Racial Discrimination
and Related Intolerances, and the MOI established a team to
track instances of ethnically motivated crimes. In 2005, the
GOP passed the Law on National and Ethnic Minorities and

WARSAW 00002273 003 OF 003


Regional Language to ensure a high standard of legal
protection for victims of ethnic discrimination. Aware of
Roma distrust for law enforcement officials, a new senior
position was created in the Polish National Police to work
with Roma communities. Police undergo training programs to
sensitize them to Roma culture and teach them about the
prosecution of hate crimes.

14. (U) Some progress has been made in engaging Roma in
public life. The Sejm established a Common Commission for
National and Ethnic Minorities following the adoption of the
Law on National Minorities. The Commission, which advises
the Prime Minister on counteracting discrimination, reserves
two seats for Roma and includes a Roma sub-commission with 20
leaders of Roma organizations. Some Roma, such as Robert
Jakubowski, an alderman in the town of Konstantynow Lodzki,
and Ryszard Rzepka, former commune councilor for Czarny
Dunajec, have risen to prominent political positions. Twelve
Roma representatives competed in the 2002 Parliamentary
elections; although none of them won, the campaign made Roma
concerns public.

Promotion of Roma Culture
-------------------------

15. (U) Roma culture has been increasingly celebrated and
helps promote a positive image of the community. The two
largest Roma music festivals, the Romane Dyvesa (The
International Meeting of Gypsy Bands) in Gorzow Wielkopolski
and the International Song and Roma Culture Festival in
Ciechocinek, draw thousands of people. There are a number of
Roma publications, the largest being "Rrom p-o Drom," a
monthly magazine published in Bialystok, and &Pheniben
Dialogue,8 ARP,s quarterly magazine. Television
programming also provides something for the community: TVP
Krakow produces U Siebie, a news program for minorities with
a portion in the Roma language.
16. (U) In addition to the promotion of Roma culture, the
population's historical struggles have been increasingly
acknowledged. Since 2001, several exhibitions commemorating
Roma martyrdom have been held at Auschwitz, which celebrates
the &Hidden Holocaust8 of the Roma every August. In
October 2006, Alfreda Markowska, a Roma who saved Jewish and
Roma children during the Holocaust, was awarded the Order of
Polonia Restituta Commander,s Cross for heroism and
exceptional courage by President Kaczynski.

17. (SBU) COMMENT: Although the Roma population in Poland is
significantly smaller than communities in other Central
European countries, it remains an important issue to follow.
The situation of the Roma in Poland has improved thanks to
government initiatives, but challenges remain. The Program
for the Roma Community offers increasing possibilities for
education and improved living conditions to the Roma but
relies on individual motivation and activism in order for
Roma to succeed. Leading Roma authority Andrzej Mirga of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
identified education as the only way to breakthrough rampant
poverty and improve the Romas, circumstances. Ongoing
efforts are required to dispel negative images of the Roma.
To make effective change, GOP initiatives must strike a
delicate balance between allowing Roma to maintain their own
customs and improve their situation. END COMMENT.
HILLAS

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