The case of Roma in the North and South-Eastern Europe: A comparative study


 “You cannot evict people when you are not offering an alternative”

Human Rights principle



According to the European Parliament (2011), the Roma community constitute the single largest as well as the most discriminated minority in Europe. The average of their population scattered around the Union, counts up to 12.000.000 people. Despite the relatively high number of inhabitants, the real problem of the Roma communities is not their size, but the racism that they face, as Fascism and Nazism have steadily been aspects against their survival. Taking notice of the WWII example, the Holocausts, the inexistent recognition of the crimes against them, or inexistent war compensations, actions of hate against their existence, there is big history of reparation against Roma in the European context (Brannpunkt Europa, Hammarberg, T., 2013).

The impact of racism against the Roma has left their cultural heritage fragmented; From Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland) to Spain and Greece, Roma have been changing their names into similar to the countries of their assimilation, losing their linguistic identity because of forced assimilation and in a broader context, racist attitudes against them.

Without neglecting the exceptions of Slovenia, where the Roma enjoy one seat in the local Assembly or Czech Republic and Slovakia, where an official apology from State officials has been made regarding crimes against them, the vast majority of the European countries have still a variety of measures to put into force for the protection of this specific minority.

 Country-specific selection procedure

With the view to better understand the process of integration-or not- of the Roma communities in foreign societies, this paper uses data from specific countries where different reactions are observed towards them. Thus, Sweden, Turkey and Greece were selected, with the first to serve as the “good” example, and the rest two, as the opposite. On the one hand, Sweden, being a State party to the Framework Convention and the Charter[1], has an obligation to uphold and protect the rights of its Roma population, submitting periodic reports to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the situation of minority rights protection within its territory.

On the opposite side, in Greece and Turkey, several abuses against the Roma have been reported. Greece, for instance, has been convicted six times for violations of Roma rights, by the European Court of Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights as well as by the Commission of Human Rights of the United Nations.


1Sweden – Views on education

The integration of the Roma into the Swedish society has long been happening through the medium of primary education. Data derived from the city of Gothenburg as a representative sample for this paper[2], show that the country considers education an important medium for integration, as stated also in documents of Skolverket, the National Agency for Education (Patwardhan, S., 2011).

The necessity for receiving proper education is emerging, as the Roma in Sweden is mainly a heterogeneous group which, fearing discrimination, in many cases, does not disclose its identity and distances itself from its culture, making it hard to create role models for the community. What is more, the Roma cultural and traditional views on education heighten the difficulty in proper education. Roma do not consider education as important, while there is a widespread distrust towards schools and State authorities.

With the view to overcome such obstacles, successful schooling is being achieved through several ways; affirming students’ ethnic identities, developing self-esteem and through compatible teaching with the students’ own way of learning. Also, the the inclusion of more Roma staff at schools can potentially reduce absenteeism, as they can act as positive role models.

What is more, mother tongue instruction is also respected. As the protection of the Romani Chib is linked to the integration of Roma, the Swedish primary school curriculum includes mother tongue instruction as an integralpart of education. This policy is also compatible with the Charter, Article 14 of the Framework Convention, stating that children from minorities should have the opportunity to study their own language (Patwardhan, S., 2011).

Finally, there should not be neglected the fact that Agnebergs fölkskola is the only adult Roma school in Sweden that encourages its students to become teachers.

Integration policy

In Sweden, newly arrived Roma families are provided with a place to stay and they are supposed to attend the refugee introduction program. Ideally, the children should be able to complete the introduction program before they join regular school. Family members may register at the employment office and participate in a local sports club and sometimes they may be included in an employment project.

Further Steps

Despite the fact that Sweden has a general official policy of integration and multiculturalism and an integrated minority’s policy, further steps should be made to ensure more effective inclusion. To begin with, further participation of the Roma in the development and monitoring of education policies and school curriculum should be established. In addition, the Swedish primary school curriculum should increase knowledge about national minorities. So far, Roma are discussed in two contexts, WWII and religions of the world, where they are discussed as a group that have many religions. Students, though, who do not belong to minority groups, should learn about the minorities’ cultures, histories and languages (Patwardhan, S., 2011).


 2. Roma in Turkey


There are around 2 million Roma in Turkey, with some sources speaking for 5 million, as most Roma live in overcrowded households and many do not have identity cards. Roma live all across Turkey and are not concentrated in any particular region. Various groups are included under the general heading of Roma/Gypsy, such as ‘Roma’ who live predominantly in Eastern Thrace, ‘Teber/Abdal’ who live across Anatolia and ‘Posa’ who live in north-east Anatolia, Çankırı, Kastamonu and Sinop.

While there are various Roma languages such as ‘Romani’ (an Indo-European language spoken by the Roma) and ‘Abdoltili’ (an Altaic language spoken by the Teber), the mother tongue for the majority of Roma has become Turkish. The vast majority of Roma are Muslim (nearly half Sunni and half Alevi), while there are a small number of Rum Orthodox Roma, as well as a small but increasing number of Protestants who have converted from Islam in the last decade.


The reality in Turkey shows a different image, far from the Swedish; in 2005, a report from The International Romani Studies Network (IRSN) stated that Roma faced significant discrimination and the national media consistently portrayed them in ways that supported negative stereotypes. IRSN reported that Roma were more consistently undereducated and underemployed, suffered much higher levels of ill-health, higher incidences of discrimination based on ethnicity, and had poorer housing than any other group in the country. The report maintained that there were virtually no positive role models for Romani youth other than musicians and that Roma who achieved success generally felt the need to hide their ethnic identity.

Roma have suffered displacement and homelessness as a result of forced eviction and expropriation of property by the state. Poverty and homelessness have dire implications for Roma children. In Küçükbakkalköy and Kagıthane, Roma children whose homes had been destroyed cannot attend school because the local authority refuses to issue certifications of residence required for enrolment. Still, abuses including forced evictions and the fact that Roma are not being correctly compensated and therefore marginalized continue to be reported in the Turkish press.

Steps towards improvement

In March 2010 Turkey’s Prime Minister initiated an historic meeting with Roma community groups in Istanbul in an attempt to address some of the huge problems facing the minority. 12,000 Roma were bused in from across the country to hear the Prime Minister’s address which included plans for improved Roma housing in 40 provinces. Community leaders praised the event as the first time a leader had ever spoken directly to the Roma community and the Council of Europe expressed their support for the Turkish government’s commitment to Roma people (Minority Rights Groups International, 2014).

What is happening in reality, though, as is constantly proven at the repetitive incidents at Taksim Square and across the country[3], questions such initiatives of dialogue.


 3. In Greece

 In Greece, the Roma presence can be traced back to the 14th century, although their Greek nationality was recognized as late as in 1979. Approximately, the Roma population in the country climbs to 265.000 people that are scattered over the country, with the majority inhabiting the greater Athens area and urban centers or rural regions with more employment opportunities, such as seasonal agricultural work and scrap metal recycling.


There are several types of Roma population. These vary from domestic nomadic and poor and excluded long-term settled, to recent Roma migrants, EU nationals (mainly Bulgarian, Romanian) or non-EU nationals (mainly Albanian, Kosovo, FYROM). There are also those who are completely integrated and do not identify themselves as Roma, or the Roma Muslims in Thrace. The majority of them is orthodox Christian and has taken Greek names, and most Roma speak the Greek language. There is a tendency of an extended patriarchal family.

Housing & Health

The persistent inequalities in all aspects of life, such as the right to housing, or other basic social goods like access to the health care system, constitute the Roma communities in Greece vulnerable. As far as housing is concerned, the majority resides in poorly constructed dwellings lacking access to basic services such as electricity and water. In the settlements of Spata and Riganokampos for instance, Roma reside either in small, makeshift complied of a mix of metal, wood and other scrap material-homes unable to provide adequate shelter from heat and cold or in dilapidated vans, lacking running water, electricity and waste removal.

Regarding health services, the main reason for failing to receive medical attention is economic. In addition, the majority has never gone to the dentist or to the gynecologist.

Views on education

At an EU level, according the EU-MIDIS Survey (2009) the Greek Roma found in the most disadvantaged position in terms of education. This is mainly caused by vulnerability to external factors such as movement, financial problems leading ton child labor, distance from school, and phenomena of racism at school or lack of suitable and permanent residencies.

Romani children are not enrolled into kindergartens and primary schools, or when in school, and are still kept in segregated environments. Sampanis and others v Greece case, is an example of such discrimination. In specific, eleven applicants (Greek Nationals of Roma origin) who were living in Psari, an authorized residential site near Apsropyrgos, brought the case out of concern that the authorities’ failure to provide schooling for their children during the 2004-2005 school year and the subsequent placement of their children in special classes, in an annex to the main Aspropyrgos primary school building, was a measure related to their Roma origin of the children. According to the European Court of Human Rights, Greece was found guilty under the state of the following laws; European Convention of HR, Art.14 (prohibition of discrimination), European convention of HR, Art.2 of Protocol No.1 (right to education), European Convention of HR, Art.13 (right to an effective Remedy), European Court of Human Rights-Chamber Judgment 5 June 2008

The above case portrays a generalized situation happening in the country, under which Romani children face barriers such as being unregistered, being discriminated from various authorities, illiteracy, lack of information and language problems.




Patwardhan, S., 2011. Integration of the Roma into Swedish Society through the Medium of Primary Education: The Case of Gothenburg, Universities of Gothenburg, Roehampton & Tromso, pp.1-64.

Ziomas, D., Bouzas, N., Spyropoulou N., 2011. Greece: Promoting the Social Inclusion of Roma: A Study of National Policies, Institute of Social Policy and National Centre for Social Research-EKKE, pp.1-29.

Minority Rights Group International. The Roma minority in Turkey, [online], Available at; [accessed 17 June 2014].

Brannpunkt Europa, Hammarberg, T., Roma in Europe: A Human Rights Challenge. Lecture hosted at the University of Gothenburg, Auditorium Dragonen, on 25 October 2013.

European Court of Human Rights-Chamber Judgment 5 June 2008. Sampanis and Others v. Greece, [online], Available at: [accessed 17 June 2014].


[1]The two main legal instruments concerning minority rights in Europe. It establishes a firm connection between the integration of national minorities and the protection of their Human Rights and defines that State parties should have a general integration policy towards their minority populations and respect the values of cultural pluralism and multilingualism.

[2]Gothenburg is one of the three cities in Sweden having the largest Roma population.

[3]Online censorship in 2014