Roma in Europe

The Roma, estimated at between 10 and 12 million people, is the largest ethnic minority in Europe. The majority of the population lives in East-Europe, at the same time many of them left their own country to immigrate to Western-Europe hoping for a better life. Their plight is one of the biggest social problems of the continent and there has not been much progress over the years.

These people have been suffering profound discrimination, exclusion and prejudices for centuries. They are targets of racially motivated violence and hate speech; they have discrimination in the field of education, housing, health care and job market. Nowadays, in these hard times of economic crises this “anti-Gypsy” behavior is more frequent, therefore, Roma community is used as a scapegoat. They were attacked by the rest of citizens several times recently. For example, in Italy, Roma campsites have been burnt down; in Slovakia, Roma children have been sadistically ill-treated and humiliated by members of the security forces; in Serbia, entire Roma families have been made homeless following summary evictions; in the  Czech  Republic,  members  of  a  Roma  family  have  been  seriously  injured  in  a  house  set  on  fire  by Molotov cocktails. Sadly, the list goes on.

Everybody agrees that much more needs to be done to help Europe’s Roma community effectively and reduce the gap between Roma and non-Roma people; however, the governments of the European Union have achieved little in integrating them to the society. The willingness to do something about the situation is low. The United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Bank and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) conducted a survey in 84,000 households in 11 countries across Europe. According to their latest report only 15% of young Roma adults surveyed finish upper-secondary general or vocational education. Because of the low level of education and discrimination in the job market only less than 30% of Roma surveyed are in paid employment. Their living conditions in no way meets the European standards, with about 45% of them living in households lacking at least one of the following: an indoor kitchen, toilet, shower, or electricity.

Policymakers know that national strategies need to be implemented. We have a great deal of researchers, studies and commendation. Nevertheless, most of the planned actions remain merely on paper so far; too much theory without practical evaluation and real intervention won’t help. According to the subject-matter experts say the first step of the integration starts with education. Governments should encourage the school participation and school completion of Roma children. To provide more training and education to improve the skills of Roma jobseekers is also very important. The biggest part of these communities lives under the European standards and inhuman living conditions. For this reason, member states are working on improving their access to health care and housing needs. The representation of Roma in state institutions, as well as their active and co-ordinated participation in the decision-making process is also a good way to work out a more efficient integration program.

Governments have to do something against the anti-gypsyism as well. European citizens have to see that everybody can benefit from helping our fellow-being and the integration of the Roma community.


By  Crystal Blankenbaker, Irina Czakó, Ksenia Solovyova

Cosa Nostra

The bomb blast outside the vocational school in Brindisi, Apulia (Puglia) killed one and injured five, at least one seriously, reported all major tabloids across Europe. The girl killed was named as 16-year-old Melissa Bassi. A second injured girl was initially reported as dead by police sources. However, she is alive though in a very serious condition under medical care of the local hospital.

A devastating accident brought up a wide range of comments concerning the persona of the attacker. Some investigators believe that the attack on the school was carried out by a bomber operating alone, but the majority of the population believes the attack was carried out by the Pugliese Mafia.

Students were arriving for Saturday morning lessons to the school named after Judge Francesca Morvillo Falcone, a victim of a notorious Mafia bombing in Sicily nearly 20 years ago, when a device planted in a waste bin exploded. The link with the Mafia was suggested straight away since the town and the school have huge symbolic significance for the Mafia world.

Brindisi, the coastal town in the Southern Italy also referred to as ‘the heel’ is placed on the Adriatic Sea and is known for well-established smuggling channels of cigarettes, drugs, alcohol and arms as well as human trafficking from the former Yugoslavia republics. The place alongside with Lecce, the capital of Apulia province is the area of the Sacra Corona Unita criminal activity. The organisation was claimed to evolve from the Camorra Mafia organisation and was founded by Raffaele Cutolo in 1970s, who wanted to expand his operations into Puglia.

The school itself seems to be no coincidence either, the vocation school named after late Francesca Laura Morvillo Falcone, a judge who was killed alongside her prosecutor husband, anti-Mafia hero Giovanni Falcone, in a highway bombing in Sicily. They were killed on 23 May 1992, exactly 20 years ago.

The school bombing was only one link in a chain of events that struck Italy during the whole month. The recent attacks were carried out against Italian officials and government or public buildings also including the shooting and wounding of an official from a nuclear engineering firm. In fact the attacks were regarded so serious that government on Friday assigned bodyguards to 550 individuals, and deployed 16,000 law enforcement officers nationwide.

Moreover, Italy has extensive record of Mafia attacks against civilians that peaked in 1970s and 80s known as the ‘years of lead’, and the school bomb blast has revived those painful memories once again.

However, the official version is that the attack was most likely committed by a single individual. The Brindisi’s Chief Prosecutor commented on the attack saying:

“An isolated act is a likely hypothesis.”

In fact, the police seem to possess video footage with a man lingering in the area on Saturday just before 7:45 a.m., the time the bomb went off, holding a device that might be a detonator.

Corriere della Sera the biggest newspaper in Italy commented that the public and the government need answers as soon as possible. And, indeed, the pressure in the South is rising and the officials fear that violent campaigning might sweep the region since the attacks of the terrorist groups and mob crimes are well imprinted in the memory of the whole nation.


By: Ksenia Solovyova, Irina Czakó and Crystal Blankenbaker

Big Society and Britishness

The idea of European community and ethnicity as a whole has always been interesting to me, and I could not let go of the possibility to talk to Dr Andrew Mycock, a co-founder of the Academy for the Study of Britishness and the senior lecturer of the University of Huddersfield. Following, our conversation touched on some very delicate topics of immigration in Britain and Britishness in general.

The election in France are seen to be the predominantly standard setting for the whole European community, and the absolute favourite Francois Hollande is believed to be a saviour for many immigrants living in France. That would mean that France would shift from closed, conservative immigration policy adopted in the Sarkozy era to a more liberal approach. Considering recent events in Toulouse which were claimed to be a one man terrorist attack carried out by someone who has been living in France for a while, is it possible that the PM David Cameron would consider a different approach to the British Big Society and is the complete integration of immigrants a realistic scenario?

Cameron has consistently criticised the failure of the state to encourage integration of Muslims, in particular since becoming leader of the Conservative Party. It is ironic, however, that although Cameron derided PM Gordon Brown for promoting Britishness, he drew on a similar framework that prioritises British values to encourage specific communities to integrate.

As for his linking of extremism with immigration, potentially re-demonising the Muslim community at a time when tensions were slowly subsiding. Support for the BNP has fragmented recently and the EDL remains peripheral to mainstream politics.

Cameron’s concerns are genuine and there is a need for British society to continue to negotiate what are our shared values are and how we build connected multicultural communities.

In other words you believe that British schooled immigrants will be more acceptable towards the idea of Britishness and more patriotic of England?

The faith of politicians in the mercurial properties of school to inculcate a common British identity and issues of extremism is misguided. There is little evidence to support the idea that school alone effectively inculcates a common British national culture and identity in schools or that it will somehow preclude many of the global causes of extremism. All of the 7/7 bombers were taught some form of British history during their time at school but this did not stop them from turning to extremist violence.

Therefore, we can claim that Western values have no impact on Muslim culture or on their believes, how about the recent events of the Arab Spring?

The claim that pro-democracy demonstrators in Tunis and Cairo were motivated by an ascription to Western values is a weak argument. This is deeply flawed and somewhat colonial, discarding the possibility that the actions of those seeking reform in either country were a product of their own national circumstances or values. It also highlights Cameron’s myopic view that the reformed democracies in the Middle East will be founded on Western liberal democracy.

By Ksenia Solovyova

Interview: Not so contrasting opinions

Michelle Proietti was born in Oswego, NY and in September 2006 decided to take a study abroad trip to Barcelona that would essentially change the course of her life. She fell in love with Spain’s atmosphere, it’s people and quality of life. Michelle decided in 2009 that she would return permanently to Spain to finish her masters at Carlos the 3rd University and start a life here in this beautiful country. Now, the resident coordinator of the exchange program at UEM, English teacher and singer/song writer.

This picture was taken of my program group on one of my very first days arriving in Spain (Michelle the second one from the right). She wasted no time in showing us around Madrid and helping us get our bearings in the foreign country we were about to live in for the next 5 months.

Since she is a very busy lady we decided to set up a Skype interview to talk about how she felt about the current issues going on here in Spain.  I thought it would be interesting to get an Americans point of view that has lived her for a sufficient amount of time now, and especially because of when she moved here. Needless to say she had a lot to say on the matter.

Q. Have you personally witnessed changes in Spain during your time living here?

A. A lot of closed businesses would be the obvious one. Physically the people here are not consuming as much, you don’t see people walking around with bags from department stores and things like that as much. A lot more discounts, with the quality of stores changing. Also what I think is interesting is you see a lot more right-winged radical flags on peoples cars. In the States it’s pretty normal to have flags on your cars, but here you could be considered a fanatic, which used to not necessarily be a good thing, but obviously times are changing.

Q. What are your thoughts on the economic crisis?

A. We had it coming. I don’t think it would have been the most lingering problem, but the way it was dealt with made it a lingering problem. These actions have made the unemployment problem grow, and I think instability can cause people to take advantage of things for example, privatizing public services such as education and health care, and use the crisis as an excuse for doing so.

Q. Speaking of universal health care, which is a big difference between Spain and the US, in your onion which is better?

A. Well, the US is pushing for public health care right now and Spain is trying to privatize, so you could say neither works well. There is a large elderly population here in Spain, which goes back to the crisis; the work force is shrinking because there are no jobs and many elderly people. Less people are putting money in, and more people wanting to collect from the health care system.

Q. Your mother-in-law is involved in politics, what has that been like?

A. Yes, her name is Lali Vaquere and she is a delegate for the United Left (Izquierda Unida), within the community of Madrid, on the education council and director of the national party. She is more on the regional level rather than the national. It’s been really interesting to have insight on the issues here like where the decisions come from, why, the pros and cons. This is normal dinner conversation for us. And I’ve had the lucky opportunity to be invited to where all the politicians watch the elections together last November, and be her guest to the parade last May the 2nd in the Puerto del Sol where all the politicians stand.

I wanted a Spaniards insight on the economic crisis, so I asked my host brother Edwardo Marquez his thoughts as well. Interestingly enough, they were not that different from Michelle’s. Edwardo is a worldly man, having lived in England for 5 years and France for 3 and knows Spanish, English, Italian and French.

Q. What are your thoughts on the economic crisis here in Spain?

A. We started building a lot of things for the past 25 years after Franco died and now building has stopped and there are no jobs for people. There is absolutely nothing here in Spain manufacturing wise, for example, the Unites States has Ford and things like that, the only thing Spain has is housing developments and tourism. I think that if there was no tourism we would be much further in crisis than we are now.  And the government is making it worse by cutting employment which sets off an obvious chain reaction. When I lived in France and England I had no trouble at all finding a job, or leaving one job and finding another one practically the next day. That’s how it should be.

My host family, Edwardo on the very right.

By: Crystal Blankenbaker

Innocent…I think not

Ratko Mladic, a former Bosnian Serb army commander, faces 11 counts of both war crimes and crimes against humanity. His trial started on Wednesday the 16th of this month. The opening hearing was held at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). His atrocities took place in the Bosnian war during 1992 to 1995. He had spent 15 years running from the law until he was finally seized by Serbian police forces last May. He has been awaiting his trial in the same prison as former political leader Radovan Karadzic who is facing similar charges as Mladic. Karadzic was arrested in 2008 and is currently at the half way mark of his trial.

What I find quite disgraceful is that even though one of the charges includes genocide, Mladic claims “the accusations are monstrous,” when he himself is the monstrous one and has the nerve of pleading not guilty. It is on record that Mladic declared he wanted to “ethnically cleanse” Bosnia, and that the city of Sarajevo “would shake” when he was through with it. That to me has guilty written all over it.

Just to put this into perspective, he is pleading not guilty to charges such as arranging the brutal slaughter of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims, boys and men at Srebrenica in 1995. Also with being affiliated with the 44-month siege of Sarajevo. The siege of Sarajevo is the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, during which more than 10,000 people died.

Dermot Groome is the prosecuting counsel, and said he would bring Mladic to justice. Groome commented that it’s been two decades since Ratko Mladic became commander and stated:

“On that day, Mladic began his full participation in a criminal endeavor that was already in progress. On that day, he assumed the mantle of realizing through military might the criminal goals of ethnically cleansing much of Bosnia. On that day, he commenced his direct involvement in serious international crimes.”

If Mladic truly thought he was innocent, then why would he make multiple attempts to delay the trial proceedings? Judicial authorities thankfully rejected these faulty efforts, and also the most recent plea to have the Dutch judge Orie replaced because Mladic felt he was too biased. These issues should not even be happening in the first place, and the fact that they are, only makes Mladic look even guiltier.

The most grossly outrageous part of it all is that the number of crimes he has been accused of has been cut almost in half in order to speed up his trial. I assume you could look at this one of two ways. One being is that it only exacerbates how bad the situation is that the court could not even fit all the charges against him in a single trial, which in turn, only makes Mladic look even worse. On the other hand, there is a lack of justice in the sense that his crimes may be known, but with a lack of closure. It just does not seem right that only half of his crimes will be represented in court, and how does one decide which crimes to choose and which to omit? The crimes that a group of people in a small room decide are the most atrocious? I’m sure the victims and survivors would agree that all are equally as abominable. We are talking mass murder here, not stealing candy from a store.

By: Crystal Blankenbaker,  Irina Czakó and Ksenia Solovyova (Opinion)

Living in Spain and in Hungary

By Irina Czakó

Firstly I was going to make one interview with my friend from New-Zealand, who has been living in Spain for one and a half years. But than I realized that Spain and my country Hungary have several similar current issues. That’s why I decided to ask my Hungarian classmate on the situation of home as well. My interviewees both are young, dynamic, working at international companies and know other cultures and people from other countries. I was wondering what they would answer to the same questions. We have had a lot of discussions about the countries we live in, which would be hard to summarize staying within the word limit. In spite of this I would like to publish my second additional interview as well.


What is the biggest or the most surprising cultural difference for you in Spain? Is there any habit or custom here that you are not yet used to?

The two most significant differences would be

 (1) The attitude – things are taken slowly; regulations are sometimes bendable, whereas others are set in concrete; layers of bureaucracy etc – you need to not be a stressful person to deal with Spain sometimes! I think I am used to this now: I think this affects foreigners working for Spanish companies more.

 (2) Lack of ‘personal space’ – People always stand very close to you in Spain, whether they are talking to you, or when standing in a queue. I am not used to this yet. If I have to pick only one cultural different, this is the one, as it is one I wasn’t prepared for in the least.

Rachel is from New Zealand. She is a physicist and

has been working in Spain for one and a half years.

Spain’s economy is in big trouble. It is suffering from a high level of national debt, a recession and unemployment. Have you noticed any signs of the crisis in everyday life?

Broadly, there are three ‘signs’: (1) closing of businesses and vacant office and shop space, (2) unemployment (3) unrest

 (1) This is frequent in Madrid and in the small village in which I lived at first. On Paseo de la Florida there are many empty shop spaces for rent. The convenience store recently closed. The drugeria/perfumeria has signs saying (I think – check this) ‘liquidacion por cierre de negocios’. A related topic is the bankruptcy of construction companies creating the huge half-finished ‘ghost towns’ that are prevalent near my work. This does not affect anyone I know personally, but people are often saying that they know peopl who still owe money to the bank for these houses that were never built.

 (2) The biggest sign of this is the number of beggars on the street. When I arrived in Madrid very few people were begging on the trains in the metro – now I see on most trips. There were always a few musicians/buskers in the metro trains – these have increased significantly also.

 (3) the Huelga general is the most obvious sign.  The other obvious sign was the M-15 movement which occupied Sol (and there were further protests this weekend). While neither involved anyone I know, both were obvious in everyday life from the disruptions they brought (even though they were minor). As my work is an international organisation, in general these issues do not affect the employees. The fact that they are not hiring very many new staff here is caused by general austerity across Europe.

Another factor, which I have heard of anecdotally from friends, but for which I arrived too late to really appreciate, is the change in the style of life of people of Madrid – apparently it was common for all the bars and restaurants to be full and lively every day of the week, but now this is only really seen in the historical centre. Since I live quite close to the centre, places still seem quite busy on weeknights, so I can’t really comment on whether this observation is accurate.

The level of the unemployment in Spain is the highest in the European Union. Amongst young people -like you are- this ratio can reach the fifty percent. According to your and your friends experiences is it difficult to find a job for youth nowadays?

I do not know any Spanish people who are unemployed and cannot find work. A couple cannot find permanent jobs. However, my experience of this is quite limited because of who I socialise with, broadly 3 groups:

(1) Work colleagues: international organisation therefore unaffected – and mostly internationals who will return to their home country at the end of their fixed-term contracts.

 (2) Other foreigners in Madrid for specific work and study opportunities: English teachers and students (PhD and Erasmus), who in general do not plan to stay in Madrid at the end of their study or contract.

(3) A group of mixed internationals, English and Spanish speaking young people, mixture of students and young professionals: Of this group, I do know some people who have actively searched for work in Spain, and found it fairly easily – engineering and telecommunications-type roles. This is possibly because they are fluent in Spanish and English, which I hear is increasingly a priority. Accordingly, English teachers are in very high demand, making it arguably easier for English-speaking foreigners to find work in Madrid than the Spanish – I know many British young people who have just landed in Madrid and had work within a month. I only really have 2 Spanish friends – both are not currently unemployed, but have both told me about their urgent need to improve their language skills for their future employability.

How can you describe Spanish people?

Lively, but relaxed about living their lives!

Spanish people are often considered lazy and less productive than their counter partners in other European Union countries. You have Spanish colleagues at your workplace, as well; according to your opinion is this stereotype true or not?

I think this is not correct, I find that all the ‘latin’ type countries (Spain, France, Italy) have a fairly similar philosophy – to take time to live as well as work, which is different to, say, America, where by taking a job it is often assumed that your work becomes your life. Hence, people here take time to go to the canteen to have lunch together, instead of sitting at their desk. Does this decrease productivity? Personally, I don’t think it does, though I don’t have any figures to back this up. Their philosophy is that you need to take these breaks to be able to work optimally after lunch. I caution that, though there are Spanish workers at my institute, this is foremost an international organisation, with the bulk of its employees being French and German (based on the contributions from different countries). There is no siesta.

Rajoy’s central-right Popular Party won the parliamentary election in November. Have you seen any changes after the elections?

Honestly, I haven’t seen any changes. Of course, Rajoy has made some controversial decisions, which led to the Huelga general in March, but there was also controversial legislation and a large general strike under Zapatero (in October 2010 I think). There may be a growing feeling of discontent against Rajoy (at least amongst the few discussions I’ve had with Spanish people).

My second interview is the following.

Dóra Dunai lives in Hungary. She has a Master’s Degree in Organization and Leadership and works at a multinational company as compliance specialist.

Nowadays is not too easy to find a job for the recent graduates. How do you see the opportunities of the young people in Hungary?

I think in Hungary the market is full, so finding a position as a fresh graduate is quite tough. I was lucky, I entered the company via internship 2 years ago, so when I graduated I transferred from trainee to full-time employee. From what I see people with strong language skills have much better chances.

Hungary needs to improve its economic governance, which struggles as the growth slows and investors retreat. Have you experienced the recession or the austerity measurements in your everyday life?

Yes, absolutely. Goods and services are getting more and more expensive, this is true for all kind of goods for ex. bread, utility costs, … there’s a longer queue in the banks, less people in stores and more Hungarian people are vacationing within the country.

Spanish economy is also suffering from similar problems. You have been in Spain recently. Have you noticed any signs of the crisis?

Not really. Traffic is great, vehicles are jammed, also the streets, cars are new, stores are full of people, from what I saw, it’s not in crisis. However I did find Spain surprisingly expensive.

According to your opinion has the Hungarian economy similar pattern like the Spanish?

I don’t really have a knowledge to tell. For now I think we don’t have the same root causes but we’re facing the same challenges and problems. One similar point in our economy is the big dept our countries have to deal with.

We often hear it that Hungarians work less and are not so productive than people in Western countries. Do you agree with this?

No, in our firm we work way too much. We’re in early, we slightly have lunch break, and we finish late then continue it at home. At least at the business world. In the public sector on the other hand I can imagine it’s true.

How can you describe Hungarian people?

Pride, but shameful, hard workers but usually unmotivated, whining, but smart and most importantly survivors.

Two years ago the right-wing party Fidesz won the election and two-thirds majority in the parliament, which is unique in the history of European elections. Have you seen any remarkable changes in the past two years?

To be honest, not really. We have a lot of new laws – but his has been the case for as long as I remember, and I’m not fully following the politics, so I can’t really answer besides ‘not really’.

China can be the solution for the EU crisis?

The political relationship between Europe and China is in no way trouble free. However, in these particularly hard times, Europe needs capital more than ever. China has this money to invest in European developed countries and finance their huge amount of national sovereign debt. The Old Continent welcomes financial aid, which is understandable, but why is it so important for China to save Europe? And how can this Asian country do so, with a per capita GDP of $4,000, loan money to Europe, whose per capita is higher than $30,000?

China’s “Go Out” policy is not new, it has started in 1990s. This evolving strategy’s aim is to target advanced market, where the Chinese capital can profit remarkably and in a more sophisticated way. In the 1970s China’s trade with the European Economic Community was a mere $2.5 billion a year. Now with the 27-member EU it reaches totals $480 billion a year. After China joined to the World Trade Organization (WTO) ten years ago, the country has increased its imports dramatically. The European Union has become China’s top trading partner and what is more important, that EU is its primary source of technology and investment.

Europe is in crises but at the same time it is still dominant in the world’s economy. It has only seven percent of the world’s population but in spite of this, it produces the twenty percent of the world’s gross domestic product.  In China’s eyes Europe is not only its top exporter, but it remains one of the strongest, most wealthy and best integrated region in the world. The high-quality human resources, the advanced science and technology, and the capacity to reform and innovate are all attractive attributes for the Chinese government. That’s why purchasing European bonds, contributing resources to the IMF, and increasing imports and expanding investment in Europe to support job creation and growth are in China’s interest as well.

China has paid attention to the European Union issues and had several important negotiations with the European counter partners in the past months. In April the Chinese Premier Minister Wen Jiabao announced that his country intendeds to increase bilateral trade with Germany, the strongest European economy and its biggest business partner in the region, to 213 billion euros by 2015. This economic step can be a confirmation of the Chinese government announcement regarding to the European crisis, which was revealed last year:

“An economically stable and prosperous Europe is in the interest of China and the world.”

At the same time many European politicians do not want to make a closer co-operation with China. There is the threat that if China plays a stronger role in the European economy and policy, it can lead to other financial problems. Due to the increasing amount of the foreign direct investments the national independence and security can decrease as well.

Not only the EU, but the United Stated has trade agreements and a dependent relationship with China. The U.S. trade deficit with China has been increased significantly over the years. This March, the U.S. trade deficit reached to the widest imbalance in more than three years after imports grew faster than exports. It was caused by the rising oil prices, the stronger demand for foreign-made cars, computers and food products. Exports to Europe have fallen as well because of the debt crises. China gave about a trillion dollar loan to the United States by exporting goods to the country.

By: Crystal Blankenbaker, Irina Czakó and  Ksenia Solovyova