World Roma Day has been celebrated since 1990, each year on 8 April, in memory of the first worldwide meeting of Romani representatives, in London in 1971.
Romani are a huge ethnic group dispersed all across Europe, Americas and northern India. In modern age, including throughout 20th century, they were objects of colossal discrimination, especially in central Europe. During Nazi era, they were victims of genocide, quite similar to the Holocaust against Jews. But, discrimination continued even after the WW2. From the most extreme measures such as forced sterilization in communist Czechoslovakia, to blocked or hindered access to education, health care, entrepreneurship, employment or housing more or less everywhere in the region, the burden they had to live and get by with was enormous. Besides, a hateful, inflamatory and defamation narrative on them, in public as well as in private communication, was for long and still somewhere is commonplace. In a word, they are objects of racism. Romaphobia (e.g. maintaining negative stereotypes on „Gypsies“) is probably the main type of racism in central Europe. All those led to their social exclusion and degrading living conditions of majority of them.
The position of Roma, i.e. their human rights, civil liberties, equality under the law and equal access to social life in its entirety are therefore a very important indicator of the human rights situation in a particular country.
FNF Freedom Barometer, in its annual Europe Edition which has since 2013 been a tool for monitoring and meausring state of freedom in 30 countries of Europe and Central Asia, has from the beginning included Roma issues in its analyses, mainly under the aspects of Rule of Law and Protection of Human Rights.
Especially notworthy were passages on verbal abuse of Roma in public, which persists as a socially acceptable behavior in Hungary, Czechia, Bulgaria or elsewhere. In many countries of the region (e.g. Albania, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia), the otherwise ambitious policies of protection of ethnic minorities are often circumventing Romanies, sometimes because they are dispersed (which specially hinders education in their mother tongue) and sometimes because of deliberate attempts at their exclusion. In some countries (such as Croatia and Slovenia), citizenship problems hinder Romany access to various social services and to economic and social life in general. Ethnocentric political system, such as in Bosnia and Herzegovina, to its part bars Roma (and members of other small ethnic groups) access to some public offices.
In 2015, or 2016, FNF has also noted some improvements. Among those, there was a bit more inclusion of Roma perceived in Romania and Serbia, while in Slovakia, the efforts of the first Roma member of the national parliament (himself elected in 2012) are becoming visible, through changed social perception and public narrative about Roma as well as in a number of initiatives to foster their inclusion into society.
Future FNF Freedom Barometer monitoring of Roma issues will also include issues of their inclusion into the business community, namely the issues of entrepreneurship (regular as well as „social“) as a way of integration of not least Roma but also refugees who stayed more permanently in the region. It`s been a common liberal wisdom that only economically independent and empowered citizens could be truly free on the long run. That is why a growing number of countries of the region and civil society organizations are switching the focus of Romany-targeted projects from mere social aid for disadvantaged to the issues of inclusion into the job market and entrepreneur community.