Village protests local Roma

The Village Council of Jazowsko is upset about Gmina Lacko oblast officials registering Roma as Jazowsko residents ? a result of the discovery that a new housing project for Roma is actually in Jazowsko and not in the neighboring village of Maszkowice. Jazowsko is located approximately 100 kilometers from Krakow.

Jazowsko residents are as perturbed as the council, which sent protest letters this month to the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection in Warsaw and to Roma leaders, the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported.

The letters outline offenses the council says the Roma commit, including theft, and asked that the Roma appoint a representative to take ?personal responsibility? for Roma violations of the law.

The brouhaha arose when Gmina Lacko officials registered Roma families who had been living in Maszkowice, but who had moved to the new housing project, at Jazowsko addresses. ?Nobody asked us if we wanted to,? griped Jazowsko village head Ryszard Ganko.

Jazowsko?s reaction shows how much grassroots opposition there is to a program the national government started a few years ago to assimilate Roma into Polish life. Estimates of Roma in Poland range from 13,000 to 50,000.

The Ministry of Interior and Administration said it wanted Roma to have the same educational levels, employment opportunities, health care and living conditions as everyone else. In other words, it wanted them to be full members of society.

Part of the program involved building new housing for Roma in Maszkowice. Many of the apartments where they were living were substandard and crowded.
Jazowsko residents were unaware that the housing was in their village until the oblast began registering them. They reacted with fury: They didn?t want gypsies as neighbors, they said.

Village Council member Ryszard Ganko said the council fired off the protest letters because ?we are responsible for the well-being of our village.?

The letter that the council wrote to the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection demanded that Roma appoint a person to represent the Roma community when problems arose. That leader needed to take ?personal responsibility? for Roma violations, including the all-too-common theft of fruits, vegetables and wood, the letter said. It also said the oblast should come up with a better welfare program for the Roma and more police scrutiny of their community. Almost no Roma in the oblast have jobs, surviving on welfare payments.

?This is pure racism!? Roma leader Jozef Szczerba said of Jazowsko?s reaction to Roma living in their village. ?They treat us worse than the Germans treated Poles? during World War II. He said he would write his own letter to the Commissioner for Civil Rights Protection, outlining discrimination against Roma.

?In that area, where almost 100 percent of the Roma inhabitants do not have work, problems can be expected,? said Zbigniew Piekarski, director of minority affairs in Nowy Sacz the Malopolskie Voivodeship. He said a new program to give Roma job training may improve the situation.

Evidence that most Poles dislike Roma surfaces all the time.
The Krakow chapter of the Association of Roma Women in Poland received permission from Nowa Huta?s government to open a day-care center in the district. But the group didn?t have the money to renovate the facility to meet district regulations

Association Vice President Iwona Piwowarczyk began approaching companies for donations. As soon as a potential sponsor learned that the project was Roma-related, she said, she would never hear from it again.
Altogether, she sent out 250 letters last year asking for help. Only two companies responded, and both said no.

Estimates of the number of Roma in Poland vary widely. In the 2002 Census, about 13,000 Poles declared they were Roma.
The government reported in its ?Program for the Roma Community in Poland? that about 20,000 live in the country. Roma organizations say the figure is much higher ? from 30,000 to 50,000. Not long ago, the National Employment Agency asked the Association of Roma in Poland to survey Roma educational levels.

Two of the survey?s findings were that a third of Roma had never finished elementary school and that less than 1 percent had graduated from high school.

This low educational level, coupled with discrimination, are the reasons most employers refuse to hire Roma, the employment agency said. It added that another side of the problem is that few Roma actively seek work. Polish law guarantees the rights of Roma and other minorities.
It prohibits discrimination; outlaws organizations who preach racial or national hatred; guarantees minorities the right to preserve their languages, develop their cultures, practice their religions and establish cultural and educational organizations; and grants them election privileges.

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