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June 22nd, 1998
On Tuesday afernoon the situation of Roma in Central and Eastern Europe was discussed at a special hearing of the Helsinki comittee of the American Congress. As the spokeswoman of the Committee on security and cooperation in Europe, Erika Schlager told the CTK news agency, much harsh criticism of the Czech Republic has been raised.

According to Livia Plaks from the Project for Ethnic Relations in Princetown, the human rights of a large proportion of the Roma population are breached and many live in conditions of severe financial need. Social, political and economic problems caused by the changes in Central and Eastern Europe have also been reflected in xenophobia and racism.

James Goldston from the Budapest European Roma Rights Centre also reminded the Comittee of this year's racially motivated incidents in the Czech Republic and stressed that since 1989 skinheads have killed 12 Roma in this country and have seriously injured many others. Goldston also said that in matters of citizenship, the so-called gypsies have been discriminated against in the Czech Republic and Yugoslavia.

On the other hand, history professor David Crowe, who observed the hearing, said that the Roma problem in the Czech Republic is caused to a certain extent by the prejudice of Czech citizens. Although it will take generations to solve this problem, professor Crowe feels it is necessary for the Czech government to take action in this matter.

Crowe praised the strong historic tradition of democracy in the Czech Republic. However, he pointed out that today's democracy is quite young and it probably considers other questions to be more important at the moment.

Professor Crowe also stressed that the Czech Republic has achieved a lot since the fall of communism. In his words, the point of the hearing was to show that the Roma question must be solved before developments such as United States investment in the Czech army take place.

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