Roma Civil Rights movement


Erika Thurner

Roma Movement in Austria – The Long Shadows of the Past


The first Roma self-organisations were formed between 1989 and 1991. But it was only the terrible events of 4 February 1995 in Oberwart – the murder of four Roma by a pipe bomb – that suddenly drew nationwide attention to this population group. Prior to that, the Roma in Austria (i.e., Burgenland-Roma, Sinti, Lovara and Kalderash) had been an “invisible” minority.

While Roma associations in other (European) countries called attention to themselves much earlier, only a few Roma and Sinti in Austria were open about their identity. They rarely met with understanding and were mostly fobbed off with excuses. But the perseverance of some of these lone fighters resulted in the emergence of a small movement of sympathisers and supporters within the majority society.

Jointly and in parallel, people critical of society – scholars and social workers, members of recently formed movements and political parties – struggled to make the Nazi genocide public and to demand compensation.

Presentable activities as well as the existence of self-organisations, such as the “Verein Roma Oberwart” [Association Roma Oberwart], the “Kulturverein österreichischer Roma” [Cultural Association of Austrian Roma] and “Romano Centro”, were indispensable prerequisites for reaching the most important goal of the young Roma movement: recognition as an ethnic/linguistic minority, as the sixth Austrian ethnic group. Legal recognition came into effect on 16 December 1993. However, the scope of minority protection and legal status guaranteed by Austria’s Ethnic Group Act (Volksgruppengesetz) – protection, promotion and preservation of culture and language – was only accorded to autochthonous Roma, to those who had lived in Austria for generations.

Over the thirty years of its existence, the Austrian Roma movement has achieved a lot. Expectations are now being placed in the young Roma generation: better educated, it is in their hands to secure – self-assured and confident of their identity – the continued existence and future of their ethnic group.