Monday, December 15, 2008

Obama Offers Hope to Romania’s Gypsies

Romania's Gypsies, or Roma, once enslaved like African-Americans, and still struggling to overcome deep-seated prejudice seem particularly inspired by Barack Obama’s victory in the US Presidential Election. "When I saw Obama on TV, my heart swelled with joy. I thought he was one of us Gypsies because of his skin color," Maria Savu told the Associated Press news agency.

Her infant grandson, Obama Sorin Ilie Scoica, was born in the central Romania village of Rusciori.

Little Obama is the third child of a poor family that barely gets by on 200 lei (€45) a month in welfare benefits.

He came into the world on November 4, the day Americans voted in their new multiracial president-elect, and Savu, 43, told the Evenimentul Zilei newspaper she hopes his name will bring him luck.

Banel Nicolita, a member of Romania's national soccer team, is a Gypsy who comes from a family of eight who once lived in a house made of mud. His accomplishments, against all odds, have earned him the nickname "the Obama of Romanian football."

Romania officially is home to 500,000 Gypsies, or Roma, although it's widely believed that there are really at least twice as many. Many people of Roma extraction don't declare their ethnicity due to widespread prejudice, and many live in poverty.

The European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency says Gypsies also suffer routine discrimination in education, employment, health services and housing — just a few of the reasons so many identify with the struggles of American blacks.

"Obama's victory is a motivation for us," said Gruia Bumbu, chairman of the National Agency for the Roma.

Like African-Americans, Gypsies were slaves until roughly the same time in the 19th century. But the Roma never launched a broad civil rights movement, and today, Bumbu said, "we are 20 to 30 years behind."

"When you see that an African-American becomes president, it shows you that the dreams can turn into reality," he said. "It's like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, the fight for equal opportunities can have a happy ending."

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