Note No. 230
21 January 2003


(Reissued as received.)

VIENNA, 21 January -- The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) released the first comprehensive survey of the Roma minority in five Central and Eastern European countries. The survey, "Avoiding the Dependency Trap," covers the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania.

The report finds that Roma minorities in Central and Eastern Europe live in "third world conditions" -- the Human Development Index1 for Roma communities in some countries is as low as Botswana’s. More than one out of every two Roma goes hungry at least a few days every year while one out of six is "constantly starving". Of those who starve, fewer than two out of three borrow money to make ends meet, 1 out of 3 borrows food, and one in 20 goes begging. More than four out of 10 have no access to running water. Unemployment touches especially the young. Only one out of five Roma is employed, while more than one out of five has never worked. The survey found that one out of every three Roma last worked before 1990.

A Human Development Approach:

Departing from the traditional focus on human rights, the report looks at the Roma minority from a "human development" perspective -- an approach pioneered by UNDP over a decade ago. Human development measures progress not by income alone, but by increasing people’s choices; it seeks to ensure that people have access to education, live healthy lives and enjoy a decent standard of living.

Discussing Roma issues in human development terms is a novelty, given that much of the policy debate in the last decade was centered on ensuring protection of Roma human rights. But while human rights are at the core of human development, UNDP’s approach seeks to broaden the debate by focusing on areas where opportunities for the Roma must be expanded, primarily in education, skills provision and employment.

Underscoring the need for a wider focus on Roma issues, the survey finds that almost eight out of 10 Roma consider "respect for Human Rights" to mean "finding a job" and living free from hunger.

Three Means of Integration:

Overall, the survey finds that the Roma seek to integrate socially, economically ad politically into their local communities. Integration, however, does not mean assimilation. The Roma seek to integrate through:

  1. Employment opportunities;
  2. Equal access to education;
  3. Increased political participation.

While the report acknowledges that "opposition to a non-Roma environment is an important traditional element of Roma identity", it appears that more than nine out of ten Roma seek to work with people from the majority population and over 90 % of the Roma want their children to befriend children of the majority. In addition, over seven out of ten parents welcome spouses from the majority population for their children. From a business perspective, the survey finds that for one out of every two Roma it does not matter what ethnic group their business partners belong to, while one out of five actively seeks business partnerships with representatives of the majority population. However, the report notes that 86 % of the Roma have never tried to start their own business.

The Roma Human Development Report underscores the challenge of linking employment to increased educational opportunities. The data shows that Roma parents seek equal education opportunities for their children and wish to improve access to integrated education. Survey respondents identified the use of Roma language as a possible hindrance to educational integration: 1 out of 3 Roma parents seeks to acquire additional language training [in their country’s official language] in order to have their children gain proficiency. A little over half of the Roma interviewed speak a Roma language at home.

The survey also highlights Roma desire for broader political participation. One out of two Roma feel that to become "equal members of society" they need to be represented at all levels of the state administration. Only one out of 4 Roma feels his/her interests are well represented at the local level, while one out of five feels s/he is well represented at the municipal level and only one out of 7 feels that the central government is sufficiently responsive to Roma problems.

Almost half the Roma interviewed expressly affirm seeking "to live with the majority without being a part of the majority". Interestingly, only 50 % of the Roma surveyed declared their ethnic affiliation during the last national census in their country, while a little more than one in 4 declared belonging to the majority population (not Roma).

"While some of these figures -- such as census reporting -- may betray continuing fears of discrimination, the overall picture that emerges is one of Roma desire to integrate into the social fabric, to participate as full fledged citizens, and to have access to education, resources and employment. As the survey shows, Roma seek to "integrate but not assimilate". In a European Union respectful of differences and thriving on the mosaic of cultures that constitute it, the Roma should find their place as equal partners to other minority cultures that contribute to our continent’s extraordinary wealth and diversity" said Kalman Mizsei, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations and Director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Bureau for Europe and the CIS, which produced the Study. "UNDP’s Regional Human Development Report on the Roma clearly articulates the challenges ahead: the international community needs to consider Roma issues from a broader developmental perspective and put human rights in the context of increased human development opportunities for the Roma. Our analysis shows that discrimination is not only a cause but it can equally be the consequence of Roma lack of access to educational and employment prospects" added Mr. Mizsei.

Among the solutions proposed are policies pursuing positive discrimination in favor of the Roma in public administration and in education, other measures meant to increase educational and employment opportunities and overall assistance to adopting an active lifestyle (such as the Welfare-to-Work programs championed in the US).

The UNDP survey was based on a representative sample of 5,034 respondents in 5 countries. National surveys for each of the countries are also available. All documents can be accessed on the newly created website on "Roma Knowledge" -- The Roma surveys and website were produced by regional experts at UNDP’s Regional Support Center in Bratislava (Slovakia) working in cooperation with local experts and Roma representatives in each country.


UNDP is the UN's global development network, advocating for change and connecting countries to knowledge, experience and resources to help people build a better life. We are on the ground in 166 countries, working with them on their own solutions to global and national development challenges. As they develop local capacity, they draw on the people of UNDP and our wide range of partners.

For further information:

Sandra Pralong, Regional Media and Publications Advisor
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP);Regional Support Centre, Europe and
the Commonwealth of Independent States; Grosslingova 35;Bratislava;81109 Slovak Republic
Tel/Fax: (421-2) 59337-428/450; email:; url:


1 The Human Development Index (HDI) seeks to measure development in broader terms than a simple measure of income. HDI is calculated by combining Education levels, Life expectancy and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita.