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Roma in Sweden: showing the way?

Local Roma baron Yan Grondovsky and his wife
Yan Grondovsky, the local Roma Baron, says local police respect Roma laws

As part of a series on Roma Gypsies in Europe, Masha Alexandrova of BBC Russian visits Sweden, seen as one of the most progressive countries in terms of Roma rights.

There is a building in Stockholm where the Roma community holds events.

The day I visited there happened to be a session of the Romany court.

Some 150 people - participants and onlookers - were gathered in the main hall.

Older men sat at the tables, women and young people stood around in small groups. Some women even dressed up for the occasion. The judge wore a distinguished white suit, which gave the impression that he was in a gown.

The jurors had to determine whether the defendant was to receive the most serious punishment that can be delivered by the Romany courts - exclusion from the community.

Several hours later the jurors read out the verdict.

The defendant - a young drug addict accused of stealing money - avoided exclusion but was placed under house arrest and ordered to pay back the stolen cash as an example to others.

Unwritten laws

The judge, Yan Grondovsky, is also the local so-called Roma Baron, although in modern democratic Sweden the title tends not to be used.

I give the police my word that everything will be all right, and it's usually enough
Yan Grondovsky

Mr Grondovsky was born in Russia, but after World War II his family emigrated to Poland. After he got married he decided with his wife to move to Sweden.

He says that in Sweden Roma people are quite well integrated into society.

However, some matters are dealt with by the community, without notifying the authorities - issues like divorce or other family matters.

Roma here often do not even register their marriages.

They live according to centuries-old Romany laws that do not exist on paper but are transmitted from generation to generation.

Even the local police respect these laws, says Mr Grondovsky.

"I give the police my word that everything will be all right, and it's usually enough," he says.

Sterilisation

In Sweden, as in many other countries, Roma people have for centuries suffered discrimination, forced assimilation and even sterilisation.

First they were forbidden from immigrating to Sweden, then they were not allowed to start businesses.

Roma court
The Swedish government is happy for Roma courts to hear some cases

But since the 1960s the government has been actively trying to improve the situation.

Roma is one of five official ethnic minorities in Sweden, and the Roma language has also been recognised as one of the minority languages.

Niamco Sabuni, the minister of integration and gender Eequality, says that the Romany language and culture are "a part of Swedish and European heritage".

Since the 1960s, the state has tried to facilitate Roma children's access to education.

This has been a successful policy, with Roma becoming engineers, doctors, and even generals, Mr Grondovsky says.

He himself helps to run a local hospital.

But he says it is not always easy to measure the success of the policy, because "many hide their ethnicity when they start working in medicine".

'World leader'

In the 1970s, the Swedish government offered housing to those Roma in unsuitable living conditions; and there are Roma in Sweden who receive pensions.

Roma passport
Roma groups hope to have their own passports recognised worldwide

In 2006, the Swedish government created a special commission dealing with issues of the Roma minority.

It consists of 10 experts, half of whom represent the country's different Roma groups.

The commission gathers information about Roma living conditions in Sweden and tries to improve relations between Roma and the rest of the population.

Lars Demetry, whose ancestors came to Sweden in the 19th Century, is a member of the commission.

"The older generation does not understand [government] policies, thinking that the authorities in Sweden and other European countries only talk about integration, but in reality try to assimilate Roma. But I will tell you from my experience that regarding integration and democracy, Sweden is the world's leader," says Mr Demetry.



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