Looted gold funds Roma study grants

July 6, 2001

Gold looted by the Nazis from Central and Eastern Europe's victimised war-time communities is to be used to help fund university scholarships for Roma students in the region.

The scheme by George Soros, the Hungarian-born billionaire US financier and philanthropist, will provide grants of between £300 and £600 to help Roma - also known as Gypsies - from seven former communist countries study at university.

Mr Soros, who announced the scheme on a visit to Bratislava, the Slovak capital, last month, said that about 500 Roma would be eligible this year. The grants would help break the cycle of deprivation and build a new Roma elite, he said. Sub-standard housing, chronic unemployment, poor education and discrimination plague Roma in the region.

The scholarships will be open to Roma students in financial need who have gained a university place. They will be funded by Nazi gold, seized by the Allies in 1945 and held by them since, that is channelled through Mr Soros's Open Society Institute. The US State Department made available more than £400,000 for the scheme from an international relief fund for victims of Nazi persecution based on looted gold.

Grants will be available to students from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia. During the war, hundreds of thousands of Roma in these countries died at the hands of Nazis and fascist collaborators.

The scholarship programme was developed by Deborah Harding, OSI vice-president. She said information had been sent to more than 2,500 Roma organisations.

"These scholarships are critical. Less than half a per cent of students at universities in these countries are Roma. We believe, as do many of the Roma leaders, that until they can create an elite that can identify their own issues and work on them, they are never going to really get far ahead.

"It's critical that they have university graduates with degrees in medicine, political science, economics, computer sciences and the humanities so they can make their own case for their needs."

The almost total lack of Roma representatives in national parliaments in the region could also be helped through the creation of a new educated elite, she added.

Ondrej Gina Sr, a leading spokesman for Roma in the Czech Republic, welcomed the scholarships. He said there were ever rising numbers of young people who would be eligible for the scheme because more Roma were completing secondary school.

"George Soros is a man with a clear vision who understands Roma needs, but it is important the information gets out to the right people.

"Those who work in community centres or Roma organisations feel the information is there, but actually it often does not get to the right people."

  • A European Parliament draft resolution on Slovakia's proposed accession to the European Union has called for more access for Roma to higher education, writes Vera Rich .
  • The resolution said that in tackling minority issues, Slovakia shows a widening gap between good intentions and actions.

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