Romany groups in the Czech Republic last week opened an institute that will provide information on the housing, education and employment conditions of the country's Romanies. It will also train Romany activists in political and campaign work.
The Institute of Romany Studies is backed by Charles University in Prague and housed in local government offices in the Bohemian town of Karlovy Vary.
The centre, financed by the Association of Romany Regional Representatives, local and central government grants and aid in kind, will offer computer training to young Romanies who have completed secondary school.
Ondrej Gina, association spokesman, said the centre would conduct a survey of Romany housing conditions in eastern and western Bohemia.
"Professional evaluation of such data by Charles University will help us provide more accurate data to regional and central government bodies," he said.
The paucity of detailed statistics on the Romany community was reflected in the lack of agreement over the size of their population in the Czech Republic. Census figures show 33,000, but estimates for the true number vary from 160,000 to 200,000, Mr Gina said.
Better qualified and able leaders in political and non-governmental organisations are needed to support the Romany community's efforts to gain social justice, Mr Gina said.
The institute has begun to forge links with the law faculty of Pilsen's West Bohemia University, the Czech Helsinki Committee and other interested bodies.
Last year, a highly publicised struggle between Romanies and their neighbours in the northern Czech city of Usti nad Labem, where the local council built a wall to divide a mixed-race street, attracted international condemnation. The European Union's enlargement commissioner Guenter Verhaugen said the wall breached human rights and Czech President Vaclav Havel ordered it torn down, fearing it could adversely affect EU accession.
Last week's opening of the institute comes at a time when pressure is building in neighbouring Slovakia for a World Romany University to be established in Kosice.