Gypsies Using Brown v. Board as a Model to Gain a Legal Tool in Rights Fight





For the Gypsies of Eastern Europe, like Agnes Krappai, life never seems to improve. She lives in an impoverished section of this Hungarian town, in a house with no running water. Her neighbor washes a rug in the street, coaxing water out of a hand-pumped well. "It's a constant crisis, if there is such a thing," Ms. Krappai says.

But now, some leaders of the Gypsies, or Roma, are looking to a new model to try to achieve equality: the civil rights struggle of black Americans. More and more, the Roma are going to court to secure their rights, and doing so where they think it will have the best chance for success — among the new East European members of the European Union and those trying to join, which are seeking to impress Western Europe with strict interpretations of their new antidiscrimination laws.


The Roma strategy was rewarded in October, when a Bulgarian court for the Sofia district ruled for them in a school segregation case. "This is Brown v. Board of Education in Europe," said Dimitrina Petrova, executive director of the European Roma Rights Center, recalling the 1954 Supreme Court decision that the official system of "separate but equal" school segregation by race was unconstitutional.

"This is a purely American paradigm," said Ms. Petrova, whose group filed the suit. "It's not a right if you can't defend it in a court."



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