Remarks at a Roundtable With Young Roma Professionals

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Embassy Sofia
Sofia, Bulgaria
February 5, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, thank you very much. I wish to thank Ambassador Warlick and the Embassy for arranging this meeting, and I am honored to be meeting with so many leaders from Bulgaria’s Roma community. And I think that the men and women around this table remind us of the lessons that history has borne out again and again, that discrimination anywhere, against anyone, diminishes the human dignity of us all, that persistence does eventually win out over prejudice, and that talent only needs the opportunity to thrive.

Americans have learned these lessons over the course of our history. As you may well know, we have had many challenges to include every member of our society, regardless of their race or their ethnicity or any other characteristic that set them apart or made them a member of a minority group, and we are the stronger for it.

Here in Europe, one of the pieces of unfinished business is the full integration of the Roma people into the societies and nations where they reside. For too long, Roma citizens have been marginalized and isolated, prevented from contributing their talents and participating in their societies. This is a critical matter of human rights, and it affects millions of men, women, and children across the continent.

I’m also very troubled to see anti-Roma violence and protests, which in some places are increasing and getting worse. It’s also an error for any society not to fully educate every child, and in too many places Roma children attend subpar, usually segregated, schools. And what is the result of that? Well, then Roma people themselves begin to feel apathetic, uninvolved, and then that continues the cycle, which has to be broken.

So I think that building better understanding between Roma and non-Roma communities is very important. I remember visiting with Roma children at the Faith, Hope, and Love Center during my visit to Bulgaria back in 1998. Seeing their spirit and intelligence shining through the adversity that they had experienced in their young lives was a highlight of my trip. So helping to promote and protect the inalienable human rights of Roma everywhere is a long-standing personal commitment of mine, and it is a stated foreign policy priority of this Administration.

Today, I am proud to announce that the United States will join the Decade of Roma Inclusion as an official observer. This commitment is admirable by European governments, and it will help improve opportunities for Roma to participate in the political, social, economic, and cultural lives of their communities. Bulgaria is a founding member of this initiative, so I’m very pleased that I could announce the United States joining this effort here in Sofia.

I also want to commend the Government of Bulgaria for their Roma integration strategy and urge that they work together with the Roma communities and other people of interest to implement the plans that have been adopted.

Now, there’s a moral reason why supporting the rights of the Roma people is the right thing to do, but there’s also, in today’s 21st century economy, economic reasons. Countries that don’t fully integrate women or minorities of any kind will not have the economic growth in GDP that is possible and will face the loss of human potential.

So I’m looking forward to hearing from our guests today, to hear of their experience and their ideas about what we together can do that will really put into action the commitment that I wish to make clear today to Roma people, to civil society groups, and to governments working on this issue across Europe, that the United States is very concerned and interested and will stand with you as a partner.

Thank you very much.

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PRN: 2011/T59-07