The Devouring has ceased, but the hatred that fueled it still thrives. For every Amnesty International report documenting human-rights abuses against the Roma, there are five new accounts of conflict or rejection. Earlier this month in Metchka, all 600 Bulgarians voted to expel the town's 300 Roma. In a recent survey, 92 percent of Romanians said they didn't want gypsies as neighbors. Last fall in the Czech Republic, the townspeople of Usti nad Labem worked through the night to build a high wall segregating two apartment buildings full of allegedly noisy, dirty, intractable Roma.
The European Union commission condemned Usti nad Labem's solution, saying Europe wanted no more walls. Czech Republic president Vaclav Havel, who once called gypsies "a litmus test of a civil society," patiently waited for local citizens to find a better resolution. Finally the wall was ruled illegal by the Czech Parliament (a ruling since found unconstitutional) and the wall was sold to a zoo.
In the U.S., the last law aimed at a particular ethnic group was a 1917 New Jersey law that allowed towns to "license and regulate ... roving bands of nomads, commonly called gypsies" -- and it was only removed from the books two years ago. In 1992, the New York Times published a public-opinion poll surveying national attitudes toward 58 different ethnic and racial groups over a 25-year period, and for the entire quarter-century, gypsies were ranked at the very bottom -- even though most Americans had never met a gypsy.
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