Roma youth are meeting this week in a small village, Bánk, in northern Hungary to discuss and formulate plans for better cooperation between the two communities in Europe.

The project, called Volunticipate, is taking place alongside a larger event called the Bankito Festival, and is being organized by a number of groups, including Marom, a Jewish cultural organization in Europe, the Haver Informal Jewish Educational Public Benefit Foundation and a number of Roma advocacy groups.

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The Bankito Festival itself is a music and cultural extravaganza organized by a number of Jewish and non-Jewish NGOs, which is expected to attract hundreds of people from Hungary and further afield.

“There is a high level of intolerance and a lack of critical thinking in Hungary at the moment,” says Haver CEO Mircea Cernov. “The roots of this come from the schools and is deeply rooted throughout society. What we are trying to do is address the lack of debate on these issues.

“Radical voices are getting stronger in Hungary in the last few years,” Cernov says.

“There are concrete signs and cases of discrimination against people in the Roma community and the strengthening of hard anti-Semitic narratives.”

The Volunticipate program, which began Monday and lasts until Sunday, will focus on training seminars for the participants in NGO and project management, budgeting and fund-raising and volunteer recruitment. The aim, according to Marom, is for the representatives of the various Jewish and Roma groups to share their experiences of the common issues and challenges that both communities face, and to facilitate better organizational development.

Roma in Europe have long faced discrimination and persecution and continue to face structural discrimination and marginalization according to the ternYpe International Roma Youth Network, another of Volunticipate’s organizers.

The European Roma Rights Center says that in the past three years, nine Roma have been killed and dozens have been wounded in racially motivated attacks involving shootings, firebombs, stabbings and beatings.

“I think it’s clear around Europe that the far-right is getting stronger and its narrative and rhetoric is very popular among certain groups in Europe,” Cernov said. “NGOs and the non-profit sector are doing a great job but the political elites and opinion makers really need to develop some empathy toward these issues. The attitudes of the majority will only change when these people really engage with the problems.”

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