BUCHAREST: Discrimination against the Roma is one of the biggest challenges facing Romania, the outgoing US ambassador has told AFP, comparing their plight to that of blacks in the American deep south of his childhood.
The situation of the Roma in Romania "is very discouraging for me to watch, especially since I grew up in the deep south in the United States and I saw exactly the same things done to African-Americans," Mark Gitenstein said just before ending his tenure this week.
"They were marginalised and discriminated in every possible way," he added, blaming "racism and ignorance" from the majority groups.
Romania has the biggest Roma minority in Europe with 620,000 people, according to the latest official census -- more than two million, according to NGOs.
While there has been some progress in the field of education, Roma still face discrimination in the job and housing markets.
Romanian Roma will have to organise politically like African-Americans did in the United States to put an end to discrimination, Gitenstein said.
"The Roma themselves have got to exercise more political power", he told AFP.
"They were enslaved (until 1856) and it is hard to create political structures, but they will have to do that because otherwise people do not talk about these issues.
"This is one of the biggest challenges Romania faces right now."
The Roma issue was absent from the political campaign for the country's last parliamentary elections, held Sunday.