Madonna Stays Quiet On Gypsies

Madonna’s concert in Sofia was the biggest ever staged in Bulgaria, where the often controversial star also avoided making the political references that attracted jeers from a Romanian crowd three days earlier.

Live Nation central and eastern European chief Tim Dowdall, who promoted the shows with regional partners, confirmed that the 60,000 who attended the Aug. 29 show at Sofia’s Vasil Levski Stadium was a Bulgarian record.

He said he has nothing to add to newswire stories concerning Madge’s Aug. 26 show in front of another 60,000 crowd at Parc Izvor in Bucharest, where she reportedly riled some of the crowd by condemning widespread discrimination against Roma (gypsies).

It’s a touchy subject in certain parts of The Balkans, where Roma are said to suffer more humiliation and endure more discrimination than any other group on the continent.

Madonna’s plea for greater tolerance was booed by many in the crowd.

In neighbouring Hungary, six Roma were killed and several wounded in a recent series of apparently racially motivated attacks targeting small countryside villages predominantly settled by gypsies.

Roma are a nomadic ethnic group believed to have their roots in the Indian subcontinent. They live mostly in southern and eastern Europe, but hundreds of thousands have migrated west over the past few decades in search of jobs and better living conditions.

Romania has the largest number of Roma in the region. Some say the population could be as high as 2 million, although official data puts it at 500,000.

“It has been brought to my attention that there is a lot of discrimination against Romanies and gypsies in general in eastern Europe. It made me feel very sad,” she said, drawing a mixed response from the Bucharest crowd.

“We don’t believe in discrimination. We believe in freedom and equal rights for everyone,” she continued, drawing more boos when she mentioned discrimination against homosexuals and others.

It’s not clear why Madonna skipped mentioning the issue in Sofia, and how the Bulgarian audience would have reacted if she did.

Nearly half of Europe’s estimated 12 million Roma claimed to have suffered an act of discrimination over the past year, according to a recent report by the Vienna-based EU Fundamental Rights Agency. The group says Roma face “overt discrimination” in housing, health care and education.

Many do not have official identification, which means they cannot get social benefits, are undereducated and struggle to find decent jobs.

Human rights activists say the attacks in Hungary, which began in July 2008, may be tied to the country’s economic crisis and the rising popularity of far-right vigilantes angered by a rash of petty thefts and other so-called “gypsy crimes.”

Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have also been criticized for widespread bias against Roma.