Fight for Right; Dialogue Youth Is Involved with Youth Issues All across Europe. Their Team of Reporters Attended a Human Rights Conference in Bucharest. Patrick Small Reports

Article excerpt

Representatives of more than 30 European youth organisations attended the European Youth Forum's conference on Human Rights in Bucharest at the end of April.

Housed in the fading grandeur of the Hotel Boulevard in the centre of the poverty-stricken `Paris of the East', this motley but magnificent collection gathered to come clean about their ignorance, wrestle with assumptions, and chase solutions which often seemed as elusive as a decent hot meal.

Think Romania and what springs to mind? Dracula, Transylvania, Steaua Bucharest, Georghe Hagi, TV pictures of the look on Ceausescu's face as he stood on that balcony in 1989, AIDS, orphanages. But it's eight years since the revolution. Things must be better now, right? Wrong.

A recent Amnesty International report slammed the government for human rights abuses, highlighting mistreatment of prisoners and the infamous Article 200, which criminalises homosexuality. Avoiding military service will land you in the clink. The gypsy and Romani peoples are persecuted. As for children's rights, Romania has barely emerged from the Middle Ages.

And yet who were we - a loose grouping of hacks, students, gay and lesbian campaigners, youth politicians, Guide leaders, NGO campaigners and youth council administrators - to tell the Romanians what to do? Everyone and no-one. Which is what gave the conference its edge.

Here, western Europeans came face-to-face with young Romanian delegates trying to piece together a civil society out of the ruins of long, brutalising years of dictatorship. Both had to abandon misplaced assumptions. Glossy reports and conference resolutions are nothing compared to the value of reciprocal understanding.

Human rights is a huge, lolling, amorphous subject which can slip from your fingers just when you think you've got hold of it. …