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Stories from and

Young Romanian Builds First Car Entirely Made of LEGO Blocks

20-year-old Raul Oaida from Romania has built what many dreamed of as children – the world’s first life-size LEGO car. The car, including the engine which actually runs, was built using 500,000 LEGO pieces. The vehicle can only achieve a speed of some 20 to 30 kilometers per hour, but – it runs on air!

The young Romanian, a self-taught tech genius, paired up online with Australian entrepreneur Steve Sammartino, who procured the funds for this project on Twitter and got twice as many investors as needed in just days. The car was built in Romania and then transported to Australia, where the two unlikely partners met for a test drive.

The engine of the car is also entirely made of LEGO. It has “four orbital engines and a total of 256 pistons.” According to the project website, the top speed isn’t very impressive, around 20 to 30 km. “We were scared of a Lego explosion so we drove it slowly,” the founders wrote. Steve and Oaida say that the project was possible only because of the internet. The two even met online, when Steve accepted Oaida’s Skype request. “I’m teaching him about business and he’s teaching me a bit about physics,” Steve told the press.

One UK Suburb's Un-Neighborly Reaction to Slovakian Roma Immigrants

After a wave of discriminatory statements against Roma communities in France made by French Minister of the Interior Manuel Valls, Slovakian and Romanian Roma in England are now getting the same message from authorities and neighbors.

According to an article in the Guardian, Sheffield locals in an area with a high level of Roma settlements created patrols in an attempt to calm the tensions between the Roma community and other local citizens, an effort that seems to be making things worse. As the article explains:

“In an interview with BBC Radio Sheffield the former home secretary [now Sheffield MP David Blunkett] also accused the government of “burying their head in the sand” over the scale of Roma settlement in the UK and said the Roma community had to make more of an effort to fit in with British culture: “We have got to change the behaviour and the culture of the incoming community, the Roma community, because there's going to be an explosion otherwise. We all know that.”[…]

Nobody knows for sure how many Roma people have come to Sheffield since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004. The council's best guess is that 1,500 eastern European Roma children now live in the city as a whole, with around 500 in the small Page Hall area. Miroslav Sandor, a Roma community worker in Page Hall, gives a much higher estimate. He thinks there may be 600-900 large families in the city, mostly concentrated in Page Hall.

Europe Warns French Minister over Statement Regarding Roma Community

Manifestation de Roms à Paris en 2007 photo Philippe Leroyer licence creative commons

 “Stop the Raids” Roma protest in Paris – photo by Philippe Leroyer – creative commons license 3.0

The statement from the interior minister of France Manuel Valls gave new life to the tense relationship of France with the Roma community. Mr Valls said on France Inter radio [fr] on September 24 :

ces populations ont des modes de vie extrêmement différents des nôtres et qui sont évidemment en confrontation [avec les populations locales]”.

This community has a way of life that is very different from ours and their way is clearly at odds with the way of life of their neighbors.

The statement got plenty of reactions from the francophone community on twitter, some with a hint of sarcasm :

Roma people are the reasons for all of our misfortunes. It's because of them that more than 25% of youngsters in Europe are unemployed.

These families are caught between a rock and hard place: a declining Europe that rejects them and the mob that is getting richer

On a subject that was already quite sensitive for Human rights in France, the Minister's statement got him a warning from the Council of Europe:

Ce débat perpétue une tendance inquiétante vers une rhétorique anti-roms discriminatoire et incendiaire, et risque de prendre un virage dangereux avec les prochaines élections municipales et européennes.”

This debate is taking a worrisome path towards a narrative hostile and discriminatory towards the Roma community. It might also take a turn for the worse during the next European parliamentary and municipal elections.

Eastern Europeans to Boost UK IT Industry

The UK labour movement restrictions placed several years ago to prevent migrants from Romania and Bulgaria from moving permanently and seeking employment in the UK will be lifted on January 1, 2014. Some predict large migrations of workers from these two countries, among the poorest in the European Union, while others say that migrations will be so small they will barely be felt and many emphasize the fact that Romania has a growing, innovative IT industry that will also benefit the British IT industry. Other Eastern European countries have also helped boost the UK's thriving IT industry in the recent past, such as Estonia, Lithuania, Slovenia and more.

Hello Spring, Goodbye Evil Eye

File:Martenitsa E5.jpg

Martenitsas on a blossoming tree.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Μάρτης [el], мартеница [bg], мартинка [mk], mărțișor [ru]…however you call it, an ancient tradition [el] with multiple variations that takes place in the Balkans. So, weave your red-and-white threads for protection against the “evil eye” or to welcome Spring!


The Romanian-Hungarian “War of the Flags”

Hungarian Spectrum writes about the ongoing diplomatic confrontation between Romania and Hungary, sparked by the Romanian authorities’ ban on flying the flag of the Székely Land, an ethnic Hungarian enclave currently demanding territorial autonomy within Romania.

Romania's General Election Results “As Expected”

The Economist's Eastern Approaches and Bucharest Life comment on the results of the Dec. 9 parliamentary elections in Romania.

Albania: Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival

A poster for the Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival 2012.

The Balkans Beyond Borders Short Film Festival 2012 opens in Tirana today. This is the third time that the festival is being held; this year's theme is “TALK TO ME – multilingualism and communication”; the program of the three-day event is here.

Romania: Towards A European Spring?

Gabriela Ionita of Power&Politics World summarizes ongoing anti-government protests in Romania, draws parallels to the Arab spring, and asks if this is the start of a European wave of revolutions.

CEE: A Roundup on the Roma Issues

An anti-discrimination Roma flash mob/dance duel in Bucharest (video – here), and a report by Bulgarian Roma students on media coverage of Roma-related issues – at TOL's Roma Transitions blog. Education for the Roma children in the UK, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – at the Economist's Eastern Approaches blog. (Update: TOL's East of Center also has a post on “the Czech Republic’s segregated education policy” for the Roma students.)

European Citizens Call for the Protection of Media Pluralism

For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and 'like' the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

Website: For updates follow @MediaECI on Twitter and ‘like’ the Facebook page European Initiative for Media Pluralism.

“European institutions should safeguard the right to free, independent and pluralistic information”. The quote, from the Media Initiative website, summarizes the main idea behind a pan-European campaign that aims at urging the European Commission to draft a Directive to protect Media Pluralism and Press Freedom.

The Media Initiative is running a European Citizens’ Initiative – a tool of participatory democracy “which allows civil society coalitions to collect online and offline one million signatures in at least 7 EU member states to present directly to the European Commission a proposal forming the base of an EU Directive, initiating a legislative process”. The petition is available in 15 languages and can be signed online:

Protecting media pluralism through partial harmonization of national rules on media ownership and transparency, conflicts of interest with political office and independence of media supervisory bodies.

A short video presents the campaign:

Hungary Criticized for Lenient Naturalization Policy

With unemployment and economic concern growing in the European Union, Hungary is among some of the EU member states being criticized by its Union neighbors for more lenient laws passed in 2011 for attaining Hungarian citizenship. Charles Richardson explains why on Crikey's blogs:

Hungary has been giving some grief to its neighbors with a new law that allows people to claim Hungarian citizenship if they have (a) a direct ancestor who was a Hungarian citizen and (b) a basic knowledge of the Hungarian language. Apparently the latter requirement is being leniently interpreted.[…]

Two things make this more controversial than it might sound. One is that substantial chunks of Hungary’s neighbors were, at times in the last century, Hungarian territory. That means that a lot of Serbs, Slovaks, Romanians and Ukrainians are potential claimants, and it may make some of those neighbors worry about whether Hungary’s leaders have really given up the dream of recreating the “Great Hungary” that existed prior to 1920.[…]

The BBC reports that more than half a million people have taken advantage of the new law since it came into effect at the beginning of 2011, with about 100,000 from Serbia alone.

Bucharest, Not Budapest: A Chocolate Bar Explains the Difference

The capitals of Romania and Hungary, Bucharest and Budapest, respectively, are so often confused that those unfamiliar with the region often book airplane tickets to Bucharest, when their intention is to get to Budapest and vice-versa. In fact, 400 soccer fans from Spain chartered a flight last year to the 2012 Europa League Final in Budapest. Their only problem was that the actual final was in Bucharest.

Bucharest, Not Budapest; one of the official images of the ROM chocolate advertising campaign.

Bucharest, Not Budapest; one of the official images of the ROM chocolate advertising campaign.


Running 1,000 Miles for Europe's Trafficked Children

Run For Love 1000

This month, Rob Martineau, Tom Stancliffe, and Guy Hacking are running 1,000 miles from Odessa to Dubrovnik, via Ukraine, Moldova, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Croatia, as part of the Run For Love 1000 campaign, whose aim is to raise funds for Love146, a UK charity that “gives care and hope to trafficked children, and to raise awareness of the scale of human trafficking across Europe.” Follow their run on the RFL1000 website, on Facebook, and on Twitter; support the runners by donating here (215 donations have been made so far, with nearly £12,500 raised).

E-Journal on Balkan History and Archaeology


Haemus journal Vol.1 (2012)


Europe's Frozen Conflicts

Black Sea News publishes Natalya Belitser's paper [en] – “Transnistrian Conflict: State of Affairs and Prospects of Settlement” – written for the international conference on “frozen conflicts” in Europe, which was held in September 2012 in Bled, Slovenia (via Andrei Klimenko).

“Romania’s Non-Election”

Romania's general election is scheduled to take place on Dec. 9. Bucharest Life notes that “this has been the most lacklustre Romanian election campaign since 1990″ and that “it’s not the outcome of the election that we need to pay attention to, it’s the outcome of the outcome”:

[…] Given how boring the campaign itself has been, the week or two after the election could be fun.


Romania: “Church and State”

At, Luke Dale-Harris writes about the Romanian Orthodox Church's “threatening influence on democracy in the country.”

Romania: “Revolution of Decency”

Power & Politics World reports on the protests in Romania, sparked by budget cuts and the resignation of deputy health minister Raed Arafat. Csíkszereda Musings writes about Raed Arafat and the government's policies: “Basescu and his government seem hell bent on using the excuse of ‘austerity’ to destroy education, healthcare and pretty much everything else that the country actually needs.” GV's Ruslan Trad is posting links to media reports on the protests on the GV-CEE Facebook page.

CEE: “Spotted by Locals”

Spotted by Locals: Experience cities like a local features a few dozen locations, including CEE cities of Belgrade, Bucharest, Budapest, Krakow, Ljubljana, Prague, Riga, Sofia, Tallinn, Vilnius, Warsaw, and Zagreb. A random sample post from Zagreb, Croatia: Hrelić Flea Market – The Aleph of Zagreb; from Bucharest, Romania: The Haunted House – Armenian Neighbourhood; from Sofia, Bulgaria: Nissim – A True Old-School Bookstore.

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