We’ve reported repeatedly on the plight of Europe’s Roma, Sinti, and Traveler peoples — collectively often called Gypsies.
Both the governments of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi relied on whipping up anti-Roma sentiment to distract voters from their roles in creating the economic woes sweeping their countries.
And we have especially disturbing reports from Germany and Eastern Europe, while we close with some of the finest musicianship you’ll ever hear.
Pandering to the political base
While Berlusconi is gone, Sarkozy remains committed to xenophobia, targeting both Muslims and the Roma. Most recently, he’s declared that “we have too many foreigners,” a bit of baiting that plays well with his conservative base.
So would Sarkozy’s leading rival in the upcoming presidential election mean better times for the Roma?
Antoine Lerougetel of World Socialist Web Site reported on the stark reality on 24 February:
In a February 12 interview on Canal Plus TV, François Hollande, Socialist Party candidate for president in the upcoming elections, proposed as a “solution” to the presence in France of Roma European Union (EU) citizens “the creation of camps … to accommodate them”.
The association of a “solution” in relation to specific racial groups with special camps can only bring to mind the period of Nazi rule in Europe, during which not only Jews and homosexuals, but also Roma and gypsies were rounded up and sent to extermination camps. This was not lost on many French people.
Hollande called for the establishment of “European rules to avoid our experiencing this constant to and fro [of the Roma]. Let there be camps that we can decide on, that is, to avoid these people settling just anywhere … [to] enable these people to go back to Romania … and not then return to France”.
Put more concretely, the Roma would be rounded up, and after their improvised encampments were broken up, they would be sent back to Romania, the same policy the present right-wing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy is pursuing.
International Roma Day riots
Sunday was International Roma Day, an annual event created in 1990 and recognized by an increasing number of governments around the globe.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even had her own announcement to mark Friday’s events.
But in Belgrade, the day was just another excuse for violence by the Serbian racist right.
International Roma Day coincided with racist clashes in Belgrade over the relocation of Roma from a shanty town in central Belgrade to state-sponsored container camp in a suburb.
Residents of suburban Resnik protested over the relocation of Roma to their community, where they would live in containers provided by the government. Local authorities said that if the government doesn’t drop the plans, they would organise a blockade of a nearby railway.
Serbian police said 12 officers and two protestors were hurt in the clashes in Resnik on 8 April. About 20 protestors were arrested by police who were guarding the construction site.
Belgrade Mayor Dragan Đilas called the protest “racist”. “The same law applies for all and there will be no negotiations between Belgrade and the citizens of Resnik who refuse the relocation of Roma in their community,” he was quoted as saying.
As protests occurred in Resnik, celebrations were held to mark International Roma Day, organised by the Serbian Parliament in Belgrade.
Deputy Prime Minister Božidar Đelic’, who is also coordinator of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, said the government had decided to remove shanty towns from the capital and provide residents with new accommodation.
Germany’s sentiment recalls a bitter past
For Europe’s Roma and Sinti peoples, being targets of murderous violence has a long history.
But nothing compares to the campaign launched by Hitler’s Germany, a program of systematized slaughter in parallel with the Nazi murder campaign against Jews and the mentally ill.
While the Holocaust against Jews is widely remembered, that’s not the case with what the Roma call O Porrajmos, the devouring. Yet the intent was the same, to annihilate people from the face of a continent.
And while prejudice against Jews is widely and rightly condemned in Germany, rebuked whenever it appears, such is not the case with hatred expressed against the Sinti and Roma — an attitude still prevalent among a large minority of the German population.
From Deutsche Welle’s Andrea Grunau:
According to polls conducted by conflict researcher Wilhelm Heitmeyer, some 44 percent of the German population believe that Sinti and Roma have a tendency to criminal conduct. Four out of 10 say it is a problem for them to have Sinti and Roma nearby. And yet, say Heitmeyer and other researchers, the respondents are not likely to know any members of the minority they dislike so much.
That’s typical for what scientists call antiziganism, or anti-Romanyism. It is an attitude not based on individual experience, says Berlin political scientist Markus End, but on projections by the surrounding population. “You can have antiziganist beliefs without ever having had any personal contact with people who you perceive as being ‘gypsies.’ ” For centuries, Sinti and Roma have been stereotyped as homeless, lazy, or criminal, clichés repeated by the media today.
The German government’s anti-discrimination agency admits that “racist slogans against Sinti and Roma are still common in Germany.” Jugendschutz.net, an initiative lobbying for the protection of children’s rights online, has analyzed antiziganism on the internet and found that often, platforms like Facebook and YouTube are used to spread racist rants and murder threats.
German rightwing extremists actively agitate against Romanis online. Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, says he is particularly worried about a neo-Nazi forum where members openly call for a “special treatment” for Romanis. This term was used by the Nazis to conceal their real intention of murdering minorities.
And Roma Buzz has more on Germany’s Roma and Sinti population, including a surprising number:
There are an estimated 120,000 Sinti and Roma in Germany, with some 70,000 of them having the German passport. This makes them the largest ethnic minority group in the country.
Sinti and Roma are originally from Northwest-India. Some 600 to 800 years ago, they migrated to Europe in groups. The Sinti, a sub-group of the Romanis, came to German-speaking regions, to what is today Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The groups who moved to eastern and southeastern Europe call themselves Romani and came to Germany about a hundred years ago.
For centuries, Sinti and Roma were victims of persecution, which culminated under Nazi rule, when more than 500,000 people were killed in concentration camps. And Sinti and Roma often face discrimination and racism today.
Common stereotypes include the perception that Sinti and Roma live in caravans and move from town to town as a “travelling people.” The reality is quite different, however, with the majority leading a normal life with a permanent place of residence and normal jobs.
In the 1990s, civil war in the former Yugoslavia caused some 50,000 Romani to seek refuge in Germany, among them 20,000 children. Many are still in refugee camps where living conditions are very basic, and they’re constantly threatened with deportation. Often, their official status doesn’t go beyond being merely ‘tolerated’ (geduldet), which means they are not allowed to work or attend language classes and integration courses.
The young generation’s situation is particularly explosive. Absenteeism from school is high among teenagers, and many leave school without a qualification. The German Council of Sinti and Roma has been drawing attention to the alarmingly low level of education and has been calling for a national action plan to improve education among Sinti and Roma.
Anti-Roma prejudice widespread in Eastern Europe
Discrimination against the Roma and Sinti isn’t restricted to France, Germany, and Italy, as Alexandra Scherle and Sasko Dimevski report for Deutsche Welle:
Macedonia plans to punish Roma who seek to apply for asylum in the EU. Behind this curb on freedom of travel are warnings from Brussels threatening Skopje’s EU aspirations.
Since December 2009, citizens of Serbia and Macedonia no longer need a visa to travel to the European Union. Many Roma from those countries see this as a chance for a better life in the West. The flow of Roma immigrants to the EU has been steadily on the rise and while many of them apply for asylum once in the EU, none has actually been recognized as a political refugee.
To stem this exodus of their Roma population, the government in Macedonia has now agreed no a package of measures. “It is intended to lower the number of those applying for asylum,” Spiro Ristovski, Macedonian minister for labor and social policies said.
One of the measures planned is to block those from leaving the to country who already once tried to leave without proper documents. So called asylum abuse is to be crimialized. Whoever returns after having their asylum application turned down, will be registered on a central list which will be available to border control authorities. Those people too can then be blocked from leaving the country again.
And from Human Rights Europe, a report on anti-Roma sentiment in the Czech Republic:
A new report welcomes the Czech Republic’s general climate of tolerance towards minorities but deplores the “persisting prejudice” against the country’s Roma community.
Today’s publication of the findings of the Advisory Committee to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM), sets out the support offered to the country’s minority groups and evaluates the authorities’ embrace of anti-discrimination legislation.
Despite government efforts to combat ‘Romaphobia,’ the report’s authors write that “negative attitudes and prejudice against Roma continue to persist in large segments of the Czech society.
“Anti-Roma rhetoric has been repeatedly used, including by public figures and some broadcasting and print media. The tolerance on the part of the authorities for inflammatory anti-Roma statements stimulates an attitude of impunity in which the far right extremist and neo-Nazi groups feel emboldened to stage anti-Roma marches designed to intimidate and to exclude them from mainstream Czech society. Legal action taken against these groups by the authorities, has thus far not been effective.”
The report’s authors highlight the fact that despite a government apology, Roma women, sterilized without their prior free and informed consent, have still to be compensated.
They also state that Roma children face “serious difficulties” within the education system. They now attend “practical schools” instead of “special schools,” where they are taught “on the basis of a reduced curriculum which does not give them access to higher educational levels.”
Massive unemployment for Slovenian Roma
The rate runs from between 90 percent jobless to 98 percent, and any Roma who owned any property have just lost any unemployment benefits, a doubly whammy if ever there was one.
From The Slovenia Times:
New social security legislation puts the Roma community in even worse conditions, as many unemployed Roma have been stripped of unemployment benefits as real estate owners, Forum of Roma City Councillors head Darko Rudaš said ahead of International Romani Day. He also complained about continuing segregation and discrimination.
According to estimates, only 2-10% of the Roma are employed, and it is very hard for the rest to get jobs with persisting prejudice about the Roma and the lack of new jobs, Rudaš noted.
Based on the 2011 real-estate census and the new social security legislation, which stepped into force in the beginning of 2012, social work centres are refusing unemployed Roma the benefits even for owning illegally built houses or sheds, he said.
Rudaš stressed that the basis for establishing ownership should be the land register and not the census, adding that the value of Roma buildings was assessed too high.
The parliamentary Petitions, Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission is said to discuss a number of Roma issues next week, including legal status of Roma settlements, which is a major obstacle for providing public infrastructure for these settlements.
“The law gives us some special rights, but in fact we do not even have the basic rights, like water and electricity supply,” Rudaš stressed.
Complaining about spatial segregation and discrimination, he added that even if a Roma family is socialised and wants to integrate itself in a regular settlement, they face huge prejudice and intolerance towards the Roma as neighbours.
More bad numbers for Europe’s Roma
Kate Aallen of Amnesty International reported on the plight of Europe’s Roma for Public Service Europe:
Numbering between 10 and 12 million people, the Roma are one of Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged minorities. On average – they have lower incomes, worse health, poorer housing, lower literacy rates and higher levels of unemployment than the rest of the population. In Ireland, life expectancy for male travellers is 61.7 years, around 15 years lower than the national average. In Kosovo, 97 per cent of Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians are unemployed. In Moldova, 59 per cent of Roma live in absolute poverty. In Slovakia, 70 per cent of Roma children are in institutional care. In Spain, poverty among the Roma community is 4.5 times higher than that among the rest of the Spanish population.
These are not simply consequences of poverty; they are the result of widespread, often systematic, discrimination and other human rights violations. They are, in particular, the result of prejudice – of centuries of societal, institutional and individual acts of discrimination, that have pushed the great majority of Roma to the very margins of society – and which are keeping them there. Sadly the last couple of years have also seen a significant rise of anti-Roma political parties. In Hungary, the far-right Jobbik party now has a large presence in parliament and they have organised several anti-Roma marches, including one of nearly 3,000 through the village of Gyöngyöspata, situated to the north east of Budapest.
Following the march, several vigilante groups now patrol the area harassing and intimidating Roma residents. The local authorities have at best shown disinterest. It is a disgrace that this behaviour has been allowed to continue not just in Hungary, not just in Romania, but across the whole of Europe.
The European Commission itself acknowledges the plight of the Roma:
There are approximately 10-12 million Roma in Europe (of which 6 million live in the EU). Many face prejudice, intolerance, discrimination and social exclusion in their daily lives. They are marginalised and live in very poor socio-economic conditions.
Madonna booed for taking up their cause
The Associated Press reported on what happened last week when one American pop star took the stage in Bucharest, Romania and defended the Roma:
At first, fans politely applauded the Roma performers sharing a stage with Madonna. Then the pop star condemned widespread discrimination against Roma, or Gypsies — and the cheers gave way to jeers.
The sharp mood change that swept the crowd of 60,000, who had packed a park for Wednesday night’s concert, underscores how prejudice against Gypsies remains deeply entrenched across Eastern Europe.
A short video account of O Porrajmos
From vlogger RomaniUnited, a brief account of O Porrajmos, the devouring, as the Sinti and Roma people called the campaign of annihilation carried out by the Nazis during World War II, the other Holocaust which has been largely ignored:
A 186-minute video interview with German-born Roma Porrajmos survivor Julia Lentini conducted by the USC Shoah Foundation Institute is posted here.
Django Reinhardt’s magical legacy
Finally, no post about Europe’s Roma would be complete without an homage to one of the greatest artists the Continent’s given us, Django Reinhardt.
Born in a caravan [horse-drawn wagon] to a Roma family, Reinhardt was severely burned in a fair, leaving him with the use of only two fingers and a thumb on his right hand — making his guitar artistry all the more remarkable.
He became a legend in Paris, and set a standard modern guitarists still strive to reach.
We close with three offerings.
Paris Blues [and catch the Chopin homage]:
Swing 39, a work of pure joy: