Monday, August 17, 2009
POLICY CENTER/ROMA AND MINORITIES
Europe’s dirty secret – the continuing rise of anti-Gypsyism
On the night of 2 August, 1944, as Soviet troops closed in, 2898 Romani men, women and children were brutally murdered inside gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camps. Although accurate statistics are not available, in total the Roma victims of the Holocaust likely number in the hundreds of thousands. This figure includes 200 Romani children murdered in Buchenwald, Germany, in 1940 as part of a research experiment on the efficiency of the Crystal B gas later employed in the gas chambers.
On 2 August, 2009 (65 years later – in a day and age when the events of the Holocaust are widely regarded as a dark shadow on the history of humanity), Ms Maria Balog, a Romani woman from the Hungarian town of Kisléta, became the latest victim in a relentless killing spree targeting Roma in Hungary. The killing in Hungary started in 2008 and Ms Balog was the sixth victim.
In Romania, just a day before the killing in Hungary, two Romanians in their early 20s, students of medicine at the University of Timisoara, killed and hacked to pieces a 65-year-old Romani man. They will be duly prosecuted for their crime, but the public has taken little notice. Experts in ethnic relations predict, considering current inter-ethnic tensions, that if a similar crime had been perpetrated by two young Roma against an elderly Romanian man, the result would likely have been an ethnically motivated lynching.
In Sanmartin, Romania, less violent incidents than the above mentioned killing, perpetrated by Roma in May and June 2009, resulted in mob violence which forced Roma to flee their houses and take refuge in the nearby forests. One Roma house was set on fire and other Roma houses and properties were vandalized; several other houses were demolished by the mayor in the following days. On 10 July, in the nearby village of Sancraieni, another Roma house was set on fire. The anti-Roma pogroms of the early 1990s, which saw a number of Roma lynched by angry mobs and hundreds of Roma houses burned or destroyed, seem to be once again looming in Transylvania.
Last year, Italy was the scene of a number of serious incidents targeting Roma. In May 2008, Molotov cocktails were thrown into Romani camps in Milan and Novara, and assailants burned the Ponticelli Romani settlement in Naples to the ground, causing the approximately 800 residents to flee, while Italians stood by and cheered. On the day of the arson attacks on the Ponticelli settlement, RAI television showed Italians in the area screaming, “Roma out!” This was broadcast before the police were alerted to the riot. In June, Italian media reported that a settlement of around 100 Romanian Roma in Catania, Sicily had been attacked and burned to the ground. During the year a number of other violent incidents took place in Italy, including the stabbing of an undercover Italian reporter who passed himself off as Roma.
During spring 2009, an angry mob forced Roma in Ireland to take refugee in a church. Hundreds of Roma returned to Romania fearing for their lives.
On the internet today, tens of thousands of postings call for the death, sterilisation or forced expulsion of Roma, in most, if not all, of the EU languages. Incidents of hate speech targeting Roma involving local, national and EU politicians are often reported but rarely produce any reaction.
What has been the reaction of governments to this clearly grave situation?
Member states, struggling with a significant rise in extremism, avoid serious discussion of anti-Gypsyism or action to improve the social inclusion of Roma. Prioritising such actions would likely amount to political suicide for any party in power. National politicians tend to push ethnic issues towards Brussels, perceiving this as an easy escape. This has been the main strategy of countries confronted with high levels of anti-Gypsyism such as Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
And the response from the European Union?
Despite blaring warning signals, the EU does not seem to grasp the danger and has failed to take efficient measures to prevent a possibly explosive inter-ethnic conflict. It seems stuck in its usual ineffective small-talk and conferencing. Three times in the last two years, the EU Council made some noise suggesting, in a rather ambiguous manner, that something should be done about the Roma. But the European Commission is busy trying to pass the burden of dealing with racism and possible inter-ethnic conflict back to member states. The Commission does not seem ready to take simple but efficient measures such as creating inside structures capable of dealing with the issues. The activities of the Interservice Groups on Racism and on Roma are unknown, and at best limited in concrete results. The blunt condemnation of anti-Gypsyism by Commissioner for Employment and Social Affairs Vladimir Spidla, although exceptional, had not led to any measures enabling sustainable changes at the EU level.
With a new Commission in place (probably by January 2010) and the departure of some key people within the Commission, the much hailed and highly promising European Roma Platform, announced by EC President Barrosso during the first EU Roma Summit in September 2008, may turn out to be an empty shell. Promising initiatives in the past have often led to little more than window-dressing measures. We must acknowledge remarkable progress in the discourse of the Commission and the dedication and efforts of a handful of bureaucrats within the EC. Together, these put the Commission at the forefront of positive Roma initiatives in Europe. However even within the Commission there does not yet seem to be a clear idea on what the Platform might mean or do. The EU task-force against anti-Gypsyism has remained but a topic of discussion for the last four years. Although Roma are the most hated ethnic group in Europe, according to EU watch-dog the Fundamental Rights Agency, monitoring anti-Gypsyism remains an informal task for the Agency. Roma and Roma experts continue to be all but absent from EC structures. Support for Roma organisations monitoring anti-Gypsyism is also missing. Social inclusion of Roma is still treated superficially and reluctantly by the EU, despite a ground-breaking initiative forced on the EC by the European Parliament, which put five million Euros towards three pilot projects targeting different aspects of social inclusion. These projects are due to be implemented by early 2010. Although Roma are the most hated ethnic group in Europe, according to EU watch-dog the Fundamental Rights Agency, monitoring anti-Gypsyism remains an informal task for the Agency. Roma and Roma experts continue to be all but absent from EC structures. Support for Roma organisations monitoring anti-Gypsyism is also missing. Social inclusion of Roma is still treated superficially and reluctantly by the EU, despite a ground-breaking initiative forced on the EC by the European Parliament, which put five million Euros towards three pilot projects targeting different aspects of social inclusion. These projects are due to be implemented by early 2010.
It is interesting that the only rapid - although still inadequate - EU response to a Roma-related issue in recent years has addressed the migration of Roma within member states. Movement of Roma, although limited, is highly visible on the streets of EU capitals such as Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Geneva and Helsinki, where some hundreds of Roma beg. This visible presence does nothing but increase anti-Gypsyism and the social exclusion of Roma.
Europe has an abysmal record in preventing inter-ethnic conflict. Perhaps it is time to challenge this trend and address the rampant and widespread European anti-Gypsyism. An effective European Task-Force against anti-Gypsyism may be the solution. To avoid the nightmare of yet another inter-ethnic conflict, Europe needs not just to wake up, but to stand up against anything which might lead to a repeat of Kosovo. Otherwise, what is now a “dirty little secret” in an otherwise a quite respectable European record of respect for human rights can become a nightmare.
Posted by Morgan at 10:20 AM