Wednesday, October 7, 2009




Member United Nation (ECO-SOC, No EE-3377) Social Consultative Status (NGO No D9424)



Warsaw , 28 September – 9 October 2009

The Roma Question

Migration and Countries

Roma have lived in Europe for centuries, and it goes without saying that they are true Europeans. When they have arrived, most nations had not existed and the concept of a country as a nation had not existed.

Roma have lived for centuries in Europe without borders yet with a culture that they have not forsaken and with their own language and traditions. Having a different culture within a country does not mean that the person is not a citizen of his country. They are actual citizens of the countries they live in, often proud ones, they have papers, pay their taxes, work and, in fact, they are like everyone else.

Roma are citizens. They have the same duties and rights as others in the same country.

But what does it mean in the reality? Are they citizens or are they discriminated? There is little need to speak about the actual events, to speak about the facts in Europe or about the nature of the issues and social problems. It would be futile to speak about respecting the countries’ constitutions and laws or about applying the recommendations and directives of the European Union.

The question is a different one. One always speaks about the Roma problem, but what about the problem that the European nations seem to have regarding the Roma? That, after more than a thousand years, the Europe seems to have an issue with a transnational minority? Are European nations only doing a lip service to the principle of diversity and integration? Or are they just engaged in alibi exercises while thinking that Roma are actually an “issue”?

In most countries, where Roma live side by side with the general population, the question is as follows - what are the governments doing to further integration and improve the situation? Which programs are they engaged in? We have to remain critical and keep an open eye for those misbegotten policies and programs that existed and, unfortunately, continue to exist.

The currently burning question, especially after the events in Italy , is why the Roma immigrate to other countries. An actual monitoring and thorough analysis is required, as, de facto, the Roma are no less and no more mobile than the rest of the population. Both Roma and non-Roma seek places to make their life better, and the places to make the life of their children better than it was at the places they used to live in.

The Roma are no more “mobile” than other Europeans. There is a small percentage of the Roma, who have been traditionally travelling, but the vast majority was always sedentary, and so it was for centuries. Looking backwards into the European history, we easily see that it is a human constant to seek a better place, a better life. After all, would we have Germans, Slavs, and many other Europeans in nowadays Europe if they had not migrated away from their original homes? Not to mention wars and other extreme situations that force or forced entire populations to migrate. The last example thereof is the war in Kosovo that de facto cleaned the country of its Roma population.

Unfortunately, nationalism, especially the thoughts that are profoundly ingrained nowadays in Europe, that a nation is one “race”, have found their expression in extremism, populism, in various movements such as the Skinheads and the Neo-Nazi groups. In such states, that have defined a long and, often, a false “ethnic” line, the Roma have no place. This phenomenon is not limited to Europe but can also be seen in other countries, such as the USA and Canada .

Most European nations do not even attempt to improve the situation. To improve the general situation of the Roma or even to make them “feel” at home is often an empty promise. The politics towards the largest European minority is often improvised, passive or at most reactive, and most of all, populist. It seems that the Roma are almost perceived as a threat, and that being “different” is a threat to their country. Does the population fear integration? Do they fear that the Roma could take their jobs? Is this the reason why many countries tend to send the Roma to “special” schools (read: schools for mentally retarded)?

Actually, one should create programs not only for the Roma, but mainly for the general population, to help them realise that their myths about country and nation are actual myths that prevent true integration of all minorities within one country. The barrier between the population and the Roma has to be broken.

What countries are actually furthering the acceptance and integration of Roma or the integration of people with a different culture? They are neither demons nor bandits, they are citizens.

On the Roma part, the Roma need to know and believe that the cultural differences and old prejudices are not preventing them from being citizens of the countries they live in. Should this belief in integration fail, then Europe will be facing a major migration in the coming years.

Europe and the Roma Question

At a time of many nations' integration within Europe, especially those of the Eastern and the South Eastern Europe , when the people are being told they are Europeans, subjects to the same rule of law, to the same rules, one should not forget that the Roma are Europeans. They are such because this is their history, and as well because they are citizens of the countries they live in.

There are member countries in the European Union, though, who are advocating the “identification” of the Roma in their passports. Are we going towards a Europe where the laws and freedoms are only valid for the general population but not for selected minorities? Is it not this reminiscent of Apartheid, of segregation or of something worse? That is certainly not written anywhere in the laws.

Practically, however, the European law is not respected by the European countries. What else can one say when a European citizen from Romania or Bulgaria , someone that stays in Italy currently, is being deported for the sole “crime” of being Romani? And what is the reaction of the European institutions to that?

Actually and rationally, these Roma migrants are not migrants. They are exercising their rights as European citizens. The rights to travel and to live, the right of establishment as enshrined in the European principles.

The Italian situation actually shows that these principles are trampled in total impunity by a European government, that their actual laws are being disregarded, and we, as the Roma, ask what the consequences of tolerating such behaviour are going to be for Europe .

Migration and EU Policies

European policies on migrations are written in many documents, and these policies should be respected, when the emigration is illegal also. There are means to control the illegal immigration from other countries; these means should be enforced and are enforced.

But who are the migrants in integrated Europe ? Are the Roma in Europe defined as migrants? Other Europeans in Europe are at least not perceived as such. Nobody (or nearly no one) says that other non-Roma dwelling in the EU are actual migrants. Migrants tend to be defined as people from non-EU countries who come to Europe . As such, the Roma should not be considered as migrants, for there is no legal basis for this, but rather they should be considered as the other Europeans are.

The discrimination arises from the fear of the “others”, of a people who are “different”, and is often based on stereotypes. Italy is again such an example, where the Roma are defined as “travellers”. This definition stems from the Mussolini times, from the 1930’s.

If Europe continues to define people through old and inaccurate stereotypes, if Europe continues to see the Roma as travellers, then, there are chances they will continue to look at them as illegal immigrants.

Migration, Language and Xenophobia

In countries defined (albeit often totally arbitrarily) by a race and culture, a different culture or language, is often perceived as a threat. This is natural, although one should bear in mind that these countries did not exist as such 200 years ago, and that in most cases, their languages where unified even more recently. Confronted with another culture, the reaction is often an open xenophobia.

When groups of people of a different culture settle in another country, the initial reaction is often the one of rejection. “We do not want them here”… The smaller is the country, the more strident is the reaction. This is understandable, for if one’s identity depends on ones appurtenance and culture, aliens are a threat.

Europe needs a thorough discussion and a thorough program to counter these tendencies. These tendencies are all too visible, for instance, when a few Roma speak Romanes in a public place. Those who do not understand almost immediately have a fear reaction, are identifying them as dangerous aliens. This is the situation, although we have many different languages in Europe and always had/have.

Not speaking the local language is a source of discrimination, be it at the airport, with the local authorities, but also when seeking a job. The new (i.e. post XIXth century nations) actually do not tolerate diversity and require their citizens to speak a unified language. Bound by one language, restricted by one culture, most people feel threatened by a different culture and language.

Therefore, education, more education, knowledge, openness, and respect to your own and other’s cultures needs to be furthered, especially in a global world as we know it nowadays. Without this, there is no better future, no chances of improvement.

This will require a political will, this will require changes, and without that, there will be no improvements.

Stanislaw Stankiewicz

President IRU


The Report of IRU President had been edited by Valery Novoselsky, Editor of Roma Virtual Network (RVN).

1 comment:

Tom VR said...

Thank you for this article.
God bless.