Saturday, August 7, 2010



Europe’s shame: ethnic cleansing ignored
BY Jan Lansman

Across Europe, eight million Romani citizens of the EU are subject to systematic segregation and persecution that is similar to the treatment of Jews in the first months of Nazi rule. It is to Europe’s shame that it is largely ignored by western media and governments alike — the interest they did show in the run up to the enlargement of the EU into east and central Europe seems to have been motivated only by the desire to prevent Romani migration to seek asylum in the West. In recent months, the following events have taken place in western Europe:

■In France, following an incident in western France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced the systematic eviction of French Travellers and migrant Roma from their homes and the expulsion of Romani EU citizens from France in spite of, say the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), both its own law on travellers’ rights and the EU Directive on freedom of movement.

■In Denmark, the mass arrest and deportation of 23 EU citizens of Romani origin in Copenhagen. Danish newspaper Politikien reports that Minister of Justice, Lars Barfoed, has promised “that the police will do everything possible to get criminals Roma expelled” but Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen, has asked “that the government do more to deport Romani criminals“. These have been condemned by opposition Radical and Unity List parties.

■In Portugal, widespread housing-related injustices including problems of access to social housing, substandard quality of housing, lack of access to basic utilities, residential segregation of Romani communities and other systemic violations of the right to housing are a violation of Portugal’s obligations under the European Social Charter according to ERRC and supported by Amnesty International.

■In Croatia, based on a judgement of the European Court of Human Rights, the unlawful segregation of Romani children into separate classes in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

■In Italy, continuing widespread harrassment and evictions of Roma including at least 61 forced evictions in Milan alone between January and April this year. The previous history of Berlusconi’s campaign of persecution is widely documented.

Roma have been socially marginalized for centuries: Tony Judt (in Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945) says of the Roma that:

at the end of the twentieth century…. the prejudice and abuse to which they were exposed was common to every country in which they lived (not to mention places like Britain to which they were forbidden entry).”

They remain today about as impoverished, in relative terms at least, as they were in 1919. However, the Roma are now recognised by international governmental organisations such as the World Bank as “Europe’s largest and most vulnerable minority”. The EU Commission, in the context of the admission of those states with the largest concentrations of Romani inhabitants, did accept the culpability of governments by admitting
a failure of existing policies within both … the ‘old’ Member States and the new Member States to address adequately discrimination against these communities and to promote their social inclusion.”

Furthermore, Václav Havel, the Czech President, noted that the treatment of the Roma was a “litmus test” of a civil society.

The Roma have endured several distinct waves of persecution since the Treaty of Versailles established international legal protection of minority (i.e. collective) rights in 1919. The Roma, like the Jews, enjoyed no protection in practice from oppressive and segragationist policies of right-wing governments across Europe and in the Second World War suffered in the Porrajmos (Romani holocaust) a similar if less complete “final solution”. After the war, the focus of the new international human rights regime on individual rather than collective rights was of little benefit to Roma.

During the Cold War, the eighty per-cent of the Roma who lived in Soviet-bloc countries enjoyed improved access to health, education, housing and employment combined with coercive polices aimed at forced assimilation but relative deprivation, discrimination and even overt racism persisted. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, resentment about Romani welfare dependency fuelled new levels of racism, harrassment and discrimination, and Roma were hard hit by the painful transition to capitalism.

The accession of these countries to the EU in or after 2004, combined with a new international interest in minority rights as a result of the break-up of the USSR and Yugoslavia, did lead to a new recognition of the plight of the Roma, investment in NGOs devoted to advocacy about Romani rights and significant pressure on accession governments to clean up their act. Even after accession, when the leverage on these governments diminished, there has been continued investment in social inclusion programmes and an encouraging growth in Romani self-organisation.

However, the real motivation for the interest by western european governments in Romani rights in the east was the desire to prevent Romani migration to the west. The British government revealed this in 2001, for example, by placing immigration officers at Prague Airport to screen all passengers travelling to the UK. The aim was to detect people who wanted to claim asylum in the UK and prevent them from travelling. Statistics showed that Roma were 400 times more likely to be refused entry to the UK than non-Roma. In December 2004, the Law Lords ruled that the government had acted unlawfully. Now, many western governments have shifted, it seems, from (feigned) interest in Romani rights to a more direct and more sinister approach.

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