Thursday, January 5, 2012




Just days into a new year and already it seems that there is little prospect of a change to the treatment of Europe’s Roma people.

News reports suggest that tensions are running high in the Czech Republic town of Tanvald after two Roma men were gunned down in the early hours of 1 January.

The shooting came just three weeks after an angry mob carried out an arson attack on a Roma camp in Turin, Italy. This followed a 16-year-old girl’s complaint that she had been “raped by Gypsies.” Although the teenager later confessed that the story was a complete fabrication, it was, by then, much too late for the chastened Roma community.

There were other such ‘incidents,’ in 2011, their occurrence explained away neatly by references to Europe’s escalating financial crisis, the re-emergence of far right extremism or the deepening sense of grievance among many and their isolation from mainstream politics.

This shorthand for political failure remained seductive even as the mainstream nature of anti-Roma violence in many parts of Europe became so obvious that it could no longer be plausibly denied. A rising tide of aggression in Europe threatens the security of Roma and non-Roma alike and withers the learned policy documents, anti-discrimination projects and myriad initiatives to lift Roma people out of poverty.

Even those who abhor this violence can fall victim to the callous pieties which abet hatred.

Rather than accept that the condition of millions of Roma people is a shocking example of 21st century apartheid in Europe, some continue to insist that Roma communities must do more to help themselves. The Roma must ‘clean house’ goes their mantra, as if the key to overcoming centuries of exclusion is a cheery disposition and a more positive mindset.

In this solution-free zone, Roma outrage at the intellectual dishonesty of political leaders, is as palpable as the contempt for civil society organisations which ignore the necessity of Roma contributions to improvement programmes in Roma communities.

Surely, in 2012, there can be no further confusion – deliberate or otherwise – in the ‘change strategies’ that should be pursued by governments and Roma communities.

Inequality and rigorously-enforced separate development are not accidents of social history, so great that they confound intelligence and the desire for remedy. They can be challenged and defeated only through sustained effort and the consistent application of skilled political leadership.

The road to progress begins with governments finally agreeing to treat Roma people as citizens and not as refugees.

The police must act immediately to protect Roma people wherever they live. Criminal justice system blind-eyes for anti-Roma ‘vigilantes’ must end.

Above all, Roma communities ask for nothing less than the application of all anti-discrimination laws, adherence to the standards established by the Council of Europe and respect for the European Convention on Human Rights.

In the coming months, the European Roma and Travellers Forum will use its access to decision-makers to push for progress on all of these fronts.

The Roma insistence on justice and full citizenship, complete with the rights and responsibilities enjoyed by all, can no longer be delayed nor denied.

Change will come only when governments and civil society organisations make a complete break with the failed approaches of the past.

Robert Rustem is the Executive Secretary of the European Roma and Travellers Forum
Nais tukai, thank you Robert.

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