Robert Rustem: “Europe is threatened by a resurgence of intolerance”
What will governments do now that they have Thomas Hammarberg’s comprehensive study of Europe’s decades-long crime wave against Roma and Traveller communities?
Surely, the Commissioner for Human Rights’ report has removed any doubt as to the industrial scale of anti-gipsyism in Europe and the staggering breadth of its impact.
At last, the ghastly ‘back to the future’ reality of people hounded from one place to the next, forced to live at the margins of society, refused basic civil rights and blamed for being the authors of their own misfortune, is revealed for all to see. It can no longer be wished away, denied, nor excused.
Of course, for the affected communities, Hammarberg’s findings are merely a confirmation of the myriad strange and brutal cruelties inflicted on Roma and Travellers on an almost daily basis.
It seems no longer newsworthy to record that Roma and Travellers “remain far behind others in education, employment and access to decent housing and health.”
Nonchalant shrugs accompany the declaration that the average life span of Roma and Travellers is shorter and their infant mortality rates are higher than other groups.
Yet, the picture of deep-seated bitterness and contempt towards Roma and Travellers that emerges from Hammarberg’s thorough investigation of more than 250 pages, blows away effortlessly any sense of complacency.
What is underlined boldly in this publication is the risible notion that all of Europe’s citizens enjoy human rights and protection under the law.
The observation that “as many as 90 000 women may have been sterilised on the territory of the former Czechoslovakia since the beginning of the 1980s,” is shocking.
The examples of race-hate terror and violence catalogued in the report make for grim reading and are a reminder to all that we turn a blind eye to ‘Romaphobia’ at our peril. Recent history shows all too clearly what can happen when the virus of ethnic hatred is allowed to flourish without challenge.
This is the warning of the Hammarberg report that should resound among the political elites in the Council of Europe’s member states. The publication of this report should smash the political consensus that has accompanied the raft of tragi-comic gestures and wasteful policies that represent much of the national and international response to ‘the Roma question.’
Truth commissions, as suggested by Hammarberg, to establish “the historical facts concerning the atrocities committed against the Roma people,” are but the start of a long road towards improvement.
Anti-gipsyism can be defeated but as Hammarberg makes clear, Europe is threatened once again by a resurgence of intolerance that may engulf us all. The forces now ranged against Roma communities, if left unchecked, could seek a defining conflict with the guardians of democracy and the rule of law also.
All who believe in human rights, freedom and Europe’s future, be they Roma or non-Roma, face a common danger, sign-posted by Thomas Hammarberg’s report.
We are all in this together.