Monday, May 7, 2012
ROMANI IN EUROPE
Can Roma (“gypsies”) from “liberal, democratic, EU countries” really be refugees, fleeing persecution? If I were a Roma person living in Central Europe I know I would not feel safe.
Last year, while we were filming the documentary Never Come Back, Malcolm Hamilton and I visited Roma enclaves in the Czech Republic and Hungary. A first glance, it seemed to us that those communities were not that different from poor and underserviced First Nations communities in Canada.
But make no mistake about it: The challenge the Central European Roma face is not merely one of poverty, fuelled by well-documented discrimination in housing to employment and education.
The far bigger challenge is the constant threat of intimidation and violence from a growing crew of aggressive neo-Nazi and skinheads.
The openly neo-Nazi JOBBIK (“Movement for a Better Hungary”) party currently has 47 seats in parliament. It received nearly a million out of about seven million votes at the last election, in 2010.
In our film Never Come Back we show a recent JOBBIK television commercial that depicts the Roma as annoying mosquitoes bothering upstanding “white” Hungarians.
The ad culminates with JOBBIK’s leader slapping a mosquito. The message is clear: Vote for JOBBIK and we will deal firmly with the “Gypsy problem.”
Never Come Back also depicts a typical JOBBIK torchlight parade through a Roma neighbourhood. The marchers shout epithets and insults at the “dirty Gypsies.” There is nothing subtle about their hatred or their intent to intimidate.
In preparing our film, we sought the insights of Hungarian sociologist Vera Messing, whom the Canadian government had consulted in 2002.
A decade ago, Messing could honestly report a measure of progress in the human rights and economic situation of Hungary’s Roma.
Today, Messing wishes the Canadian government would again solicit her views. The situation for the Roma has significantly deteriorated, in her expert opinion.
“In 2002,” Vera Messing told us, “there were anti-Roma feelings, but it was not politically correct to express and Roma people were not physically threatened.
“Now, that has unfortunately changed. So, one and a half years ago, there was a series of killings motivated by racial hatred . . . And although the perpetrators were found and now are in front of the court . . . even today anti-Roma militia are allowed to march and threaten people in Roma villages . . . the police do not intervene . . . And Roma people feel fear . . . ”
In Hungary, we visited the village of Gyöngyöspata, where an armed militia occupied the Roma neighbourhood for two weeks in 2011, freely marching into people’s homes and uttering death threats. The police stood by while the local “whites” generally supported the militia. One local man told us the Roma had to be “taught a lesson.”
“They have to learn that they are not the majority here!”
Some of the Roma from Gyöngyöspata have made their way to Canada, and are now seeking refugee status. These are the people some Canadian politicians have called “bogus refugees.”
When it comes to the Roma, it seems that some Canadians have bought into negative European stereotypes.
Based on our experience, those stereotypes are ridiculous. The hundreds of Roma Malcolm Hamilton and I met are good people. A large proportion of the Roma who have come to Canada are not on welfare. They are either working or in school.
The Roma tell us they are grateful to have found, in Canada, a country where diversity is a part of the national identity.
Now, they are bewildered by the fact that some politicians have turned against them.
Last year, while we were filming in the Hamilton Roma community, there was a conference on anti-Semitism taking place in Ottawa. Knowing I am Jewish, a number of Roma asked me: “Could you explain why the government holds conferences for your people, while for us — also victims of the Holocaust — there are deportations?”
I wish I had an answer.
Karl Nerenberg produced and co-directed the film Never Come Back, which will be broadcast on OMNI-1 TV on Sunday May 6 at 9 p.m. in Ontario and 10 p.m. in B.C.
Posted by Morgan at 1:08 PM