Monday, June 11, 2012



It isn’t enough that neo-Nazis and right-wing (and not-so-right-wing) political leaders in European countries have attempted to score cheap political points during these years of economic crisis by making scapegoats of the continent’s most vulnerable minority, the Roma, among others.

Now we have a German-language magazine in one of Europe’s richest countries, Switzerland, dragging out a three-year-old file photo of a Roma boy who looks of kindergarten age pointing a gun at the lens of an Italian photographer

The headline of the article in Die Weltwoche: "The Roma Are Coming.” The gist: Roma families from Eastern Europe are fueling an increase in “crime tourism” in Switzerland.

The photo Die Weltwoche chose to run, ironically enough, is not of a Roma boy in Switzerland. (That’s obvious from the background.) The photo was taken in Kosovo, deep in the least-developed corner of the Balkans. At the time the photo was taken, the boy was living in a hovel on top of a trash heap outside the town of Gjakova. The gun was a toy.

Racial incitement against the Roma in Europe is not, unfortunately, a harmless, victimless misdeed. The image in Die Weltwoche is the kind of incitement that leads to very real injury and death. It leads to the serial killing of Roma by neo-Nazis, as occurred in Hungary just a few years ago. It leads to extremists throwing fire bombs into Roma houses, as happened in the Czech Republic. It leads to everyday people assuming that there is nothing wrong with efforts by the police in France, Italy, and Greece to expel Roma from the settlements they inhabit on the fringe of large cities as they struggle to make ends meet. It fuels the kind of prejudice that lets school administrators dump Roma kids into schools for the mentally disabled and get away with it despite court rulings and desist orders by Europe’s highest court of human rights.

More than 10 million Roma live in Europe and I am one of them. The prejudice and discrimination against us has roots going back centuries. It peaked with an extermination effort by Nazi Germany.
Die Weltwoche’s editors have defended their article despite a furor over their abuse of the photograph of the boy living on a trash pile in Kosovo. I wonder whether they considered running a story on Roma living in trash dumps in Kosovo when the picture was first taken, back in 2008.

The Central Council of German Sinti and Roma has called upon the authorities in Germany to ban the publication as racial incitement. Efforts are under way in Switzerland and Austria to follow suit. All of these countries should do so. At stake are the very values that Europe is built on.



In December 2008 I went to photograph the post-war reconstruction in Kosovo being done by the Italian NATO contingent that had come to keep the peace. The soldiers were rebuilding bridges, schools and roads—nearly a decade after the war had ended. In the town of Gjakova, I was told about some families living in a slum built on a garbage dump. When I went there I realized it was a story about children and how their families tried to make ends meet. They made a living recycling the garbage they lived on.

Last week out of the blue I started getting emails from all over Europe—Switzerland, Austria and Germany. Everyone was asking about a picture I had taken back on that trip to Kosovo. They wondered if I knew how my photo was being used. I realized the photo was being taken out of context. These were kids—living in the backdrop of war—who were playing around, excited to have a foreigner take their photo.

I saw a Swiss magazine using my photo to incite and fear and hatred of the Roma. They were showing a completely different picture. That was not what I had shot—not what I had seen. I saw a kid having fun with one of the few playthings that those children had.

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