Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Big Fat Gypsy Lies

By Amy Addison-Dunne



Thelma’s Gypsy Girls (credit: Unreality Primetime)

An interview with Bridget Deadman, who appeared on ‘Thelma’s Gypsy Girls’ (Channel 4), conducted by Amy Addison-Dunne, offer-holder at Ruskin College

Before ‘ My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ was released, I will admit that I had never thought that deeply about the racial abuse and discrimination the Gypsy and Travellers’ community faced from non-Travellers. Unfortunately, there have been few if any serious attempts to learn about and engage with ‘Traveller culture.’ Hence Channel 4 has been allowed free rein to portray these communities in any manner they choose, and because no-one thinks of these things, not many people question the portrayals and don’t even think to consider the repercussions of programmes like Big Fat Gypsy Wedding for members of the community. Imagine for a moment if Channel 4 were to commission a show called, ‘My Big Fat Black Wedding’ which espoused a slew of negative stereotypes about the black community and refused to differentiate between different cultures, i.e. Nigerian and Congolese? Or if they were to produce a show called “Big Fat Gay Civil Partnership” which portrayed all women in the gay community to be butch, and all men in the gay community to be effeminate with outlandish dress style? There would quite rightly be outrage; so why the relative silence on the show’s open and blatant racism? In addition, the Dale Farm struggle (where a long-standing Traveller site was brutally cleared by an army of riot police at a cost of £18million) was put on the show alongside the ‘outlandish’ and ‘entertaining’ wedding of a young girl (on a side note, filming the happiest day of a woman’s life for a cheap laugh is pretty disgusting as well). The very fact that they decided to include such a serious political issue as Dale Farm in such a fatuous and racist show, just proves that Channel 4 has no respect for the Gypsy and Traveller Communities whatsoever.

The show that attracted millions of viewers to Channel 4 –Big Fat Gypsy Wedding –has now franchised into another meaningless and unbelievably offensive new show. Thelma Madine, self-declared spokesperson for the Gypsy and Traveller community, has got herself yet another deal with Channel 4 with a new show called ‘Thelma’s Gypsy Girls.’ The show is promoted as a documentary on a ‘selfless’ project about a sewing and textiles course especially for women over sixteen in the traveller and gypsy community. She claims that all women in this apparently homogenous way of life are all horribly oppressed by this ‘male dominated society’ and that Thelma is putting her entire business and life on the line to offer these women the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’ (note: I wonder how much she got paid for this documentary). In both shows, Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Thelma’s Gypsy Girls –all the female participants of traveller and gypsy descent are portrayed as ill-educated, wild and basically enslaved by men, and the narrator behaves like she’s narrating a nature documentary, (my personal favourite example being: “the girls travel in packs”).

There has been a backlash from the Traveller and Gypsy Community trying to quash these myths that have been preached as gospel truth by Channel 4 and Thelma, for example, a Romany Gypsy called Pip Borev wrote an open letter to Channel 4 citing all the racial abuse he’s undergone since the hit television programme was released- apparently, his twelve year old cousin was beaten up and called a ‘prostitute’ as a result of the way traveller and gypsy youngsters were portrayed in Gypsy Wedding, and the constant physical abuse inflicted upon him by other students because of its release led to his expulsion from school. Since the release of the newer series called Thelma’s Gypsy Girls, one of her students she so magnanimously offered a place on her course to has come and out and corrected a few untruths surrounding the show.

Bridget Deadman, 17, is an English Traveller based in Liverpool and left the course after Week 10, and has been quick to correct the show on a lot of things, she allowed me to interview her in order to convey a different –more accurate –perspective on Thelma’s Gypsy Girls.

Would you say that BFGW offered an unfair interpretation of your culture and community?

I think the portrayal of life for the Travellers & Gypsy community on Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was an untrue and misleading portrayal, but Thelma’s Gypsy Girls was a lot worse. Thelma’s Gypsy Girls concentrated a lot on the drama, violence, and dress sense of the community even though majority of the time on the course everyone was getting along fine and most girls were working well. They failed to show the different beliefs and variations within the community and instead chose to show how one portion of the community are and use this to further a stereotype of travellers and gypsies that is very far from the truth.

When you read about this programme that Thelma was doing about dressmaking, how was it sold to you, and why did you apply?

I didn’t read about the programme online like most of the girls, the first I heard about it was when some of the film crew were “scouting” around local sites in the area and they visited mine. Originally, I was only going to help them ask some of the other girls but I was told that there would be a City & Guilds (a qualification equivalent to A Levels or GCSEs) on completion of the course and that it would be like an apprenticeship with Thelma herself. Seeing as I am interested in the wedding business and I already had some skills with textiles, I thought it would be a good career move, hence I applied.

On that, Thelma has portrayed the women in traveller and gypsy communities as point blank not allowed to work because it’s some sort of massive taboo, is this the case?

No, this is definitely not the case, especially within my family because all of the women in my family have worked just as much as the men, not through need but through want, as we are driven women and we are not content with a life centred on looking after the home. Yes, we are very family-orientated but you can have two, and be extremely happy balancing them both.

You said that you were made to sit down with the other girls and undergo lessons on reading and writing -how did that make you feel, knowing you have 7 A grades at GCSEs and attending college? Also, were you discouraged at any point from continuing your education by anyone in your family or community?

Yes, I was made to sit with the other girls but not for their benefit, it was later revealed that the tutor was also there for two of Thelma’s workers to help them with their English, and I was simply there to make up the numbers for the tutor. I felt used, degraded and confused because I could have been using my time in a more useful manner by continuing with the tasks I was being given by Thelma’s workers, instead I was taking tests I had done and passed 6 years ago and assisting the tutor with the other girls, which I didn’t mind doing at all because they were very appreciative of my help and I could see the progress they were making. Everyone should be able to read and write. It isn’t a skill anymore; it’s a necessity and a gift. I was never discouraged by my family at any point during my education, they were very supportive but obviously some people I have come to contact with have had different views on the matter, as it’s not their family’s belief that we should go to high school due to the bullying we receive, but majority of the travellers and gypsies I know are fully aware of the need to go through the education process.

In the first episode, Thelma claimed that the gypsy community was sexist, as a woman in this community, would you feel you are subject to culture-based discrimination?

There is sexism within every culture, even British, they are just more subtle about it. I disagree with Thelma pinpointing it as a problem within my community. Yes, some of the men and boys are sexist but on the other hand the majority of the men and boys in our community worship the ground the women walk on, they work hard to keep their wives and families provided for and comfortable. Basically, no I do not feel discriminated against in my own culture.

As a traveller, how do you feel about your culture and way of life being used as entertainment for non-travellers, and since the release of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and Thelma’s Gypsy Girls, how has your life changed?

I was disgusted with the way Big Fat Gypsy Wedding had used my way of life as entertainment and not even portrayed us in a true light, that is partially why I went on Thelma’s course to try and shed some true light on the situation, but Thelma’s Gypsy Girls has just made things a hundred times worse. I was in high school during the release of Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and I received a lot more racial bullying due to the show. Since Thelma’s Gypsy Girls, I have actually received a lot of positive feedback from people online and when I have been recognised (so weird) but I fear that there are still people out there being manipulated by Channel 4 and Thelma Madine.

What sorts of things did people do/say to you after Big Fat Gypsy Wedding?

Not going to repeat them, it was basically backlash from the way the girls dress and act on the show.

You said in tweet that you dropped out of college to take Thelma’s course –do you have plans to go back?

I am hoping to go back to college and study events management.

Deputy Comment Editor’s note

In Italy in 2008, a photo emerged of two young Roma Gypsy women dead on a cosmopolitan beach, whilst around them the sunbathers ignored their presence. This came shortly after a Roma encampment had been burned to the ground outside Naples. In one Eastern European country, a far-Right paramilitary were able to occupy a Traveller community and terrorise it for several months before authorities bothered to intervene. According to the Cultural Survival journal, ‘in 1993, Jozsef Pacai, the mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev said, “I’m no racist, but some Gypsies you would have to shoot.” Since 1989, progrom and mob attacks against Rom neighborhoods have been reported in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the Czech and Slovak Republics, coupled with deliberate non-intervention by authorities.’ Everywhere, both Roma and Irish Travellers are overall deprived in terms of employment, infant mortality, education levels, access to political decision-making- and all too often this deprivation is thrown back at them; portrayed as their fault. It may seem that we are a long way from the level of apartheid that is seen in parts of Eastern Europe, but viewing the Dale Farm eviction and the coverage of it earlier this year, it was evident that a political dehumanization of Travellers had taken place. They were ‘fair targets.’ Shows such as ‘My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding’ are an integral part of that process, a cultural dehumanization that yes, has been allowed to come about through a general trend of anti-Traveller sentiment, but also contributes to the furthering of both popular and political discrimination. Under whatever guise it manifests itself, racism is racism and must be resisted wherever it appears.

- Nathan Akehurst



Contemporary Discrimination Against Roma People

By Lauren Berry-Kagan, Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center

PHOTO roma, gypsies, Europe, Italy. Vadim Ghirda/AP

The Roma people are one of Europe’s largest minorities
 and have lived there since the 13th century.

Even now, they face social exclusion and discrimination on a daily basis. One of the largest issues facing the Roma is the negative stereotype of the ‘Gypsy.’ The name comes from the mistaken belief that the Roma originated in Egypt, though it has been proven that they are originally from India, and Western culture has created an image of the Gypsy as both a dirty criminal and a romanticized carefree wanderer. It is this stereotype of the Roma as a criminal that has perpetuated their rejection from society, both by ordinary people and by government officials.

The main areas of discrimination against Roma are housing, education, employment, and health. In Serbia and Italy, Roma have been forced to live on garbage dumps or in dilapidated housing areas that are, by most reasonable standards, uninhabitable. In Hungary, Romania, Czech and Slovak Republics, Romani children are frequently placed in special education designed for children with mental disabilities and are segregated in separate Roma-only classes and schools. Very few attend high schools and even fewer go to universities. A main reason for this is that the lack of a permanent address prevents school registrations. Unemployment of Roma can be as high as 80%, keeping them in extreme poverty on the fringes of society. Most disturbingly, Roma women continue to be sterilized without their consent in the Czech Republic and elsewhere.

A recent survey3 on minorities and discrimination in the European Union found that, on average, one in five Roma respondents were victims of racially motivated crime at least once in the previous year, while another report from 2011 showed that violence against Roma is almost never successfully prosecuted.4 The report examined the official government response to 44 violent attacks against Roma in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia. It found that "a limited number of perpetrators of violent attacks against Roma are successfully identified, investigated and prosecuted. Even fewer are eventually imprisoned for the crimes they have committed against Roma." A 2005 study in Hungary reported that 62 per cent of the country’s adult population agrees with the statement that the criminal tendency is in the blood of Roma.5 Finally, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee found was that Roma were disproportionately targeted by the "stop-and-search" practice by the police where they are stopped on the streets, asked for identification, and searched for illegal items. According to this report, Roma are three times more likely to be stopped for ID checks than non-Roma.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (2007-2012) has been especially criticized for his treatment of Roma during his political career. During Sarkozy’s final two years in office, hundreds of Roma camps were destroyed and thousands were deported solely for their ethnic identity. Roma refugees, seeking to escape conditions in countries such as Hungary and France, have found that many countries will not accept them. Comparisons have been made to the refusal to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust.

In conclusion, anti-Roma attitudes are rampant everywhere they live. There are many barriers that keep them from escaping poverty, because discrimination and harmful stereotypes prevent them from obtaining adequate education and living spaces. Violence against Roma is often unresolved, leaving them in constant fear of their neighbors.

For More Information:

Amnesty International www.amnesty.org or www.amnestyusa.org

European Roma Rights Centre http://www.errc.org/

Lolo Diklo: Romani Against Racism http://lolodiklo.blogspot.com/

"The Plight of the Roma" Video Segment from The Agenda http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUIW7wZurlc

Roma Community Centre Toronto www.romatoronto.org

This is an educational handout prepared by the WASHINGON STATE HOLOCAUST EDUCATION RESOURCE CENTER.

It will be included in their teaching of the Holocaust information and in their teacher training.  We are
so impressed and appreciative of the constant support and encouragement offered us by WSHERC.

Thank you so much to all involved with the center.  And we encourage everyone to check out the wonderful work they do.

Monday, July 30, 2012


Gypsy culture is much more than dresses and make-up

By Katharine Quarmby

23/07/2012 – Ask anyone in the street what the word “Gypsy” means to them and they will almost certainly come up with “Dale Farm” or Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. And the images the public link to Gypsies and Travellers at the moment? Big dresses, spray tans, skimpy outfits, and make-up slathered on with a trowel – as well as scruffy activists defending Travellers at Dale Farm on eviction day.
It’s a far cry from the world I’ve been visiting, on and off since 2006, when I first started reporting from Dale Farm for The Economist and met Mary-Ann McCarthy in her neat chalet, in which lovingly dusted Christian icons vied for space with flowers. Since then I have driven that 40 mile journey to Dale Farm more times than I can remember, getting to know members of the Dale Farm extended families, as well as the church people (and later activists) who supported them, and the politicians and local residents who wanted them gone.

I’ve watched horse dealing at Stow and Appleby Fairs, talked to the Gypsy evangelical priests who are spearheading a Pentecostalist revival throughout the Gypsy community and spent countless hours drinking tea with Irish Traveller and Gypsy women. I’ve also spent time with the anti Gypsy site campaigners, such as those spearheading Meriden Residents Against Inappropriate Development. Out of these encounters, and the many conversations about religion, education, fortune-telling, employment, politics, housing – and women’s stuff – I see a culture far deeper and richer than the voyeuristic version of these communities displayed on television.

There is, of course, a grain of truth in Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, and its spin off, Thelma’s Gypsy Girls. Some young Traveller girls do like to put on the Ritz, spray on tan and totter into town and back on high heels. Some aren’t used to education and employment (the statistics bear this out, with Gypsy and Traveller children lagging way behind in educational achievement) – but pinning a few radiant butterflies onto a board for the amusement of the British non-Gypsy public and claiming they are a representative sample – I just don’t think it’s cricket.

Go to Appleby or Stow Fair, where Britain’s nomads meet to exchange family news, to woo, to deal horses and buy china – and you will see some girls dressed to the nines, but absolutely not all. Many dress relatively modestly. Some are far more interested in riding their horses into the river than waxing and primping. And others are busy pursuing their careers – among them teachers, equestrians and healthcare assistants.

Talk to Gypsy elders and they splutter with indignation about the depiction of their culture on TV – and point out, for good measure, that almost all of those interviewed are Irish Travellers, not Romany Gypsies anyway. And yes, some do whisper, too, that Romany Gypsies see Irish Travellers as ‘gorgias’ – their word for ‘settled people’ and deny that the two cultures are one and the same. (It’s worth noting here that in America Irish Travellers and Gypsies live almost completely separate existences, rather than being considered as one grouping as they are in the UK.)

Almost all the Irish Traveller women I know from Dale Farm and further afield dress extremely modestly, in below the knee skirts, or plain trousers. They don’t have the money for spray tans – they are more concerned with cobbling together enough cash to take their kids to the leisure centre so they can give them a hot shower. The McCarthy sisters, who spearheaded the resistance to the site clearance at Dale Farm did take pleasure in dressing up for the final court appearances (and were even congratulated on their sartorial sense by one judge) but that was for a special occasion.
It would be funny, if it wasn’t so dangerous, this fixation with what Traveller women wear. You simply cannot reduce a whole culture to a few crystals, lipstick and a big skirt. The Irish Traveller Movement in Great Britain recently hosted a seminar on media reporting of Gypsy and Traveller matters at the Commons. Participants included Inspector Mark Watson, of Cheshire Police, who stressed the media’s responsibility to report on Gypsies and Travellers as fairly as possible, because most people never knowingly meet anyone from those communities. Many of those who gave evidence spoke of the negative backlash post Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on their lives or on those of their school-age children. News online comment threads were also mentioned. When I was reporting on the site clearance at Dale Farm for The Economist, I read (and reported for abuse) an online comment on another newspaper site that called for Travellers there to be gassed to death. Given what happened to European Roma in the Holocaust, this had awful historical resonance – and should never have been posted in the first place. Andy Slaughter MP, the Shadow Minister for Justice, said that discrimination for almost all racial groups had declined in the last few decades – except Gypsies and Travellers – and said that negative media coverage played a part in perpetuating that discrimination.

He’s absolutely right.

I applaud anyone who wants to support young Gypsy and Traveller people into employment. But I’m not sure that turning them into a spectacle for the TV cameras is the way to further their careers. It makes good TV – but it isn’t good for those who are made objects of fun in the process.

Katharine Quarmby is writing a book about Britain’s Gypsies, Roma and Travellers. She was nominated for the Paul Foot Prize 2012.

Link: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/07/23/gypsy-culture-is-much-more-than-dresses-and-make-up/


Worries after France threatens to dismantle Roma camps




No Place for Roma: French and Italian Authorities Aggressively Evict Roma

Rights groups raised concerns Thursday after France's Interior Minister Manuel Valls threatened to dismantle illegal Roma encampments, raising the spectre of previous controversial expulsions.

"It's not the Grenoble speech, but Manuel Valls's statements are still worrying," said Saimir Mile, the head of the Voice of the Roma group, referring to a 2010 speech by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy that was followed by a wave of Roma expulsions.

Speaking before the French Senate on Wednesday, Valls said the government was concerned about growing Roma encampments in several cities.

"The situation today in Lyon, in Aix-en-Provence and in Seine-Saint-Denis (just northeast of Paris) requires us to take decisions to dismantle," he said.

In Seine-Saint-Denis in particular, Valls said, there is "a confrontational situation" between the Roma community and local residents.

About 15,000 Roma are believed to live in improvised housing encampments on the edges of major cities in France, including up to 4,000 in the Paris area.

Rights groups said the community recognises that the encampments are a problem but urged authorities not to forcefully dismantle them.

"We don't deny there are problems," said Malik Salemkour, the vice president of France's Human Rights League. "There can be violence, or dual economies, but it is not enough to deal with this only in terms of security."

France drew a chorus of criticism in 2010 for rounding up hundreds of Roma immigrants from illegal camps and sending them back to Romania and Bulgaria after Sarkozy announced a crackdown in the speech in Grenoble.

The European Union's justice chief, Viviane Reding, angered Sarkozy at the time by comparing the rounding up to World War II-era deportations.

Paris insisted there was nothing racist in the moves against the Roma, saying they were rounded up simply because they had overstayed the period they were allowed in France without any visible means of financial support.

French officials also insisted the round-ups were legal under EU laws on freedom of movement, saying the Roma were leaving voluntarily in return for payments.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


American Gypsies needs to catch up with the reality of Roma people's lives

The US reality show is likely to turn ignorance about Roma people into all-out prejudice. It's time for more thoughtful TV



Photograph by National Geographic Channels/ Jeffery Niera

Reality shows feed on stereotypes and disdain for tribes other than one's own. Most people in the US know of Jersey Shore, which generated a debate around the representation of Italian-Americans on television. There are many more like it: The Littlest Groom (which plays on stereotypes about little people), My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiancé (overweight people) and, yes, the unfortunately and descriptively titled Black Mafia Family Wives.

Now comes National Geographic's new reality series, American Gypsies, launched on the heels of TLC's ongoing My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, itself a spin-off of the UK's Channel 4's enormously successful Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. Sadly, this spate of exoticising voyeurism has nothing to do with genuine interest in Roma or Travellers, the two ethnic groups lumped together under the term "Gypsy" (a term considered derogatory by most Roma activists). Rather, it has everything to do with the chase for ratings, which is at the heart of the tabloidisation of television everywhere. Consequently, these shows are built on tried and true tropes: broad stereotypes, artificially constructed conflicts, unidimensional characters, set-up scenes and scripted lines.

Accuracy is beside the point: these shows are invested in reproducing a version of what it means to be a "Gypsy" that broadcasters believe to be most comfortable for their audience – Esmeralda-like headscarves, belly dancing, innate violence, gaudy parties, psychic healing parlours. The teaser for the series manages to cram all of those cliches into one minute, with time to spare. The response has been predictable: within a day, online comments were rife with racial slurs and no small number of sympathetic references to Hitler.

I have seen this dynamic before. I grew up in an atmosphere permeated by the kind of stereotypes about violent, dirty and scheming "Gypsies" that abound in Europe. I am ethnically Romanian and grew up in Romania, where Roma were enslaved until the 1860s and deported to extermination camps during the second world war. The few who remained nomadic were forcibly settled during communism. Then, many were chased out of villages during violent, deadly pogroms in the 1990s. To this day, Roma children are shunted into dead-end segregated schools which trap them in the vicious cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement.

Yet Roma continue to be blamed for living at the edge of society. Reality shows perpetuate this fiction of self-segregation by stressing difference and tradition, by recasting the viewers' ignorance as secrecy on the part of the Roma and by artificially presenting the preservation of ethnic identity as radically opposed to those elements that make up our common humanity: curiosity and learning, making new friends, falling in love. American Gypsies begins by pronouncing: "For over 1,000 years, Romany or Gypsy people have remained hidden from view. Until now" then proceeds to repeatedly flash info-cards on the fear of outsiders and the mating habits of Roma in their natural habitat. Fittingly, the tagline for this new show is "You Don't Know Gypsy." In the UK, the last season of Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Weddings was announced by billboards touting it as "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier." Try that out with other minorities. Really, see how it feels.

These shows are especially harmful because Roma people do not have any alternative representations in the public's imagination. There is no Roma equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci or Joe DiMaggio, to Rosa Parks or Barack Obama. In the US, where there is very little awareness of Roma, My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and American Gypsies will likely turn ignorance into all-out prejudice. In the UK, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has already led to a spike in bullying of Roma and Traveller children. Elsewhere in eastern Europe, where it has been syndicated, the franchise will only fan the flames of violent racism by playing into the hands of skinheads and nationalists.

I know there are other, much more rewarding ways to treat the subject for a general audience. In 2006, I took a small crew to a tiny town in Transylvania to follow a group of Roma children who were taken out of a crumbling segregated school into a Romanian-led school, where they faced further rejection and humiliation. Over the course of five years, we worked with the conviction that audiences would be interested in connecting to the day-to-day lives of Roma and exploring the complexity of race relations. It paid off: in the 30 countries where we screened over the past year, sold-out rooms engaged with our film in lively discussions that sometimes stretched for hours. We found mainstream audiences thrilled to be thinking for themselves, open to exploring their own contribution to inequality, and moved by our shared humanity.

We should give ourselves more credit: we have shown that we can break through patterns of oppression several times over the course of history. Little by little, the way we treat and understand Roma will change, inexorably for the better. It is a shame that television will have to catch up to this, instead of leading the way.                          





United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Jerzy Ficowski #07078

Dear collaborators,
Dear friends, 

As part of Roma Holocaust/Pharrajimos Remembrance Day, one minute of silence will be observed on August 2, 2012 at 12 noon at the Holocaust memorial stone in front of the Palais de l’Europe, Council of Europe, in Strasbourg in memory of over 3,000 Roma and Sinti exterminated in the gas chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau by the German Nazis in 1944.

With the adoption of the Chart on Roma Rights by the Plenary Assembly held on February 24 2010, ERTF has reinforced its commitments to raise awareness of Pharrajimos, which is less well recognised, and frequently separated from that of the Jewish experience, especially in the teaching of the history of this period. The Holocaust commemoration also has a role in combating anti-Tziganism and other forms of intolerance.

The European Roma and Travellers Forum therefore calls on all Roma around the world as well as the entire international community, to show their solidarity on this day by observing one minute of silence and to organise commemorations in their cities, countries, mahalas, ghettos on August 2, at noon, in order to remember those Roma who suffered during the Nazi era, and whose voices has been made silent by the killing gas.

We also would like to invite you to particpate at our main commemoration ceremony in Strasbourg.
Did you know ?

Throughout German-occupied Europe, Roma were interned, and then deported to slave-labour and death camps. They were despised because of their social status. The existence of the Roma was also seen as a threat to "Aryan" blood purity. Hundreds of thousands of Roma were killed by SS and police units in the East; more were deported and killed in camps.

Thousands of Roma were murdered in Auschwitz on 2 Aug. 1944

Friday, July 27, 2012


July 26 Statement by Ambassador Kelly on Anti-Roma Violence

Vienna, Austria


I take the floor today to discuss my government’s growing concern over discrimination and violence against Romani persons in the OSCE region. Regrettably, in several cases, government leaders and public officials have failed to speak out against violence or other human rights violations, such as evictions without due process, or to take swift, effective action in response to such acts. In some cases, public officials have exacerbated the problem by using anti-Roma rhetoric or perpetuating anti-Roma stereotypes, including in the context of electoral campaigns.

The OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities has highlighted the growing risks of intolerance toward Roma and called on officials to “show leadership and confront such messages. They should denounce hatred and marginalization and ensure the basic security and full respect for the rights of all their residents, particularly those from minority backgrounds.”

The 2011 U.S. Human Rights Report details worrisome trends with respect to the treatment of Roma across the continent; unfortunately, the trend does not appear to be slowing this year. I would like briefly to mention several disparate incidents — ranging from fatal shootings to denial of adequate housing to troubling speech — that have taken place in the last few months and illustrate the broad scope of the problem. Unfortunately, this list is by no means exhaustive.

Over the last six months in Macedonia, Roma report being denied the right to leave their country by Macedonian authorities for fear they will seek asylum in neighboring EU countries and potentially jeopardize Macedonia’s accession talks with the EU.

According to a report by the European Roma Rights Centre, in March in Lyon, France, more than a hundred Roma, including 35 children, who sought shelter in a factory following an eviction were the targets of verbal threats and physical attacks, including a Molotov cocktail that was thrown at the car belonging to one of the Roma. Notwithstanding steps the French government is taking to address some of the legal obstacles faced by Roma in France, observers there continue to highlight the difficult living conditions that Roma face in several of the country’s major cities, along with a general climate of intolerance and prejudice.

In Belgrade this April, Romani families were forced out of homes they had lived in for years and made to live in metal containers without compensation for their loss. Some families were placed in an abandoned warehouse without access to electricity or potable water.

In May this year, after a Roma man was accused of murdering an Italian man in the city of Pescara, a large group gathered for an anti-Roma demonstration, some carrying banners that read “Hunt Roma for 5 days.” Local Romani residents were afraid to leave their homes or visit local shops, and some Romani families kept their children home from school. Police reportedly informally warned Roma not to leave their homes for fear of violence. In a visit to Italy earlier this month, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights welcomed the recent adoption of a national strategy for Roma integration, but stressed the need for consistent implementation, noting that actions such as the attempt to overturn the Council of State ruling declaring the Nomad Emergency unlawful or the continuing construction of a segregated camp near Rome “appear to contradict the spirit of the strategy.”

Also in May, it was revealed that Romani job applicants at a employment center in Glasgow, Scotland, were regularly referred to as “gypos, scum, beggars, and thieves” by the staff, to the point that many applicants give up hope of attaining the dignity that comes from gainful employment. According to one whistle-blower at the center, Roma are regularly threatened and abused; people have had benefits stopped unjustly; staff deliberately fails to organize language assistance, and there is open hostility demonstrated towards organizations that advocate for Roma.

In May in Bucharest, Romania, while pursuing two people suspected of stealing from a construction site, police reportedly chased one Romani man into a lake and shot and killed him when he did not stop.

Last month, in Sandanski, Bulgaria, a bomb was set off in front of the headquarters of the Roma political party Euroma. Malin Iliev, one of the party’s candidates in a local election, was holding the package when it exploded, blowing his arm off.

Also in June, an off-duty police officer in Hurbanovo, Slovakia, shot and killed three Romani people and injured two other members of the same family. Widespread public reaction following the shooting blamed the Romani victims and called for repeat attacks against Roma. The government failed to condemn these mass expressions of hatred towards the Romani community. In the run-up to elections earlier this year, such sentiments were exploited by the Slovak National Party (which did not make it into Parliament) which produced billboards with slogans such as “How much longer are we going to pay for Gypsies?”

That same month in Ukraine, just before the European Football Championship began, the Romani camp in the Kyiv suburb of Berezniaky was burned down. Some Roma believe it was because they had built their homes near the railway tracks, which would be bringing thousands of fans to the football championships. To date, police have not launched an investigation into this arson attack.
Earlier this month, a Czech Senator was sued for defamatory remarks after publicly claiming the Romani population was characterized by “loitering, a parasitic way of life that abuses welfare, rent defaulting, an inability to keep a job, criminality, promiscuity, incestual sexual practices in their community and a failure to uphold any basic norms or rules of civic life and coexistence.”

These examples differ widely, but all serve to highlight the need for participating States to redouble efforts to combat growing anti-Roma sentiment and actions on the European continent. We are pleased that the European Union held a symposium on Roma issues within the OSCE space on June 22nd in the Hofburg. It was a frank and at times difficult discussion about the stark state of affairs. But more needs to be done.

Mr. Chairman, we understand fully that it is beyond the power of any state to prevent all forms of violence, discrimination or hatred. But it is the responsibility of officials to act decisively to counter such acts and to ensure that their actions and public statements encourage tolerance and understanding, not contribute to discrimination or give comfort to those who seek to portray Europe’s Roma citizens as somehow less deserving of the fundamental rights and freedoms that all OSCE participating States have committed to protect.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thursday, July 26, 2012






PHOTO  www.streetnewsservice.org

In the aftermath of the gun attack on a Roma family in Slovakia on June 17 by an off-duty policeman which left three dead and two wounded, there followed a surge of online support for the gunman.

According to Irena Bihariová, from People against Racism.: ‘“public discussions turned into mass glorification of the murderer and hateful responses towards the victims.” She warned of heightened inter-ethnic tension where public debate styled the assailant as a hero and the victims as the guilty parties.

Earlier this year in April, in the neighbouring Czech Republic in the town of Chotěbuz, a Roma man was killed, shot in the head with a crossbow. The assailant claimed the victim was one of three men intent on committing a robbery, that he had been aiming at their feet. The victim’s cousin alleged that he shouted “You black whores I’ll kill you”, before deliberately taking aim and firing. The attacker later expressed his appreciation for the rally of support by the extremist Workers Social Justice Party, and the 600 signatures on a petition organized by local people in his defence.

Last January, two Roma brothers aged 22 and 24 were shot, the younger killed, by a 63-year-old local retired businessman who happened to be by the railway tracks on the outskirts of the Czech village of Desna at 1:30 a.m. and carrying a firearm.

State attorney, Lenka Bradáčová immediately ruled out a racial motive, and on June 18 announced that the man would not be charged as he “used a firearm to prevent an attack on him and not to cause injury or death.”

That same week in January, in the Prague 3 district of Jarov, three youths confessed to the brutal murder of a Roma woman, who was beaten, kicked and stabbed to death. According to local residents, the attackers, known for giving Nazi salutes in the streets, had been harassing and assaulting homeless people in the area for weeks prior to the murder. One of the perpetrators was remanded in custody.

In the Czech town of Sokolov after an incident involving police officers, a 33-year-old Roma father of three, died in hospital on May 6. According to eye witness reports, police officers arrested Ludovít Kašpar, handcuffed him and then attacked him, kicking him and beating him. Official sources had no comment to make on the case, as it was under investigation and that any remarks would be purely speculative.

And in Romania, in May two young Roma men aged 24 and 18, were shot dead by police officers in separate incidents. The European Roma Rights Centre and Romani CRISS have demanded an independent and public investigation into the two fatalities, reminded the authorities that under international law the use of lethal force by police officers must be justified and proportionate, and called on them to condemn these deaths.

These latest killings, all occurring in the first half of 2012 cast a grim shadow over the European Union Roma Framework and all its lofty ambitions. Lethal summary justice, vigilante excesses and wanton bloody murder make a mockery of National Roma Integration Strategies. The detail in each of the above cases may differ and the circumstances may be disputed, but the one common denominator is that Roma people continue to die at the hands of state and non-state actors within the European Union.

These killings are not happening in a vacuum. According to Thomas Hammarberg, anti-Roma rhetoric from politicians and media has often preceded acts by vigilantes such as mob violence and pogroms, and “distorted minds” can and do understand such messages as a call “for action”: “we see today a growing number of attacks on Roma committed by individuals mobilized by racist anti-Roma ideology. These are premeditated attacks, with the intent to kill, that target random individuals or families because of their ethnicity.”

What is especially troubling about the wider phenomenon of anti-Roma violence in recent years is the indifference and ambivalence of the majority towards the victims. Worse still, acts of violence often prompt open support from sections of the wider public for those who would mete out rough and ready “justice” and inflict collective punishment on Roma.

Such violence often occurs where local and national politicians speak openly of the need to deal with “gypsies”, and appear to condone violent excesses as “understandable.” Perhaps the most notorious example was Italy in 2008. Following arson attacks on Roma camps, then Minister of Interior Roberto Maroni was quoted as having stated, “That is what happens when gypsies steal babies, or when Romanians commit sexual violence,” and Umberto Bossi’s reported response to the outbreaks of mob violence was that “people do what the state can’t manage”.

On March 8 2011, a resolution of the European Parliament on Roma called on the European Commission to link social inclusion priorities to a clear set of objectives that included protection of citizens against discrimination in all fields of life; and for the Commission, as guardian of the treaties, to ensure full implementation of relevant legislation and appropriate sanctions against racially motivated crimes. This is all well and good, but the constant clamour for “Brussels” to do something should not obstruct the plain fact that primary responsibility to combat racism, protect citizens, diffuse tension and promote dialogue lies within Member States.

Back in 1993 Vaclav Havel described the Roma issue as the litmus test for the new democracies. In 2012 it’s become a litmus test for democracies across the entire European Union. Today the reality for many Roma citizens remains one of dread and fear. The challenge facing Europe is to banish that fear, guarantee the safety and security of its citizens and ensure that the rule of law prevails without prejudice across all Member States.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Help us fight against the National Geographic TV show American Gypsies, TLC's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding and other programs that cause Romanies actual harm, pain and suffering.

These shows do not represent even a small fraction of the total Romani (Gypsy) population. It represents only a few outrageous and controversial individuals in a way that is SCRIPTED to exaggerate a romanticized "mafia" image for ratings and profit. The producers and networks make no honest attempt to educate the public about the very deep and diverse Romani culture.

This is especially damaging as National Geographic has a reputation for being a respected and scientifically accurate organization. People believe what they see on National Geographic is the truth.

Romanies left India 1000 years ago to flee war and persecution due to Islamic expansion. We are a distinct ethnicity spread throughout the entire world.

We face discrimination in education, in hiring, in housing, in healthcare. It is a matter of historical fact that we have been enslaved, forcibly sterilized, forcibly deported and subjected to genocide throughout our entire history.

In all this time and throughout all of this abuse, Romanies have never had an army. We have never raised arms against our neighbors. We have never marched down a hill and killed families because we wanted to take their land or resources.

Shows like American Gypsies are far more damaging than meets the eye. Propaganda was the tool Nazis used to dehumanize Romanies and Jews in World War II. These new shows are dehumanizing us again.

Hitler had movies and radio shows made to mock and demonize Romanies and Jews. This negative media was so effective in brainwashing ordinary people that upstanding citizens became eager to accept and even take part in the horrors of the holocaust.

Well over one million Romanies were murdered like animals because they were made to look like animals.

This is more than an argument about the exercise of free speech. Shows like American Gypsies perpetuate hate, resentment and inaccurate racial stereotypes on the biggest stage in the world. This causes real and demonstratable damage for which the show producers and networks must be held liable.

Millions of people see these shows every week. Romanies are suffering while supposedly "educational" networks like TLC and National Geographic rake in profits pedaling scripted and sensationalized tabloid garbage.

We as a Race have tried to move forward with the times but continue to face road blocks. Many Romanies are in fact integrated, educated and have regular jobs such as nurses, cop, teachers, scientist, doctors, lawyers ect. You may even know a Romani.

Shows such as these are extremely dangerous for us. Any Romanies who are integrated and still maintain their culture could loss their jobs because they will be associated with the people depicted in this show.

Would you hire a Gypsy? Would you still hire a Gypsy if the only representation you had seen was that which is being presented by National Geographic?

National Geographic, TLC and the producers of these shows have neglected to offer any sincere explanation to the viewing public as to what factors may have caused these particular Romanies to become what they are. More importantly, they neglect to sincerely disclose that the Romanies depicted in this show represent less than 1% of Romanies worldwide.

Most importantly, National Geographic is demonizing Romanies.
Through negative, inaccurate and irresponsible portrayals in mass media.
This is causing actual and demonstrable harm for which these shows, their producers and the networks who show them must be held accountable.


Monday, July 23, 2012


Roma mourn boy killed in QEW hit-and-run



PHOTO: The body of Laszlo Balogh, 11, lies in the Hamilton General Hospital morgue, until his family can raise enough money to fly him back to Hungary to be buried. He died in a hit-and-run collision near Beamsville, Ont. last Tuesday

PHOTO BY Pawel Dwulit/Toronto Star
TORONTO A mother’s sobs echoed through a Toronto church Sunday as a community gathered to mourn 11-year-old Laszlo Balogh, killed last week in a horrific hit-and-run crash on the Queen Elizabeth Way in Beamsville.

Her grief is only worsened by not being able to lay her son to rest.
The family is struggling with the decision of where to bury Laszlo, as they await results of their asylum claim.

“They don’t want to be sent back to Hungary and have the body of their son buried here,” said Gina Csanyi-Robah, director of the Roma Community Centre and organizer of the memorial.

The family has been living in Toronto for a year and a half. Their first asylum hearing was delayed, and relatives have already been rejected. The process could take up to three years, said Csanyi-Robah.

In the meantime, Laszlo’s body remains in the Hamilton General Hospital morgue, until the family can raise enough money to fly him back to Hungary to be buried.

“Like many Roma people, they have lost hope,” said Csanyi-Robah. “If only they wouldn’t give up on Canada, then maybe this little boy could be laid to rest.”

Last week’s tragic crash has sent shock waves through the small Roma community in Parkdale.
Nine people, including six members of Laszlo’s extended family, were returning from a trip to Niagara Falls at around 3 a.m. Tuesday.

The minivan was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer and rolled over, killing Laszlo and sending seven others, including a seven-year-old girl and an infant, to hospital.

Sandor Katlan, a 23-year-old father of two, remains in a coma at Hamilton General Hospital, his wife said at the memorial.

The tractor-trailer did not stop and was found two days later at a Brampton repair shop. Police say they know who the driver is, but he has yet to be found.


Saturday, July 21, 2012


Norway's tolerance tested on massacre anniversary

Norway's commitment to face xenophobia with tolerance on the first anniversary of bomb and gun attacks by a confessed right-wing killer is being put to the test by hostile reactions to an influx of Gypsies from Eastern Europe.



OSLO, Norway —
Norway's commitment to face xenophobia with tolerance on the first anniversary of bomb and gun attacks by a confessed right-wing killer is being put to the test by hostile reactions to an influx of Gypsies from Eastern Europe.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg says he has been disturbed by the tone of the debate over the small camps of makeshift huts set up by Gypsies in Oslo and other Norwegian cities.

After neighbors complained of unsanitary conditions, noise and illegal construction, anti-immigration politicians called for the Gypsies, also known as Roma, to be rounded up and bussed out of Norway. Online, the debate has been raw, sometimes outright racist.

"Some of what we have seen is frightening," Stoltenberg told Norwegian broadcaster TV2 this week. "Nobody shall be judged because they belong to a certain ethnic group."

The anti-Gypsy sentiment has been no worse than elsewhere in Europe - in fact many of the Roma say they are treated better in Norway than in their home countries, including Romania and Bulgaria.

But the discussion comes at an uncomfortable time for Norway as it prepares to honor the 77 victims of the country's worst peacetime massacre in memorial services across the country on Sunday.

Confessed killer Anders Behring Breivik, facing sentencing next month, has said his July 22, 2011, bombing of a government high-rise and shooting spree at a left-wing party's youth camp were the opening shots in a war against multiculturalism.

Virtually all of Norway condemned the attacks - even far-right groups - and Stoltenberg moved the nation with his call for more openness, democracy and inclusiveness in response to the tragedy.

The debate over immigration, more civil in Norway than in many parts of Europe, was muted for months. But a harsher tone returned as authorities received complaints over the Roma camps.

"Enough is enough. Arrange a bus, send them out," Siv Jensen, the leader of the anti-immigration Progress Party, told public broadcaster NRK.

While not a European Union member, Norway is a close partner of the 27-nation bloc and allows citizens of EU nations including Romania and Bulgaria to enter freely and stay for up to three months without registering with authorities.

Since the government doesn't keep count of EU nationals entering the country, there are no official numbers on how many Roma have arrived. But rights activists say they have noticed an increase in Roma coming to Norway, which is largely unaffected by Europe's financial crisis due to its vast resources of offshore oil and gas.

At a camp of about 100 people hidden in a forest on public land on the outskirts of Oslo, Cristian Florian Tudescu, a 31-year-old from Romania, said he had lived in Turkey and Greece for years before coming to Norway.

In Oslo, he said, he earns about 200 kroner ($30) on a good day collecting and returning bottles for deposit. He also earns money selling a magazine set up by a nonprofit organization that supports Roma in Norway.

"It's king here," Tudescu told The Associated Press in broken English, adding that Norwegian people had been good to him, though he recalled isolated incidents of being spat on and called a thief.

To address concerns that the Roma may try to exploit Norway's generous welfare system, the Ministry of Labor called a news conference explaining that foreigners coming to Norway would only qualify for social benefits if they have full-time jobs.

"Begging by law is not illegal, but that does not mean it is considered to be a job," deputy Labor Minister Gina Lund said. She said the Roma, like any other European visitors, "will have to provide for themselves while being in Norway."

Eskil Pedersen, the head of the Labor Party youth organization that was attacked by Breivik and a survivor of the summer camp massacre on Utoya island, told Norwegian news agency NTB that the negative comments about Roma had made him sick to his stomach.

But he added that the counter-reaction by many Norwegians speaking out against anti-Roma rhetoric shows that the spirit of inclusiveness following last year's attacks was alive and well.

"There has been a lot of commitment in social media calling for human rights and tolerance," he said. "That commitment wasn't as strong before in similar debates."

Anniversary arrangements on Sunday will include a wreath-laying ceremony at the bomb site in Oslo, a speech by the prime minister, a church service attended by the royal family in Oslo's cathedral, a ceremony for survivors on Utoya and a memorial concert in downtown Oslo.

Friday, July 20, 2012


Romania Walls In Its Roma




PHOTO Ethnic Roma people are seen in their house at Craica slum in Baia Mare

The Roma are the largest ethnic minority in the European Union. And most live as second class citizens, in abject poverty.

In the Romanian town of Baia Mare, a mayor has come up with a radical solution - he's rehousing families in dilapidated communist-era offices and building a wall that closes them in. This decision is popular with the locals - Catalin Chereches is now one of the the most popular politicians in Romania.

And Chereches says the move is a step up for many families. It gets them out of the slums "where naked children play in the dust with stray dogs and cats." As Chereches told Reuters, "It's clear, conditions there are not similar to the Hilton or Marriott. But this doesn't mean this is not a step forward towards their civilization and emancipation."

But Roma advocacy groups see it differently. "This is breaching human rights," Robert Vaszi, director of Roma rights group Asociatia Sanse Egale, told Reuters.

To see pictures of the slums and the wall visit



ACLU demands apology from Arapahoe County Sheriff for gypsy reference




The cable T.V. show, “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding,” pokes fun at the gypsy culture. The ACLU says an alert from the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Department is nothing to laugh about.
The alert was issued as a response to a series of recent scams in which homeowners were dubbed by unqualified workmen, and the ACLU said it advised citizens to look out for gypsies.

“The sheriff’s office bulletin describes a gypsy as a medium to dark-complected Caucasian with dark hair and dark eyes who’s often mistaken as a Hispanic,” Sara Rich of the ACLU said.
It’s that physical description that has civil liberties lawyers so upset. Charging such words can easily lead to racial profiling.

“It’s inviting the public and his own officers, really, to presume anybody who walks up to somebody’s door – if they’re some with a dark complexion or Hispanic – they’re likely a criminal,” Rich said.

As of Monday night, the Gypsy scam alert was still on the sheriff’s department website. But it no longer included any of the controversial wording or the physical inscription of the gypsies.

“There is information there, but it has nothing to do or says nothing about the descriptor,” Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said. “The descriptor is certainly contrary to the way we do our business at the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.”

The ACLU is demanding the sheriff apologize, take down the bulletin and retract any comments about any possible scams involving gypsies.

“We would like the sheriff to make a statement to publicly denounce he use of racial profiling,” Rich said.

Robinson is standing firm.

“If I have something to apologize for, you know I will apologize and make it right,” he said.

The ACLU said the sheriff’s department only removed the information from its website and the bulletin only after it learned the group was going to file a complaint. The ACLU is now giving the sheriff 10 days to make a public apology.
While I am pleased by this action by the ACLU, I am disappointed by ACLU representative's statement (on video at website
She does not mention the discrimination against Romani people referred to as Gypsies.

Thursday, July 19, 2012


The gypsies who lost their homes to make way for the Olympics

The construction of the athletes' village broke up a community that had been on the site legally since 1972.



Ros Wynne-Jones

PHOTO: The athletes' village at the Olympic Park in East London. Photograph: Getty Images

As athletes settle in to the Olympic Village in East London, a “home away from home” for officials and competitors, some may wonder who lived there before them. The complex now is studded with luxury flats for the 17,000 Olympic athletes and the 4,500 Paralympians who will follow them. With karaoke facilities, an on-site gym with more than 50 treadmills and a 5,000-seat dining room, the architecture has a watery theme “accentuating the closeness of the River Lea”.

The site’s previous inhabitants also prized the proximity of the Lea, as well as the meadows where they used to graze horses, the cycle track where the kids played and the hill where the older residents sat watching the horizon. More than 15 families of Gypsies had lived here legally – on land no one else wanted – since 1972, paying rent to the council and for all their utilities.

“Clays Lane weren’t much to look at,” says Esther Smith, 31, a mother of four whose extended family had lived on the site for over three decades. “But it was home. There was a strong sense of community. You had room to think.” Her cousin Lisa Smith, 36, nods. “It wasn’t like living in London. It felt very safe.”
For the Clays Lane families, the journey since London won the Olympic bid on July 6th 2005, has been one long nightmare. “The first thing we knew about it was a big notice stuck on the gate,” says Tracie Giles, a mother from Clays Lane who became a campaigner for the families evicted by the Olympics. “It was a compulsory purchase order from the London Development Agency.”

Alternative sites proposed by Newham Council horrified the residents. “They wanted to put us on Jenkins Lane, a terrible place underneath the A406 by a sewage gully and facing Burger King,” Tracie remembers. “Another one was directly under the flight path for City Airport.”

For a while, the families were poised to move to Chobham Farm, next to Westfield Shopping Centre. But after months of consultation, the offer was withdrawn.

“Meanwhile, Clays Lane was getting worse,” Tracie says. “Demolition was going on all around. We were fenced in, choking with dust, surrounded by massive machinery. There was nowhere safe for the kids to play.

Backed by the London Gypsy and Traveller Unit, Tracie and the other families fought the closure of Clays Lane with a legal challenge in the high court and a judicial review. “I really thought we’d win,” Tracie says. “But we didn’t.

They said we were moving to Parkway Crescent.” In July 2007, five months after the building work had begun, families were given a month’s notice to move. “We packed up all our belongings,” Tracie says. “The council cut off the street lighting and stopped the postman coming. But still we didn’t move.” Their leaving date was postponed 11 times. “The new site wasn’t ready. We were prisoners on a building site.”

The families finally moved in mid-October 2007. “I remember waking up the last morning,” Tracie says. I just felt this huge sense of loss, looking at all the empty pitches.”

The new site was next to the athlete’s entrance to the Olympic complex, surrounded by busy roads. Each family had a pitch with space to put a caravan and a ‘shed’ – a prefabricated block with a bathroom and kitchen.

“The water comes in the windows when it rains, the rain was coming in the front door,” Esther Smith says. “The boiler went, I had a water leak that went on for months. Plug sockets were held on by an elastic band. Baths aren’t sealed properly. There’s no privacy. The tube runs underneath – it’s so loud!”

Tracie’s sister Lisa shakes her head. “We’ve been four and a half years now living on Europe’s biggest building site. I’m 36, and I feel 100. I’m out of breath. Two minutes after you’ve cleaned it’s dusty again. Kids round here have developed asthma. The stress has been unbelievable. Just for two weeks of sport.
“I was happy about London getting the Olympics, but we haven’t been treated right as a community. They wouldn’t have done it to any other people. No-one’s even offered us a free ticket.”

Once the Olympics and Paralympics end, Parkway Crescent will be prime land for legacy development. “We’ve never been given a permanent licence, they’ve just kept renewing a temporary one for four and a half years,” Tracie says. “Will we get moved somewhere even worse?”

Newham Council declined to comment on the families’ future at the site or their experiences since being forced to move from Clays Lane.

Elsewhere, speaking about the Athletes' Village, British Olympic medallist Colin Jackson called it “the heart and soul of everything… a place that you feel comfortable, where you feel there’s a sense of belonging.”

Five years after London won the bid for the Olympic Games, the Clays Lane Gypsies can still only dream of such a place.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


End Rome’s plan to close authorized Roma camp




By Fernando Vasco Chironda, Campaign Coordinator, AI Italy

Tor de Cenci's residents face an uncertain future if the eviction goes ahead

The Tor de’ Cenci camp on the outskirts of the Italian capital is not the sort of place you would want your children to grow up, and its residents are the first ones to admit it.

A pile of rubbish awaits you at the entrance and the houses are a haphazard collection of flimsy sheds, cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. Yet for more than 15 years, the camp has been home to more than 350 people of Roma ethnicity, mostly Bosnian and Macedonian nationals. And last week the camp made the local news not for its dire conditions, or for the plans to evict its residents, but for the concert it hosted to stop the planned eviction by local authorities.

The Municipality of Rome wants to close the camp and resettle inhabitants in a new, racially segregated camp near the city’s Ciampino airport. It has failed to set out a clear rationale for closing Tor de’ Cenci, and to comply with relevant safeguards while making its decision and choosing a resettlement site.

Last week Amnesty International and other NGOs’ activists joined Tor de’ Cenci residents in an event urging local authorities not to close the camp but instead improve housing conditions here.

The rally, named “Io non sgombero” (I don’t evict) was a celebration of music, culture and solidarity.
For the first time in the camp’s history, musicians and actors visited Tor de’ Cenci, and children played and sang as they watched the artists performing on stage.

The performers came to support the residents with a show devoted to them: a moment of solidarity during which, at least for one day, camp residents could feel part of Italian society.

The stage sat among rusty containers placed by local authorities more than ten years ago.

A cheer went up each time artists such as Moni Ovadia, Tetês de Bois, Militant A-Assalti Frontali, Ulderico Pesce, Dj Efrem from Borghetta Style and Ghetto Youth Spinaceto performed. The Roma group Cheja Celen showed traditional dances.

“Being supported by all these people makes us feel less alone in our fight against the eviction and the displacement,” Maryam, a young Roma woman from Macedonia told me.

“But I’m still fearful about our future and our children’s future.”

Many residents and visitors approached the Amnesty International stand to get information on the actions launched to stop this eviction, asking to be part of them. They even queued to sign our petition to Rome’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno.

Our initiative in Tor de’ Cenci ended at midnight, with Roma singing and dancing. At the end, many probably wished the evening would continue, maybe to forget, at least for few hours more, the menace of the eviction.

The camp’s residents face an uncertain future. The planned closure of Tor de’ Cenci and the construction of La Barbuta, where Tor de’ Cenci residents are supposed to move, are part of Rome’s “Nomad Plan’, created under a state of emergency declared by the Italian government in 2008.
Many Tor de’ Cenci inhabitants are worried about moving to La Barbuta.

It’s clear that the move will not solve the Roma housing problem. Nor will it improve their children’s education. Instead, it could trigger further discrimination and exclusion.

This eviction plan is part of the many “stopgap” measures planned by the authorities.

They are likely to worsen conditions for Roma people by increasing segregation.

Nevertheless, “Io non sgombero” has been a real moment of solidarity. Now we are asking the authorities in Rome to stop this unfair and damaging eviction plan.

If they listen to us, Maryam’s fears could finally be put to rest.

As Asan, another inhabitant of Tor de’ Cenci camp said:
“After all these years, our only hope is that they won’t evict us, because our and our children’s future remains here”.

Saturday, July 14, 2012


A VISIT by the Czech prime minister this week to a Roma Holocaust site turned into a pig farm has rekindled outrage among Czech Roma at the state's failure to shut it down.   



PHOTO A visit by the Czech prime minister Petr Necas to a Roma Holocaust site turned into a pig farm has reignited anger. Picture: AP Source: AP

Between 1940-43, Nazi Germany and its Czech collaborators imprisoned close to 1300 Czech Roma at the Lety camp, about 70 kilometres south of the capital Prague.

Alongside European Jews, the continent's smaller Roma minority was also a target of Nazi genocide during World War II.

Some 327 Roma, including 241 children, died at the camp staffed by an ethnic Czech commander and guards, while more than 500 were sent to Nazi Germany's infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in occupied southern Poland.

In 1972-76, Communists ruling the former Czechoslovakia thought nothing of building a pig farm on the site, subsequently taken over by a private company after regime's collapse in 1989.
Tensions between Czech Roma and authorities have flared over the sensitive issue for well over a decade, with the deeply marginalised Czech minority insisting the state purchase the farm, tear it down and build a fitting memorial.

The European Parliament also urged Prague to remove it in 2005 and again in 2008, but local Roma insist Czech politicians are loathe to tackle the issue due to deep social prejudices across the republic against their community.

"The (Roma) minority ranks permanently among those perceived as the worst and most problematic, which is reflected in attitudes of the politicians," Roma journalist Jarmila Balazova said.
Bitter Roma boycotted memorial ceremonies at the site on Monday with right-wing Czech Prime Minister Petr Necas.

"Our primary goal is to see the pig farm removed from the place where our people died because of their race," said Cenek Ruzicka, head of an action committee on the Roma Holocaust.

"You won't find an absurd thing like that anywhere in the world. People don't build pig farms in such places," he fumed, while pointing to a string of empty promises made by successive Czech governments to settle the issue.

Late Czech president Vaclav Havel unveiled a Roma memorial in Lety in 1995, but Czech leaders have since tiptoed around the site until Mr Necas's recent visit, making him the first leader to go there in 17 years.

While Mr Necas slammed what happened to Roma at Lety as genocide, he insisted there was no cash to buy the pig farm.

According to Mr Ruzicka, 300-500 million koruna ($14.5-24 million) would be enough to purchase and tear it down or to build another elsewhere, but the associated political risk would be high.
"Of course politicians know any government seeking to remove it (the farm), will fail in the next elections. The sum is unacceptable for the public," Mr Ruzicka said, insisting no action was taken on a Roma proposal that a long-term government fund be created to save-up for a buyout.

Jiri Leskovec, head of the Agpi company that runs the pig farm, alleges it was built on a green field immediately adjacent to the former concentration camp which was razed at the end of the war.
Historians, however, contend the two sites overlap.

Now with 13,000 pigs and a staff of 12, the farm was originally built at the camp site during the 1970s by a communist state-run company that was privatised as Agpi after the 1989 transition to democracy and capitalism.

"We're terribly sorry we have to remind people of this obvious truth, and of the historic context - that our people died there under supervision from Czech guards," Mr Ruzicka said.

Of the 9500 Czech Roma registered before World War II, fewer than 600 returned home after the Holocaust.

An EU country of 10.5 million, the Czech Republic's Roma community is currently estimated to number between 250,000 and 300,000.

Of the roughly one million Roma who lived in Europe prior to WWII, historians believe the Nazis exterminated over half.

Today, it is estimated that over eight million Roma live in Europe.


Europe still struggles to get to grips with Roma community

“Scorned” first for their ethnic identity and cultural heritage and then, “cursed” again for daring to leave the countries in which they face prejudice, Rudo Kawczynski, President of the European Roma and Travellers Forum has warned of a new wave of Roma-phobia. He is certainly not wrong in condemning Europe for its failure to address the staunch anti-Roma convictions currently running through the EU.




PHOTO   Flikr - ultimcodex, 2009

Around 10 – 12 million Roma - Europe’s largest ethnic minority, still face animosity, social exclusion and discrimination. European leaders have had little success in encouraging effective inclusion strategies among EU Member States. As such, the Roma have continued to live in poverty on the margins of society. Many Roma children can be found on the streets instead of a nurturing school environment and Roma women are still victims of archaic attitudes to the point where they suffer from several forms of violence without even recognising it, suggested by Indira Bajramovic, a pioneer for Roma women’s rights in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Consequently in some cases, Roma poverty rates are more than 10 times that of non-Roma living in close proximity due to the lack of service access.


Reasons why Roma have continued to be at the core of poverty and exclusion are intertwined. Low education levels – according to reports published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and the United Nations Development Programme, only 15% of young Roma adults (surveyed) have completed upper-secondary general or vocational education, compared with more than 70% of the majority population living nearby. Furthermore, Roma are disproportionately overrepresented among low-skilled jobs, with around 30% of Roma (surveyed) in paid employment. These statistics paint quite a morose picture of the current situation and echo the need for the EU at all levels to take action or risk leaving an entire population in circular impoverishment, particularly as policies and interventions to circumvent exclusion don’t effectively reach marginalised groups.

Despite existing legislation that outlaws discrimination, there is concrete evidence that demonstrates the limited access opportunities experienced by Roma. Case-study evidence throws up multiple of examples of when Roma have been subjected to mistreatment, however, discriminatory behaviour does not always manifest itself in such candid style. This can take shape in employers’ (negative) attitudes to Roma and unwillingness by the general population to affiliate with Roma in their communities. These sorts of practices display a clear disregard of EU values and fundamental rights of the individual. For Roma migrants there is an overflow of negative stereotypical views, the first of which stem from the fact that they are migrants, which carries its own stigma, the second because they are Roma.

According to a report by the EU agency for Fundamental Rights, on average in the seven Member States surveyed, 79% of the Roma did not report their experiences of assault, threat or serious harassment to the police. This suggests a certain sense of apathy by the Roma community and a defeatist feeling towards an improvement of their circumstances by internalising a concept of ‘nothing can or will be done’ so why ‘should I bother’ – this only creates a circle of mistrust between the Roma community and their neighbouring communities. According to the FRA report, the missing link lies somewhere between targeted interventions to address the causes of repeat victimisation and informing the Roma community of mechanisms (organisations) where they can seek support and report criminal activity.


Almost all EU countries have a Roma population; according to estimates by the Council of Europe, they form a significant proportion of the population in Bulgaria (around 10%), Slovakia (9%), Romania (8%), Hungary (7%), Greece, the Czech Republic (1.5-2.5%). Roma data is relatively difficult to come across though increasingly their plight became a focal point on the EU agenda. This set the scene for the European Commission in April 2011, to issue a communication on an EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies to improve the economic and social integration of Roma citizens in Member States. This proved to be quite a feat for Member States, under the framework the EC proposed, each of the EU’s 27 countries submitted their action plans for improving the deficient situation of their Roma communities – addressing key pillars of social and economic growth; education, employment, healthcare and housing – in effect, demonstrate an acknowledgment of fundamental rights. Accordingly, the initial framework communicated by the Commission urged Member States to allocate sufficient funding from national budgets and identify relevant structural funding to be supplemented by the Commission.

On review in May this year, the Commission declared Member States’ Roma Integration Strategies to be less than impressive. Some submitted essay length documents with meager points of reference to key pillars while even the most suitable still fell largely under par. The EC has set out rather ambitious social inclusion goals in its EU2020 strategy thus ultimately decided that half-hearted attempts at securing sufficient resources for Roma inclusion would just not suffice. It is evident that Member States have failed to adequately adopt an integrated approach to address basics, perhaps due to lack of operational resources on ground level or slippery political will. At the very least, Member States have dipped their toes in the water and taken “first steps” as acknowledged by the Commission. Though going forward, socio-economic inclusion remains at the forefront of efforts that should be undertaken.


Among the initiatives and projects being piloted to address the discrepancy between the Roma community and their national equivalents, a notable mention must go to the Roma Education Fund, which targets one of the key pillars of Roma societal inclusion. The ultimate goal is to close the gap between Roma and non-Roma. In order to achieve this, the organisation supports policies and programs, which ensure quality education for Roma, including the desegregation of education systems. As of June this year, the ‘A Good Start’ project, implemented by the REF and supported by the EU ran in 16 localities of 4 countries of Europe, in rural and urban localities of the most deprived settlements of Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Macedonia to address quality early childhood education and care services.

Evidence suggests that early childhood education and care is essential to children’s development and data shows that Roma children by and large do not have equal access opportunities. Projects like these serve to give Roma children an equal start in life, which, according to László Andor (Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), demonstrate both moral integrity and good economics in the long run.

The Roma have been a part of Europe for centuries and without doubt Europe’s economic crisis has left a great deal of political uncertainty and financial volatility in its wake which has only exacerbated the severe circumstances of those already living in a precarious state. It’s been noted that promoting integration of Roma could have a knock on effect in raising awareness of other disadvantaged minority groups in Europe. Marginalising any group leaves society at a disadvantage at the latter end of the spectrum largely due to the fact that improving the key pillars of integration principally lie with, and are for the benefit of, Member States.

Each country should take the view of implementing strategies that promote growth of the population at large but also address the welfare needs of disadvantaged communities. It goes without saying that the EU has a central role to play in synchronising these efforts by offering recommendations and financial assistance. Co-operation on these levels and awareness on the ground level can challenge increasing structural inequalities between minority groups and the majority population.