Roma in Strasbourg

Written by David Ferguson in Brussels
Tuesday, 07 June 2005

"Prejudice towards Roma is not the manifestation of a phenomenon which is sporadic, occasional, or limited both geographically and in time. On the contrary, this is a recurrent phenomenon, which exists in all European countries in varying degrees and is even on the increase both in frequency and vehemence," said Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe. As many as 6 to 8 million Roma live in Europe with the largest population concentrations found in the Balkan peninsula of southeastern Europe, central Europe, and in Russia and the other successor republics of the USSR.

EU enlargement has placed the issue of equal rights and improvement in economic and human conditions for Roma firmly on the European policy agenda. Countries where Roma populations exceed half a million are Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the former Yugoslavia. Slovakia, with its estimated 320,000 Roma, has the highest proportion of Roma in the world.

Speaking yesterday at an event organised in Strasbourg by the Forum of European Roma Young People, De Boer-Buquicchio underlined the role of young Roma in overcoming racism and improving human conditions: "As young Roma, you have an important role to play to serve as mediators and promoters of communication channels between your communities, institutions and the rest of the population, to develop capacity-building of future generations of young Roma, to boost their drive for higher education, and to change through your success and personal achievements the negative prejudices still existing within a large part of our societies," she said.

De Boer-Buquicchio recalled the state-organised genocide perpetrated also on the Roma minority in Nazi-occupied Europe, claiming the lives of half a million Sinti and Roma. Often, though, when remembering the holocaust, the focus is on the methodic destruction of Europe's Jewish community with the loss of 6 million lives. "Racism and intolerance in all forms be it anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or prejudice against Roma, or xenophobia at large strike at the heart of the idea of a democratic society based on respect for the equal dignity of all human beings," said De Boer-Buquicchio.

Despite backing from European institutions and new major programmes in the enlarged EU and candidate countries, violence against Roma remains widespread. In January, for example, ten young Italians set ablaze a camp where five Romanian Roma families lived including a nine month old baby. The perpetrators justified their action as 'Saturday night fun'.

"Anti-Gypsyism is an aggressive, widespread and still acceptable form of racism in Europe," said Valeriu Nicolae, executive director at the European Roma Information Office. "Without strong reactions from European Institutions and leading European politicians, social cohesion and equal opportunities, which are both fundamental principles of a united Europe, run the risk of being seen as hypocrisy by the over 8 million European Roma."

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Maybe one should also mention in this context that the Jewish Community has been actively working against the recognition of the Romani Holocaust by claiming and continuing to do so in books and by other means that "Gypsies were only sent to the camps because the were regarded as asocial and not for reasons of Race". It is amazing that this is done in the light of the fact that the same laws that were applied to the Jews were also applied to Zigeuner (Gypsies). But, well, the Holocaust just has to remain a uniquely Jewish event and "the Gypsies defile the memory of the Holocaust by wishing to be associated with it" - as some people in the Jewish community keep saying.