Racism and discrimination remain problems for Gypsies in Europe

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

In a recent interview with Deutsche Welle the head of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma said that not enough is being done to root out the causes of prejudice in Europe. He said that many Sinti and Roma integrate by denying their ethnicity.

The sad thing is that Brother Rose is so very right when he says that “many Sinti and Roma integrate by denying their ethnicity” this is not just thus in Germany. It is the same in other countries too, even those where, theoretically, according to common beliefs, your origin does not really matter.

The fact is that the majority of Romani People that integrate into the “host” society do so by denying and concealing their ethnicity. This is not just true for those that – for a lack of a better term - “deep integrate, e.g. those that end up in high positions in places of work, in politics, in the military and the police, and in show business and sports, but other do the same.

As soon as they live in a house and integrate in that way they begin got deny their ethnicity, and this is also true in the UK and elsewhere in the English-speaking world. Again and again I encounter members of the Romanichals in the UK and when, because of their names, for instance, the question is raised as to whether they are Gypsy, whether they are Rom, they will, invariably, reply “no, we are not Gypsy – our grandparents were but we are not – we live in a house”. Whether in this case it is full denial of ethnicity or just ignorance of the fact that Gypsies, that Rom, are an ethnic groups and Race is a different question.

In Germany amongst the Sinti (and Roma) we can also find that they deny to neighbors in the places where they live that they are Sinti (or Roma) and claim to be Italian, Greek, Spanish, Turkish, and such like, and they, for that very reason give they children Mediterranean-sounding names like Angelo, Antonio, Giovanni, and such like. As I keep saying, Mario Mettbach sounds real Italian or Spanish – NOT! This denial of ethnicity starts simply already when going for an apartment as, even in Germany, there is often the attitude and I know of several Sinti who have even been told this by the municipal housing authorities, “while we must house you we do not really want any Gypsies”. So, it is not really surprising that the denial takes place but... too many also seem to lack pride in their background and roots.

The concealment of ethnicity by so many Sinti and Roma who are integrating into society to some degree is also not surprising really as most non-Gypsies only have one image in mind when the word Gypsy is mentioned and that is begging children and pickpockets and such. There is no positive image of the Sinto and Rom in the mind of the non-Gypsies in the same way as the Sinti and Roma.

Instead of being held up as an example as someone who has achieved high position without denying his roots even, senior CID officer Guenther Weiss of CID Kehl/Rhein is being called an outcast because of his job.

Even the fact that this or that actor, artist, or sports personality, such as soccer player, is Gypsy is being played down or not even mentioned. Without positive models how can our (young) people have pride to go to achieve something.

In the interview Romani Rose said, and we quote here verbatim: “At the moment we are experiencing a frightening development. The most recent events in Italy make that clear. The measures taken by Berlusconi's administration in declaring a state of emergency and other steps are a clear breach of the EU Treaty. Sinti and Roma are EU citizens. The causes of the problems lie with municipal Italian government that allows slums to arise. When a few thousand people without any chance of improving their lot in life live on the edge of the city in indescribable conditions, it naturally worries the population. But latching on to the problem and using it in an election campaign as the Lega Nord did by using minorities to make the majority of people feel afraid -- that's something I hadn't thought could still be possible in Europe.

The Italian parliamentary president has made general, racist comments aimed at Sinti and Roma. That would be unimaginable in Germany. Discrimination and racism exist here too, but abusing the difficulties facing a minority to turn people's attention from other issues is something I think has been made impossible by 60 years of dealing with our history.”

I am afraid that Brother Rose lives in “cloud cuckoo land” if he believes that it could not happen in Germany what is happening in Italy. Far from it. We already have had the firebomb attacks of some years back for which, I believe, to this very day the perpetrators have to be brought to justice and rumor has it that the police knows very well who did it. Surprise? NO!

I am also in no way surprised that the fascists parties – and shame on the for Czechoslovakia for even permitting them – and shame also on Germany for allowing the likes of the NPD and the DVU and other neo-Nazi organizations – in the Czech Republic and elsewhere are calling for the rounding up and deportation of all Gypsies “back” to India.

Germany can just as quickly also become a dangerous place for Sinti and Roma as has Italy and other countries. To think otherwise is being complacent. We must be pre-armed as regards to this and be prepared to fight it.

The Gypsies in Germany have been integrated for 600 to 700 years by now, even though some may have travelled still until recently permanently even. Some, however, have been integrated and integrating ever since those days.

Being integrated, however, often means that the Gypsy People lie about their ethnic affiliation because they think that they will be able to evade the deep set stigmatization. The same is also true in the United Kingdom as in other countries of western Europe, as well as the Americas and the Antipodeans. The evil spectre of anti-Gypsyism is everywhere, it seems.

The problem is that the pictures of anti-Gypsyism are still very much alive, even in our modern era, or suddenly more so even with Internet and all that, and the Gypsy is still being portrayed, as we know from the issues in Italy, as snatchers of children, as thieves, beggars and worse, and while we have our fair share or rogues and criminals – but which group has not – the majority of our People just want to be allowed to to live without being hounded from pillar to post.

All of this that forces the Romani people to live in anonymity even though they are involved in all aspects of life – everything from politics to sports.

It must be our goal to bring about a climate that they can talk about the minority they are a part of without fear of discrimination or reprisals in any way, shape or form. However, personally, I sometimes think that, as far as we, the Gypsy, are concerned, this will never be possible, regardless of what term we may ascribe to ourselves, whether Gypsy, Sinti, Roma, Romani, or Traveller. The non-Gypsy general public will continue to have the negative image of us, as a People, as a Race, as people of non-achievers, of thieves, beggars, and such like, unless we can present them, and our People, with positive images, such as the previous mentioned CID officer.

Anti-Gypsyism was not invcented by the German Nazis; it has always been part of the German and European psyche, it would seem. But while the Nazis did not invent anti-Gypsyism it, nonetheless, was what led to their program of annihilation of the Romani People.

Anti-Gypsyims must be fought against wherever it raises its head but that means that we must identify ourselves as Gypsy – something many will not be prepared to do.

It cannot be permitted any longer that ethnicity is mentioned as far as Gypsies are concerned whenever any kind of crime is being committed, as happened recently in Britain with the Johnson clan of burglars. The ethnicity as Gypsies was stressed again and again by the media and the police and courts. This is something that would never ever be permitted to be done in conjunction with Jews, Muslims or whatever other ethnicity. Gypsies, Romani, on the other hand, always seem to be fair game here.

Not so long ago we have had an incident where a car was stolen via a ruse of a test drive and the victim, the showroom owner, described the perpetrator as Gypsy “because he had a Gypsy accent”. Sorry, a what accent? There is no such thing as a Gypsy accent in the UK or elsewhere. We all here speak the different local dialect, or not, as the case may be. But none have a Gypsy accent as there is no such thing. However, both police and the media ran with that.

In Germany, as well as in the United States, police reports still routinely state “Gypsy” in the description in one way or the other and the police departments in many US states even issue warnings for people to beware of Gypsies in the neighborhood and such.

This in democratic countries where generalities based on ethnicity just cannot be permitted in democratic constitutional countries and states. It does, however, happen again and again, and even and especially from the side of the law and law enforcement agencies. The Interior Minister of the Third Reich, Frick, ordered that non-Aryans' race be emphasized in court sentencing and modern Germany and other countries should behave different but do they? The answer, in my experience to this is a firm NO.

Anti-Gypsyism in Europe and elsewhere is far more widespread than – despite the fact that we would have other deny this – anti-Semitism. When it comes to ant-Gypsyism a far more open form of rejection seems to be accepted and acceptable to most members of the general public. When it comes to anti-Semitism the consequences quickly become more serious, at least in countries such as Germany, and rightly so. But the Gypsy can be attacked, in all manner of forms, and persecuted and discriminated against and very few people as much as bat an eyelid.

Not so long ago discriminatory comments were made by the deputy director of the association of German detectives. In an association publication he said the Sinti and Roma felt they could "live off the fat of the affluent society" and took "persecution
during the Third Reich as legitimizing for theft and social parasitism."

While some politicians in Germany have distanced themselves from this statement, such as the premiers of Bavaria and Brandenburg, Beckstein and Platzeck, the prosecutors, however, saw it as covered by freedom of expression. Would they have been able to do that had the statement been about Jews? No, they would not. There is, in Germany, and elsewhere in the EU, one law that governs all others and there seems to be one law that governs the Gypsy and as far as that law is concerned the Gypsy remains “free as a bird” nigh on.

To this very day the attitudes of the German police of the Nazi era and before – let us face it that this did not just start at 1933 – prevail in the German police and the court system. Hardly surprising though considering that the majority that trained today's older police officers and judges were none others but those that served the Hitler dictatorship.

Everything just carried on after 1945 as it did before, at least as far as the Gypsy is concerned.

So, where does that leave us as far as the European Union and our status is concerned as a minority within the Union. It leaves us in the same position as before. Wait until they go the same way with the term “Roma” to which everyone wants us to subscribe, as they did with Gypsy in Britain. Then, suddenly, there is no more ethnic group, and in one foul swoop there is no more protection. Bingo!

Do I have a far too bleak vision of the future for the Romani-Gypsy People? I do not think so, I am afraid to say. I basically predicted that things were going the way the are going in Italy many years ago – only no one wanted to believe it then. Unless we stand up and be counted and let the world see that we are a Nation amongst nations and that we have more decent people amongst us than rogues, then, and only then, will we get somewhere.

I know that we may need unity for that but, and here comes the but, that unity cannot be under a name that not all can subscribe to, namely the term “Roma”. In addition to that the attitude of the Roma against those that are not Roma also would have to change first, the attitude that they will call an Sinto or Calo a Gadjo, a non-Gypsy.

While unity is, obviously, something that one needs to be really recognized as a People, this cannot be achieved in such a way. We cannot get anywhere under those conditions for, while some of the big chaps may be happy to play along, the majority of the grassroots would never stand for that, and rightly so.

So, how to we proceed?

In order to get unity of some sort it may be necessary to create a second pole. That is to say a body for all the non-Roma groups of Romani, a sort of Confederation, that then could, maybe, work, on an equal footing, with similar bodies of the Roma.

Dosta penaua!

AVA! Ame Shai!

© M Smith (Veshengro), August 2008