Friday, 26 October 2012

Roma Memorial: Apology or Hypocrisy?

The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, this week unveiled a memorial, in Berlin, for the Romani men, women and children who were murdered by Nazi Germany, during World War II. Almost 70 years since the liberation of Nazi extermination camps, this memorial is long overdue, yet this is hardly surprising when Germany only formally recognised the genocide of the Romani people in 1982. Perhaps it should be a time to celebrate, indeed it could be seen as a sign of progress in the fight for equality, but for me this memorial reflects hypocrisy rather than apology. 


Under the expansion of the European Union, and the protection of ‘human rights’ this alliance provides, it would be true to say that Europe’s Romani population are no longer facing the threat of genocide in the traditional sense of the word, yet behind the façade of equality legislation lies a genocide of another kind – a genocide of culture. 

While Merkel vowed her ‘sadness and shame’ at the extermination of an estimated 500,000 Romani people, it was perhaps convenient that she failed to remember the 10,000 Roma refugees who were deported back to Kosovo in 2010.  Roma children, born and raised in Germany, expelled to a land they did not know. Their parents, returning to a land they fled from, where they had once faced the threat of death; with no hope for employment, and no faith that anything had changed. 

Meanwhile in France, tens of thousands of Roma families have been deported to Romania and Bulgaria since 2009, however while the international community feigned condemnation, they appeared blind to the reality that the Romani people face extreme discrimination all over Europe. Sterilization, segregated education, forced evictions, absolute poverty, unemployment, third world living conditions, exclusion from political participation, forced assimilation – this is the reality for the Romani people, who are not only facing discrimination on a state level, but who are contending with neo-Nazi thought that is increasingly gripping European populations. 

Time and time again, we have politicians and commentators, from across Europe, referring to this deplorable situation as the ‘Roma Problem’, with the likes of François Hollande going as far as proposing forced deportations as a ‘Roma Solution’. It was not from within the Romani community that these inequalities were formed; antizignanism is the product of the non-Romani world, thus it is not a ‘Roma Problem’ but a ‘Racist European Problem’ for which there is only one solution: tolerance. Tolerance, however, is reserved only for the non-Romani, indeed it could be said that Europe are more interested in planning ‘the final solution of the Romani question’.

While genocide is no longer a policy employed by European governments, it is safe to say very little has changed for the Romani people post World War II.  Though antisemitism is still present, the situation for Jewish people has improved significantly. While there are still pockets of archaic attitudes towards Jewish people, such as their political exclusion in Bosnia and Herzegovina; the scale of the atrocities committed against them and the poignant images of their suffering that remain etched into our minds, have lingered as a reminder that this must never happen again. The Jewish population will never forget the Holocaust, yet the change of attitudes towards them has allowed a platform for which they have been able to rebuild their lives, and reinstate their position in society.

This, however, has not been the case for the Romani people. While the memorial opened in Berlin this week makes certain that the Porajmos cannot be airbrushed from the history books, it says very little about the commitment to prevent it happening again. Yes, there should be memorials for those who were murdered, but a water feature in Berlin means very little when Nazi attitudes towards the Romani people are still very much alive in Europe. Germany, and its war time allies, have a responsibility to learn from the horrors of the past and should be at the forefront of any initiatives promoting equality for the Romani people. 

No compensation has ever been rewarded to the survivors of the Porajmos, or to the families of those who were murdered. As a relative of Porajmos victims, I know all too well that no price can be put on the lives of those who were lost, and while justice can never fully be served, the sorrow could be eased if Germany were to compensate the victims through a financial and sincere commitment to exterminating antiziganism, rather than exterminating Romani culture. 

If I have children, I want them to go to school and read not a line in a text book about the Porajmos, but a chapter. It should not be some second thought, and the deaths of 500,000 Romani people should not have been in vain. Europe should have learnt from these atrocities, but instead have allowed Nazi attitudes to linger and thrive. Memorials are built so that we don’t forget, but it seems Europe do not wish to be reminded of their responsibilities. As for the Romani, how can we ever forget? We suffer the same as our forefathers and while they no longer kill us, they won’t let us live either. 

Na bister 500,000.


6 comments:

  1. Well said: a really great post, Pip.

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  2. I certainly hope you're aiming to become a journalist in later life.

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  3. Hi Pip,

    Sorry this comment isn't in relation to your post, which was very good.

    I wanted to know about gypsy horse-drawn waggons. I've seen pictures of them from Appleby, but I was wondering if any people still really use them for travelling?

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  4. Nice post, I had wondered if there had ever been the same kind of efforts towards reconciliation towards the Romani survivors and their families, now I know, and somehow I'm not surprised.

    I sometimes wonder if there is something specific about Romani culture that causes it to be continually singled out in this way, or if it is part of a larger felt-yet-unspoken angst the settled community has for ethnic groups with nomadic lifestyles. As I've travelled through the world, I've seen and heard the same kinds of things said about native amercians, australian aboriginals, fulbe pastoralists in nigeria, ... the list seems endless.

    If you have any perspective on this, I'd really value reading what you have to say.

    Regards
    John

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  5. Just reading your blog and being struck by how articulate you are for eighteen.

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  6. I notice how cute the young traveler girls are but because of there hard life I notice they do not age well...Not trying to be rude

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