Saturday, 7 April 2012

April 8th is International Roma Day: celebrations or tribulations?

"I will stay optimistic that the discussions today in Cordoba may lead the way to a more equal existence for Roma people." 

Two years on from the European Roma Summit in Cordoba, only one thing has changed - my optimism has long since gone. Pessimism, of course, does not lead revolutions, yet it is challenging to be enthused by the empty promises of the Cordoba Summit's declaration of expectations. Did I miss the condemnation of forced evictions? The legitimate criminalisation of widespread antiziganism? The promotion of representation for the Romani people? Perhaps it is ambitious to expect any dramatic change in such a short period of time, but it would be fair for one to expect dramatic progress during, what has been named, the Decade of Roma Inclusion.

"The Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005-2015 is an unprecedented political commitment by European governments to improve the socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma", thus it shouldn't be wrong to expect that the twelve countries, who have proudly made this commitment, are doing all that is within their power to improve the situation for Europe's most deprived ethnic minority.   In reality, however, it is clear to see how distorted this commitment really is:

* A report released April 4th, reveals how Bosnia and Herzegovina's are excluding Roma from political participation. 

* Bulgaria was swamped by anti-Roma riots and violence in September 2011. 

* The racial segregation of Roma children, in Czech Republic schools. 

* Rumored Hungarian forced labor camps for unemployed Roma. 

* The illegal Macedonian travel ban, preventing Roma for leaving the country. 

* The Romanian Government's attempt to change the name of the Roma ethnicity to Tigan (untouchable). 

* The wall built in Slovakia in 2010, to separate Roma from the rest of their community.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly what progress is being made through the Decade of Roma Inclusion, especially when those countries who, unsurprisingly, have not pledged commitment to the initiative, appear to be just as 'advanced' at social inclusion. Let us not forget Cristina and Violetta Djeordsevic, the two Roma children whose lifeless bodies were photographed on a Naples beach, surrounded by sunbathing tourists. Nor should we forget Italy's plans, in 2008, to fingerprint all Roma children, the forced and ongoing expulsions of Roma from France, and the UK eviction of Dale Farm, which although victimised Irish Travellers, set a truly horrifying precedent for the treatment of Britain's Travelling and Romani communities. 

The continued and historic violations of the human rights of Europe's Roma, raise an important, yet unanswered, question: why does Europe hate the Romani people? Indeed, immigrants are often looked upon with great suspicion. Who are they? Where did they come from? Why are they here? Perhaps what is fascinating is that the Roma first arrived in Europe during the 12th century, yet 900 years on they are still considered somewhat alien - they are invaders, belonging to an unknown land. This hostility has transgressed time and borders, thus surely the Romani people must have committed a heinous and inconceivable act? 

​If Europe's Roma are guilty of anything, it is their refusal to assimilate. One would think that after 900 years of European settlement, the Romani culture would be somewhat weakened, but instead it remains distinctive and strong. It is this rejection of assimilation, however, that perhaps lays at the roots of Europe's widespread 
antiziganism. By rejecting mainstream culture, it can be argued that the Romani people have segregated themselves. Yet when they have been received with such great hostility since their arrival, where is the incentive to assimilate? Whether one agrees with the assimilation of minorities or not, the Romani people cannot be held accountable for the prejudice and discrimination that they have suffered. That is a product of intolerance, not a product of difference. 

In spite of these arguments, it still remains puzzling as to why Europe's Roma have been treated so abhorrently. There appears to be an irrational and unexplainable hate for the Romani people, that has led to unacceptable and mostly unchallenged social exclusion. An irrational hate that led to the systematic murder of approximately 500,000 Romani people by Nazi Germany. While the Jewish population were compensated for their suffering, the plight of the Romani people lives on. While the mass murder ended, the sentiment of the Porajmos is very much alive. The Romani people are unwanted, blamed for society's ills, and ghettoised. 

It is often easier to ignore injustice than to challenge it, but surely one day there must be an end to the persecution of Europe's Roma. Perhaps one of the biggest problems is that Europe's Roma have no voice, indeed there are many organisations that speak for them, but very few that are the true voice of the Romani people. What is more, there appears to be a lack of any unity whatsoever between the different Romani subgroups. In Bulgaria, the Daskane disassociate themselves from the Kalderash, while in the UK the Romanichal and European Roma communities live mostly isolated from one another. Perhaps if less time was spent pursuing the myth of the pure blood Romani, which acts only to divide rather than unite, then more time could be spent building a powerful and united voice. 

While the internal divisions amongst the Romani population have hindered attempts at a voice of solidarity, one mustn't be distracted from the more pressing problems of tolerated antiziganism. The anti-Roma riots in Bulgaria last year were a clear and frightening indication of European attitudes towards the Romani people. Seven years into the Decade of Roma Inclusion, tensions are rising and social exclusion is worsening. It appears that this initiative relies more on ticking boxes than taking action, after all it would take an honourable government to push aside populism in favour of equality for a community that are so profoundly hated by the public.

It is interesting that only 12 European countries have made a commitment, albeit a poor one, to challenging what can only be described as a 900 year old apartheid. With just three years left, it seems very unlikely that the Decade of Roma Inclusion will achieve any significant progressions. With Europe currently in financial catastrophe, it appears governments have taken a leaf out of Hitler's book - condemning the vulnerable to sustain distraction. Thus, while Europe's Roma remain disproportionately underrepresented in the political sphere, we can expect to see very little change, yet plenty of unfulfilled commitments.  

 "Prohasar man opre pirend, sa muro djiben semas opre chengende"