Europe, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS-EUROPE: New Fascism Hunts Roma

David Cronin

BRUSSELS, Nov 13 2008 (IPS) - A political ideology based on the desire to exterminate Roma gypsies is emerging in parts of Europe, a Brussels conference has been told.

Following a number of violent attacks on Roma by skinheads and other extremists in Bulgaria, it was announced during August 2007 that the far-right National Guard party was being established.

The ‘anti-gypsyism’ advocated by its leader Vladimir Rasate could be compared to the anti-Semitism that helped bring the Nazis to power in 1930s Germany, according to Michael Stewart, professor of anthropology at University College London. “With the National Guard party, the disposing of the Roma is seen as a basis for national renewal,” said Stewart, who has worked extensively with Roma communities in former communist countries. “This is a new phenomenon in Europe that has not existed before. It is a real danger.”

Stewart’s comments, delivered to a hearing in the European Parliament Nov. 13, echo the findings of a recent report on hate crime against Roma by Human Rights First. The New York-based organisation stated that for Roma in some countries “the newly virulent anti-gypsyism is an eerie reminder of the Porrajmos, the Romany Holocaust during the Second World War that killed more than half of Europe’s Roma population.

“When senior European political leaders publicly discuss ‘solutions’ to the ‘Roma problem’, advocating the use of dynamite, electrified fences, mug shots, fingerprinting of men, women and children, and deportations, historical parallels inadvertently come to mind.”

The hostility against Roma has been particularly acute in Italy, where parties in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition have openly tried to portray all Roma as criminals. In May, the Italian government introduced a ‘security package’ which provided for the dismantling of Roma camps and the automatic deportation of migrants who cannot prove they have regular employment.

Discrimination against Roma in Italy is “unrivalled by any other country in Europe,” said Monica Rossi, researcher at the University of Rome, explaining that Roma are denied the official status of a minority and are unable to claim Italian citizenship. Programmes ostensibly aimed at allowing Roma children go to school have failed, she said. “After 40 years of having schooling projects, we have got 20 underage Roma who are in secondary schools. That is out of a population of 15,000 people.”

Graziano Halilovic from Xoraxane Rrom, Italy’s Roma federation, described the conditions in the camps where his people live as “pretty extreme”.

“It’s a shame for the Italian nation to allow Roma to live in such conditions,” he added. “What’s even worse is that Italy is a part of the European Union. Italy’s shame can readily become the shame of the European Union.”

During September, the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, hosted a Roma summit, which heard calls for the development of an EU strategy on Roma inclusion. Estimated to comprise between 12 and 15 million people, the Roma are frequently described as the largest ethnic minority in Europe, up to nine million of which live within the EU’s 27 countries.

Valeriu Nicolae, secretary-general of the European Roma Grassroots Organisation, said Roma are not properly consulted when policies affecting them are being formulated. “The main body dealing with Roma issues in the European Union – which is the European Commission – does not employ any Roma or any Roma policy expert,” he said.

Jan Jarab, a Commission official dealing with social policy, said the EU’s executive is willing to increase its efforts to ease the plight of the Roma. But it is reluctant, he added, to simply “repackage” previously introduced laws against discrimination and “put on the label ‘strategy’.”

At the moment, policies in EU countries on Roma are often based on either a ‘laissez-faire’ approach or repression, he said. He cited Spain as a country where success has been registered in providing Roma with decent jobs and housing.

Marian Nedelica, a teacher in the Romanian city Craiova, said that although his country has enacted a law guaranteeing access to education, some 27 percent of Roma children do not attend school. Penalties should be introduced against school authorities that allow discrimination to occur, he argued.

Livia Jaroka, a Hungarian member of the European Parliament of Roma origin, said that her people suffer from an “extreme sub-Saharan Africa type of poverty.” Instruments to punish EU governments that fail to enforce the Union’s anti-discrimination laws are needed, she added.

Gabriela Hrabanova, an official with the Czech ministry of labour and social affairs, said that there is a “lack of coordination” between the EU’s member states on issues concerning the Roma. “In many member states, there is nothing going on at the local level, although on paper it looks like everything is great.”

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