print logo
  • Username:  

The Wild East - Roma exclusion in Europe

 Fiftyfifty - Germany 24 October 2019

In Eastern Europe mobs are on the rampage. Violence against members of the Roma people has claimed lives. Despite widespread reporting of organised violence and forced sterilisations governments are largely downplaying or ignoring violence against 'gypsies', whose marginalised position in society appears to allow for state apathy. The associated stigma of criminality appears to permit outrageous acts of both state neglect and physical violence. (921 Words) - By Maria Kupczyk and Hubert Ostendorf


fiftyfifty_Der wilde osten

Ohne Chancen und dem Hass preisgegeben: Roma-Kinder in einem Elendsdorf in Rumänien. Credit: Hubert Ostendorf

The leaders of the upsurge in violence against the Roma are well organised right wing extremists, terrorists, hooligans and, in some cases, even resentful citizens. They have one thing in common: their hateRoma people, who are severely marginalised in post-Communist society.

Until recently, in the Czech Republic, Roma children were sent to special schools as they were considered incapable to 'cope' with formal education. Human rights activists have also uncovered incidents of forced sterilisations.

Roma people live on the edges of society, mainly in small villages. They often live in extreme hardship and are left to themselves, without the support of advocacy groups. Many live inpoverty with high levels of illiteracy, unemployment, and without fundamental health care, leading some into prostitution or criminality. However, many others simply live with the image that they are criminal and have to fight prejudice all their lives.

Evidence of this was clear when Roma people and their children were given bikes by German street paper Fiftyfifty. Within days the police got involved, assuming they were stolen, despite gift certificates  issued by the paper to prove the legality of the bikes.

In Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary and other East European countries Roma people are still generally living under quasi-suspicion that they are thieves. In extreme cases, their houses and settlements are set on fire by crazed hordes and in a recent indicent several shack dwellers were murdered in full public view.

The marginalisation and the hatred of Roma people stems from self-proclaimed vigilantes, who feel it is their job to harass, threaten, dislodge or even brutally murder Roma people.

In Hungary the "Jobbik Party," paramilitary gangs in SS uniforms, have emerged who promote being openly violent against Roma people. They are rarely discouraged by the police. Racism is openly tolerated and with a lack of both political awareness and anyone to advocate on their behalf the Romany have little chance to raise objections to this practice.

None of this is new. Oppression and defencelessness have long gone hand in hand as part of every day life in Roma society. What is new is that with the expansion of the European Union, supposedly sharing common human values across borders, migration and exploitation appears to be forming a new bond.

Tens of thousands of Roma are taking the opportunity to flee hardship and misery and move westwards in the hope of finding more humanity and acceptance. More than ever before Roma people from Bulgaria and Romania are seeking refuge in Italy, Spain, France, England and even Germany where, when they are lucky, can earn a few Euros slogging away as a cleaner or as a builder under slave like conditions. This is illegal as they won't gain European Union status -and therefore a right to work in the EU- until 2014.

Without a work permit they are left to the mercy of their traffickers, who take away their passport and provide a minimal salary. For those who have no job there is no other option but to beg or to sell street newspapers. They don't receive state benefits and they are treated like second- class EU citizens.

Western European countries turn a blind eye to the Roma people's problems and solutions to their situation are few and far between. One area of hope are the various street papers, such as FiftyFifty, who are showing that through good will there are opportunities. Every Roma vendor who works for Fiftyfifty now has a flat, is registered with the police and sends their kids to school.

This is unique in Europe. Although the media creates a negative image of Roma people, the paper has been successful in promoting a positive one and generate support in the wider population for the integration of Roma people.

However, there is little help for Roma people from their own countries. Most of the funds made available by the EU disappear through corrupt authorities, are squandered on nonsensical conferences or by the Roma communities themselves.

Frequently in the past Roma gangs have pocketed the welfare grants for themselves. Therefore, the entire EU strategy should be geared towards supporting Roma families returning to their homelands. Quick success is unlikely as this will likely require detailed and complex social work that should get to the root of the problems.

It's crucial, however, that a rethink occurs. There is a lack of empathy towards the Roma. First and foremost the intense violence against these defenceless people must be stopped. Following that political emancipation must begin. Even the Pope has recently engaged with the problem and said that we have to finally, "accept the Roma people and their entitled differences." The Nobel Prize for Literature winner Guenther Grass has been calling for a long time for the rights of the Roma people to sit and vote in the European Parliament.

Only with these beginnings can the Roma hope for a better future, a future with us and not apart from us. And a future that may one day see a return for the Roma to their homelands. It is bitter irony that on this matter, both right wing extremists and the Roma themselves agree.

Translated from German into English by Nina Lucy Smith

 Other Language Versions

SNS logo
  • Website Design