Weariness and despair could have finally caught up with us. Haven’t the Roma people, Tziganes, Gypsies and Sintis been persecuted for centuries? Haven’t the stereotypes against them spanned several centuries, countries and political regimes? Wouldn’t it be illusive to think that one could “normalize” a situation that may appear desperate?
Indeed, in many ways, violence against the Roma people in Europe seems endless and the problems they face to be fully integrated into society appear insurmountable.
For example, in Central Europe and the Balkans, a rational exists which pushes for their removal from public space, often even by physical eradication. They are thus confined in the outskirts of major cities. In many cities and villages, Roma people are packed into separated and walled districts without any access to running water, electricity nor public services. It is particularly the case in Ostrava (The Czech Republic), in Michalovce, Ko ice, Pre ov and Svinia (Slovakia), in Tarlungeni and Baia Mare (Romania). In Baia Mare, the Roma people have even been recently expelled to a disused chemical factory with a high level of toxicity. Furthermore, there are countless urban ghettos in Bulgaria, where in 2011 the far right party, Ataka, organized anti-Roma protests in some 20 cities under the banner of “Death to the Roma people!” and “Turn the Roma people into Soap!” In Hungary, the paramilitary militia of the Jobbik party terrorizes Roma people, forces them to flee their villages, as in Gyongyospata, and regularly triggers extreme racist violence. All the while the Hungarian government uses the fight against benefit fraud as an excuse to set up blatant open work camps for Roma people.
Moreover, in France, despite the change in political leadership, expulsions and deportations are restarting and they continue to take place in Germany, Sweden and Italy.
Finally, daily racial discrimination in health, employment, leisure and education persists in Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia, and Poland.
Whereas this worrying situation could have drowned us in despair, in fact it pushes us to an even greater commitment to the fight for Dignity and Equality of rights.
This is why, on Sunday October 7, we will march in our countries, leading the unified European civil society across the continent, from Norway to Serbia, from Portugal to Poland including Italy, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria to calmly but firmly proclaim together: “Roma Pride!”
Together, we will lead a mobilization both political and cultural, which will take the form of political gatherings or cultural events.
Despite what naysayers and those driven desperate by weariness may say, our hope to have the dignity of the individuals coming from one of the oldest European communities fully recognized is not in vain.
Indeed, at the institutional level, the European Union has made some steps in advance: for the first time, owing to the help of the Commission and of some Members of the European Parliament who have been involved in the issue for a long time, all Member States had to draft and present to the Commission a “National Strategy for Roma Integration” by the end of 2011.
However, how could some of these strategies really have an impact when they remain without funds or planning? How couldn’t we see that it is a way to avoid the issue, and so allow the perpetuation of violence and discrimination?
Above all, a Roma elite is emerging today in Europe, with a simple and clear objective: the full Equality of rights and responsibilities. This elite, composed of political women and men, intellectuals, artists and activists, is not alone. It is deeply rooted into the Roma communities across the continent and is a full part of the European civil society.
Roma Pride is therefore a mobilization of and a support system for self-emancipation. It will be carried out by civil society regardless of the origins of individuals and organizations involved, since Universalism is our inspiration, and the full integration of all, our shared demand.
This integration does not mean a threat to culture nor to the transmission of identities and traditions which, in their diversity, are part of the European heritage.
It means, everywhere, an end to racist murders, the dismantlement of the ghettos, an end to the stigmatization of Roma people for political purposes, an end to discriminatory laws and to “exceptional” amendments. In practise, these amendments target Roma people, as it is the case of those concerning the Schengen agreements, which limit the freedom of movement in Europe. It means a determined fight to deconstruct stereotypes, to fight discrimination in employment and housing, and an end to segregation in education. It means, at last, the recognition of the individual and national responsibilities for the persecution of Roma people, particularly by the European countries allied to Nazi Germany during WW II.
In order to eventually obtain the full integration of all individuals into European society, to achieve the Dignity of all and respect for Equality of rights across the continent, let us send a clear signal on October 7 and let us march together throughout Europe for Roma Pride!
By Benjamin ABTAN, President of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement – EGAM and, by country:
Albania: Aldo MERKOCI, President of the Mjaft! Movement, and Adriatik HASANTARI, President of Roma Active
Austria: Claudia SCH FER, CEO of ZARA, Alexander POLLAK, President of SOS Mitmensch, and Andrea H RLE, Executive Director of Romano Centro
Bosnia: Alma MASIC, Director of Youth Initative for Human Rights – Bosnia
Bulgaria: Krassimir KANEV, President of the Helsinki Committee, and Deyan KOLEV, President of the Roma Center Amalipe for interethnic dialogue and tolerance
Croatia: Mario MAZIC, Director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Croatia
The Czech Republic: Anna ABATOV , President of the Helsinki Committee and Jarmila BAL OV , President of Romea
Denmark: Anne NIELSEN, President of SOS mod racism, and Ferdi SABANI, Chairman of Roma Forzning i Danmark
Finland: Janette GR NFORS, Coordinator of Rasmus, antiracist network, and Founding Member of Nevo Roma
France: Cindy L ONI, President of SOS Racisme, and Alain DAUMAS, President of the French Union of Gypsy Associations
Germany: Serdar YAZAR, Spokesperson of the Turkish Union in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB)
Greece: Ahmed MOAWIA, Coordinator of the Greek Forum for Migrants
Hungary: Janos FARKAS, President of the Government of the Roma minority of Gyongyospata, and Erika MUHI, Director of NEKI
Italy: Angela SCALZO, President of SOS Razzismo, and Olga BALA, President of Partita Romilor
Kosovo: Raba GJOSHI, Director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Kosovo, and Osman OSMANI, Director of Initiativa 6
Latvia: Sigita ZANKOVSKA-ODINA, Researcher of the Latvian Center for Human Rights
Moldova: Nicolae RADITA, President of the Roma National Center
Montenegro: Boris RAONIC, President of Civic Alliance, and Teuta NURAJ, President of Nacionalni Savjet Roma i Egipcana
Norway: Kari Helene PARTAPUOLI, Director of the Antirasistisk Senter
Poland: Kasia KUBIN, Director of the Foundation Forum for Social Diversity, Paula SAWICKA, President of the Open Republic Association, and Roman KWIATKOWSKI, President of the Roma People Association in Poland
Portugal: Bruno GON ALVES, Vice-President of the Centro de Estudios Ciganos
Romania: Marian MANDACHE, Executive Director of Romani Criss
Russia: Svetlana GANNUSHKINA, Head of the Migration Rights Network of Memorial
Serbia: Maja MICIC, Director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights – Serbia, and Jovana VUKOVIC, Coordinator of the Regional Centre for Minorities
Slovakia: Irena BIHARIOVA, President of Ludia proti rasizmu
Sweden: Mariam Osman SHERIFAY, Chairwoman of Centrum mot Rasism
Turkey: Selcuk KARADENIZ, President of the Roma Youth Association, and Cengiz ALGAN, Spokesperson of Durde!
Ukraine: Zola KUNDUR, President of the Roma women fund Chiricli