Anti-Rom Measures in Europe Need to be Stopped Tuesday, 24 August 2010: Rene Wadlow
Wandering now from land to land
Who is there here to feel my pain?”
-- Younous Emre, Thirteeth Century Turkish dervish
early August, the French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux announced
that more than 40 Gypsy camps had been dismantled around France since
President Nicolas Sarkozy had called earlier this summer for a
crackdown on the camps calling them “sources of illegal trafficking,
profoundly shocking living standards, exploitation of children for
begging, prostitution and crime.” Some 300 Roma camps not on municipal
sites organized for Gypsy or “Travellers” are to be demolished and some
— the criteria for expulsion is not clear — expelled mostly to Romania
and Bulgaria. The political motivations of Mr. Sarkozy are clear: to
pander to the anti-immigration Right — basically the voters of the
National Front — who have long had an anti-immigrant platform.
there have been anti-Rom measures in Germany where some 12,000 Rom are
to be deported to Kosovo, in Italy where a “state of emergency” had
been declared on the basis of fear of Rom immigrants, as well as in
These measures come in the middle of a European Decade
of Roma Inclusion (2005-2015) called by European Union officials as “an
unprecedented commitment by European governments to improve the
socio-economic status and social inclusion of Roma” although public
awareness of the Decade is probably not high.
estimates that there are 10 to 12 million Rom living in the European
Union with the largest concentration in Romania — some two million
according to unofficial estimates. There are also fairly large Rom
groups in the former Soviet Union, in particular the Russian
Federation, Ukraine, Belarus, as well as in Turkey. Originally from
India, the Rom have spread through Europe probably between the ninth
and fourteenth centuries. Why they left northern India is not clear.
They seemed to have been from the start a nomadic population living
from handicrafts and providing music and dance to settled populations.
It is only recently that some Rom intellectuals have become interested
in their Indian heritage and have been making contacts with groups
which still live in India and which may have had common ancestors.
Rom have been known by a host of different names and only in the last
few years have started using “Rom” as a common name in order to achieve
some political attention to their conditions. The Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which created a small program
in 1994 uses the term “Roma and Sinti”. In former Yugoslavia, they are
often called “Egyptians” due to a myth that Rom came from Egypt rather
than India. Useful ethnographic studies on the Rom are published by the
Project on Ethnic Relations, Princeton.(1)
The Rom face a wide
range of often interrelated problems: citizenship, political
participation, racially-motivated violence, poverty, unemployment, and
an image which arouses ancestral fears of Gypsies. Governments and Rom
NGOs need to work together to provide decent living conditions based on
non-discrimination and fundamental rights.
A major difficulty is
that the states with large concentrations of Rom such as Romania and
Bulgaria have limited financial resources, and the Rom have little
political influence in order to get their share. In Western Europe, the
Rom are the easily identified “tip of the iceberg” of the larger issue
of migration and integration as globalization has made the barriers
separating different countries ever more permeable.
Arendt has written “The individual who has lost his place in the
political community risks to drop out of the boundaries of humanity.”
The confrontation between nomad and sedentary peoples is an old one,
always present in different forms and in different places. Compassion
and political imagination are needed. Managing migration in a changing
global environment is a crucial issue. The Gypsy camps are a text of a
society’s ability to mediate between the universal nature of human
rights and the protection of the cultural traits of a people.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens.