The recent racist declaration of the President of the Czech Republic Milos Zeman against Roma minority in his country in which the rather graphic leader described Roma as lazy people, came as a surprise for many. But it shouldn’t have. Anti-Roma statements and actions form a very gloomy yet daily part of everyday life in many European Union member states.
In fact, anti-Gypsyism is just as present as anti-Semitism in Europe’s history. Roma suffered through their own Holocaust during the Second World War with more than 220,000 victims.
Protection from any form of discrimination is a fundamental right in the EU, just as equal rights for every citizen independently of his religion, ethnicity, language, culture, colour, sex and sexual preferences. However, the rise of far-rightists and ultraconservatives shows these fundamental principles in the EU are still only on paper.
Different old phobias as anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism and xenophobia are enriched by new ones, such as Islamophobia, homophobia, aporophobia etc. these are all notions and practices that remind us how vulnerable EU societies are and how unprotected citizens of minority groups (national, linguistic, sexual, disable people etc.) remain under the attack of far-right and racist politicians.
Phobias work in favour of the far-right. The social groups they target is heavily affected by pauperisation and social exclusion. Most vulnerable are unemployed youth, law educational level people, bankrupted of the middle class, people traditionally attracted by violence and nationalism.
Far-right politicians have cultivated these phobias by spreading fear for an imminent and catastrophic threat represented by migrants, Muslims, Jews, Africans, Albanians and Roma among others.
But far-right politicians are not the only ones responsible for this in EU politics. There are other leaders, hidden within the big political families, who use the same methods and aspire to rake in the same political profits.
The result is further division of EU societies and a blatant infringement of European values.
An apartheid environment?
In some EU member states anti- Gypsyism is, in a certain way, institutionalised.
In fact, the children of Roma in Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic are obligated to attend so-called “special schools”. It’s a system that critics warn represents a tremendous obstacle to these children’s education and future integration.
According to an article by Christopher Adam, the founding editor of the Hungarian Free Press, “all signs indicate that in the last eight years, Hungary has moved towards greater ethnic segregation in schools. In a country with a growing Roma population and a severe shortage of skilled and educated labour in many fields, the storm clouds are gathering.” (https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/hungary-fails-roma-children/)
In Romania, the situation is no better. The children of Roma are the victims of discriminatory policies. As explained on 20 September 2013 by András György Király, secretary of state for minorities in Romania’s education ministry, “It is a general problem, and in relation to those schools where the number of Roma is significant, if there is indifference, if there is disarray, of course I would not allow my child to attend that school.”
Education is not the only example of segregation in Romania. The areas where the Roma reside lack lack drinking water, sanitary infrastructures and acceptable transport lines. Practically, they live in slums hidden away on the margins of big cities or on the outskirts of villages.
Discrimination is an everyday reality. According to survey conducted by the Institute for the Studies of Totalitarian Regimes (USTR) and sociologists in Prague in February, Roma were rejected by 79% of Czechs working in the civil services, two-thirds of teachers, 85% of employees of public and social services and 71% of the health staff. (https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/roma-jews-disliked-prague/)
Slovaks have actually taken one step further. In some areas of the country, high concrete walls have been raised to physically divide the ‘white’ citizens from the ‘Gypsy’. And this practice is widely accepted as an ‘administrative fact’.
Under the new Italian coalition government of populists of the Five Stars Movement and the far-right League, Roma are facing a new threat. Italy’s Interior Minister and leader of the League party, Matteo Salvini, has announced plans to shut down all illegal Roma camps in the country. He also wants to hold a special “census” on the matter. (https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/italy-count-deport-roma/)
Of course, Italian far-right anti-Gypsyism is nothing new. Riccardo De Corato, deputy vice mayor of Milan, elected in the lists of Silvio Berlusconi’s party, had declared back in October 2010: “These are dark-skinned people, not Europeans like you and me… Our final goal is to have zero Gypsy camps in Milan.”
And in April 2011, De Corato closed a camp of Romani in Milan. It was a move that got him re-elected the following month.
Shoot the Gypsy
The administrative practices against Roma in some EU member states are an undeniable fact. Another fact is the use of anti-Gypsyism for propaganda purposes and for courting votes before elections.
As such, Czech President Milos Zeman’s suggestion that Roma do not work and are lazy people is not surprising.
In December 2010, Pavel Louda, mayor of Nový Bydžov and member of the conservative Civic Democratic Party (ODS) said that Romani “are shouting in the streets, threatening people, including with knives, and committing theft and rape. While all decent people are at work, the Gypsies hang out on the benches on the town square, contentedly shooting the breeze.”
Louda was severely criticised by the Council of Europe and in response he organised a meeting for fellow mayors to discuss the topic of the “inadaptable citizen”. One of the mayors, Liana Janáčková, a former member of the Czech Senate, had declared on another occasion: “I am against any integration (of Roma people), I’m afraid I’m a racist.”
In April 2009, an anti-Roma arson attack was reported against a house of a Roma family.
The anti-Gypsyism was expressed in Romania as well by the most official lips. “We have one more problem which must be stated and which makes the integration of nomadic Roma difficult — very few of them want to work. Many of them, traditionally, live off what they steal,” said Traian Basescu, President of Romania in November 2010.
Viktor Orban and his Fidesz party are known for their extreme anti-Islam and antiimmigration rhetoric and actions as well as for their devotion to Christian values. But few in Europe know that Fidesz and the entourage of the Hungarian PM also share many of these anti-Roma sentiments. In fact, the co-founder of Fidesz, Zsolt Bayer, made a controversial statement in January 2013. He said: “A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals. When they meet with resistance, they commit murder. They are incapable of human communication. Inarticulate sounds pour out of their bestial skulls… But one must retaliate rather than tolerate. These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved — immediately and regardless of the method.”
Now Salvini. Last but definitely not least. “Unfortunately, you have to keep the Italian Roma at home,” he said on June 2018. (https://www.europeaninterest.eu/article/italy-count-deport-roma/)
Europe must act
It is unacceptable for leading politicians in EU member states to so openly express such racist views without even fear of condemnation from European level. It is also unacceptable that EU citizens face such harsh discrimination in their own country. An apartheid environment has no place in the EU – at least if we still want the EU to be based on specific principles and values.
As for the latest racist remarks by President Zeman, these were condemned by too few political forces.
So suddenly, we have all discovered there are too many of phobias threatening EU citizen’s stability. Suddenly, we realise that EU has many skeletons in the closet.