4.3. The Roma since 1989

The historian and migration expert Professor Dr. Klaus J. Bade from Osnabrück describes in his book entitled “Europe on the move: Migration from the late 18th century to the present day”:

The East-West-Migration of the Roma to Central Europe in great numbers was made possible only by the revolution in Romania in December of 1989 and forced by the conflict in former Yugoslavia. Initially, they primarily moved towards Germany, also to Austria, and spread through further migration to other European countries as well.

Under the Ceaucescu regime, the Roma had lived “free” – as opposed to earlier suppression and expulsion – in so far as nobody cared for them. Towards the end of the dictatorship, disastrous plans for “reform” of the regime were again taking form concerning state intervention into the lives of the Roma. They hardly came into practice, but the fear remained. It was enhanced when the Roma – after the revolution of 1989 – were again caught by historical prejudices against their group. They were mixed with a racist nationalism, accusations of collaboration with the overthrown regime and supposed unjustified consideration at the distribution of land.

Acts of violence and attacks against Roma settlements took place in different regions. In 1991/92, almost 30 pogroms were registered in Romania. This, but also the hope for a better economical position were the main motives for the migration of the Roma to the West. In the early 1990s, about 50,000 Sinti and 30,000 Roma permanently lived in Germany with a German citizenship. They had survived the Nazi genocide, partially with serious injuries due to medical “experiments” in the concentration camps. In addition to that, there were roughly 30,000 to 40,000 work migrants of different nationalities from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe classified as Sinti and Roma.

They created migration networks that offered contacts to the West. In Germany, the at least till 1993 relatively open asylum legislation offered them a temporarily safe residence. Information about the asylum-seekers registered as Roma from Eastern Europe up until 1993 are based on estimates; because asylum-seekers are registered in Germany according to their nationality, but not according to their ethnicity.

According to official estimates, about 250,000 Roma refugees had come to Germany from January 1990 to July 1st, 1993, when the new asylum law came into effect. Of these, the greatest part (60 percent) came from Romania, 30 percent from Yugoslavia and fiver percent from Bulgaria. In the Germany of the early 1990s, the Roma from Eastern Europe shaped a group conspicuous in its forms of living, company and sociability. Their day-to-day social behaviour was usually described as foreign and annoying. Communal authorities came under pressure from enraged citizens in 1992/93. In partially latent, partially openly racist descriptions, “the Gypsies” became an anti-social opposite to the orderly civilian world.

Threats of physical violence against the migrants from the East alarmed the security interests. After “voluntary re-migrations”, supported “repatriations”, after expulsions under threats of deportation, regular deportations and further migrations to other European countries, in the middle of 1993 there remained an official number of 125,000 Roma refuges in Germany at the most, while Roma organizations only estimated about 75,000.

In the following years, the numbers decreased even further due to measures which formed a stark opposite to the handling of emigrants and Jews from Eastern Europe. Their immigration was welcome or at least accepted and was accompanied by the state through general principles of social inclusion and societal integration.

For the unwelcome immigration of “Gypsies” from Eastern Europe, the opposite held true – exclusion and repatriation. What had been enough for the collective acceptance of the Jews from the former Soviet states as contingent refugees in Germany, did not suffice for the “Gypsies”. It could not be enforced by political pressure, either, because the Roma lacked powerful support from the West.

There were only support organisations like the “Central Council of the Sinti and Roma” and the “Rom and Cinti Union”, the “Society for endangered people”, some supportive initiatives and nice-sounding recommendations on the European level. This context had also shown in the neglect of the Roma people in the “compensation” payments from Germany – although they were, with about 500,000 victims, the group with the heaviest casualties in the Holocaust after the Jews. The remembrance of the violent crimes of the National Socialists did not help the “Gypsies” from South-Eastern Europe as refugees in Germany, either.

Added to this was a certain reserve – also because of self-protection – of the already established members of the ethnic group in the West towards the Roma from South-Eastern Europe. It was remindful of the scepticism of assimilated American Jews towards the large number of Eastern-European Jews who came to the U.S. during the “New Immigration” in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Roma were handled differently in the several German federal states – as refugees, asylum-seekers or temporarily tolerated individuals.

The lived in collective quarters or at camp sights between expulsion, deportation threats and deportation stops. Meanwhile, hectic treaty negotiations took place with the Eastern European origin- and transit countries. Their first result was the German-Romanian “Return agreement” of November 1992. It was followed by similar agreements with other Eastern and South-Eastern European countries, usually connected with millions in subventions for the “taking back”. The chain-migrations from East to West, stopped by the “fortress Europe” through extensive defensive measures, were replaced by chain-deportations back from West to East. Expelled Roma and those caught near the border were deported back to their origin countries, where they sometimes again became victims of angry nationalists. What remained for Roma from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe who longed for the West was the growing illegal migration that was provoked by the legal closing of the “fortress Europe”.

This recently also held true for the Roma from Kosovo, who were expelled after the war ended together with the Serbs by the returning Albanians, who claimed they were “collaborators” of the Serbs.

The “fortress Europe” is supposed to enlarge to the East. It will have to face the fact that in Eastern Central Europe, there is more going on than work migrations – which are rather easy to calculate. It will also, in the long term, have to deal with a precarious overlapping of work-, minority- and flight migrations, which will not be manageable by regional economic support alone.