4.4. A Change in Thinking is demanded
The situation of the Roma and Sinti in Germany can only be comprehended if seen in the light of German attitudes and behaviour towards these so-called “Gypsies“. It is therefore inevitable to describe the historical circumstances of this particular people to understand their present state of living. Only from their constant persecution, one can see the evolution of German modes of behaviour culminating in anti-Gypsyism. It is only alike to anti-Semitism, yet, the latter was finally called into question after 1945. Unlike anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism has stayed at the core of German treatment of so-called “Gypsies“.
Racist violence is still exhibited throughout Europe, especially in Neonazis‘ acts of violence towards settlements of immigrant Roma or those seeking refuge. Roma, the largest group of refugees, are faced with aggression everyday. In most cases, the aggressors are never prosecuted because of lacking evidence. Investigations are therefore most often simply suspended. The media have stopped reporting about these racially motivated incidents of violence years ago; they were integrated into everyday life and seemingly did not create enough public attention to be dealt with anymore.
The ongoing dissolution of states into ethnically homogeneous nations inevitably leads to an isolation of the Roma as a disturbing minority in otherwise “cleaned“ societies. Often, in this process, Roma are deprived of their nationality. For example, the dissolution of the CSSR left over 100,000 Roma in both new states without a nationality. The list can be extended further to include former Yugoslavia and the former USSR; yet, the important factor is that the situation of the Roma continues to be unstable and has no legal standing. Especially since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Roma have been discriminated against, isolated and expelled. To be an alien in your own country is an experience Roma have suffered over and over again.
Violence against Roma, discrimination and prejudices from all parts of society, lack of education, high rates of illiteracy, infant mortality, and unemployment do not constitute the sources of the problem, but are symptoms of an obsessive anti-Gypsyism of majority-based societies. Because - unlike anti-Semitism – anti-Gypsyism was never called into question, it became a part of the cultural codex. An important indicator for the identity of anti-Gypsyism in modern European societies is exhibited in their language and the degree of negative connotations to the Roma.
A lack of enlightenment is a basic part of anti-Gypsyism. Here, Roma are reduced to their “being Gypsies”. Roma are neither perceived as individuals nor integrated, but simply seen as a group, Gypsies.
Speculation about further developments of the Roma people is at this point impossible. Even in the year 2003, no end of discrimination is anywhere in sight. At a number of 15 million people in Europe today, birthrates are doubling the number of Roma every twenty years. This means that until the year 2050 Slovaks, Czechs, Romanians, Slovenes and Bulgarians will constitute a minority in their own countries, if the Roma birthrate is staying at its momentary level. And birth rates are not going to decrease as long as the rate of illiterate Roma women is not reduced. And such a development is not in sight. In Eastern as well as in parts of Western Europe, the Roma live under similar conditions as in the Third World. The UN specifically names Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia und Slovakia concerning this issue.
The problems of Roma are not dealt with on a European level, which will finally lead to an exponential rise of these problems.
A catalogue of actions is needed, in which Roma are supported for over two generations. This would cost the EU billions, yet it would also lead Europe to an integration and gain of the knowledge of Roma heritage. First of all, though, this would require a shift of thinking, an overcoming of prejudices, and a rational dispute with the Roma as equal partners.
The organizations representing the Roma have not been accepted in any nation worldwide, rendering the Roma as a people without a voice in Europe.
According to one statistic, every fifth German has anti-Semitic attitudes, while two-thirds of the society have prejudices against the Roma.
There are many common elements in anti-Semitism and anti-Gypsyism. Prejudices against both people can be traced down to the Middle Ages.
Martin Luther, a known anti-Semite, recommended Christians to treat Jews “like Gypsies“.
2003: Roma women are sterilized in Slovakia. Photo Letanovce
Roma refugees from Kosovo are forcefully prohibited from leaving Macedonia by the police. Photo Bitola
After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism, prejudices against the Roma stemming from the Middle Ages were resurfacing throughout the former socialist countries.
Citizens and store owners are placing brooms as symbols for witchcraft next to their entrance doors, believing that this will keep “Gypsies“ from entering the building. In an interview, one woman explained how effective this method is: Her mother had done so as well in 1939, shortly after the war had begun, and soon after the “Gypsies” had vanished. The sense of this discrimination has never been called into question. Instead, the phenomenon spread, although a broom has never kept a Roma from entering anywhere. It is a typical example for irrational prejudices, which do not have to be effective, but are psychologically calming for the majority population.
Photo Witch Broom
In March 1992, Germany voted against the resolution of the Human Rights Convention of the United Nations for the “protection of the Roma”. Germany argued that the “Roma are not a minority”.
“Roma in the Federal Republic of Germany are not a minority. This also holds true for Roma carrying the German citizenship.” – (German Bundestag, printed matter 12/2367)
In an interview with the newspaper “taz” in September 1992 in Bremen, the advisor of mayor Heck, a member of the Green party, compared the Holocaust of the Roma with the vanishing of the dinosaurs and concluded: “We can’t help everybody who we have wronged in the past,” and : “The Roma culture is not worth being protected”.
Mr. Schmidt, a member of the Senate of Bremen and the German party DVU, commented the Holocaust of the Roma in a speech given in the Bundestag in July 1990 as follows: „It’s sad that not more of them were killed“. He was put to court for incitement of the people, but acquitted by following authorities.
Headline in a newspaper in Baden from August 28th, 1992: “A real plague, these Gypsies”
Since 1986, the City of Cologne maintains a so-called Unit for Ethnic Minorities; the sole purpose of this unit is the observation of Roma families. The unit coordinates activities of social welfare and the immigration bureau concerning Roma, also a unit for taking away children and a special intervention force of the police.