According to several reports by the European Commission and human rights organizations the Roma are the most discriminated group in the European Union. The situation of the Roma outside the borders of the EU is disastrous. In the post-communist countries they are still treated as trash. The situation of the Roma who have migrated from Romania to Italy is one example. In both countries they are being persecuted and criminalized.
It has become a trend, incompetent leaders who use the Roma to get in the world news. These politicians are trying to whisk away the problems their countries are facing and gain popularity by prosecuting the Roma. Suddenly, the Roma are the main problem of society.
Today is the turn of the France of Sarkozy, but one must not forget how the Roma were treated and still are being treated by other countries such as Greece, Albania, Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Germany and – yes – Belgium (for example: Verhofstadt Government, the last one now strongly advocating against the deportation of the Roma in France). In most European countries the Roma are being prosecuted. The only difference is that some countries do this discreetly while others give it the full publicity.
Many negative stereotypes and prejudices about the Roma still determine the dominant image of these people. It seems a lost battle to fight this wrong image. Even some nuances seem impossible and unconvincing. That seems typical of the West, thinking that they know everything (in this case on the Roma) while very often being barely informed. This is pure arrogance. The explanation that one often hears, not just from the mouth of politicians and media, but also the ‘ordinary citizen’, is that the misery of the Roma is to be attributed to their way of life. And the ‘fact’ that the Roma live outside the society in their exotic, yet uncivilized caravan ghettos.
There is only one small part of the truth in this distorted view. Poverty, social exclusion, racism and discrimination are the biggest problems of the Roma. Their access to employment is very limited. If they succeed to get a job then they are usually underpaid and suffer various forms of discrimination. Is it needed to mention how important decent jobs are for these people in order to come out of poverty and create opportunities for their children? The Roma have become defenceless victims. They usually have the nationality of one of the European countries, yet this seems to play no role since they are being collectively excluded. This collective exclusion is done by those who see themselves as the guardians of equality and universal rights. Discrimination and racism against the Roma is so common that the complaints of the Roma are not taken seriously. Urgent action is needed at this point because there is simply much racism and discrimination against Roma, not only by the state institutions but also companies and citizens on the street. One must also stop the negative generalizations on the Roma (lazy, unemployed, thieves …) because it is exactly this what keeps this false image of the Roma alive.
The European Union must put pressure on the various Eastern European countries, where hundreds of thousands of Roma live, in order they guarantee more rights and opportunities to the Roma. This seems much a huge demand as the countries of the European Union itself are violating the essential rights of the Roma.
A few months back I went to watch the premiere of Liberté, a film by Tony Gatlif, on the Roma Holocaust, let us say, the lesser-known Holocaust. Gatlif, himself a Frenchman and Roma, shows how Roma to escape from the Nazis in France where systematically banished and prosecuted by the French state. Today it is unacceptable to talk about deportation practices and comparisons with World War II. In my opinion is this unjust as what now for many years is happening in different European countries, is quite similar to those former practices. It is our duty to raise this matter before it becomes once again too late.
Bleri Lleshi, political scientist and documentary maker
(This is a translation from Dutch to English of the following column: https://blerilleshi.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/deportatiepraktijken-in-een-nieuw-jasje/ )