Reviling the Roma: the new political bloodsport

Is prejudice against Gypsies the last vestige of "acceptable" racism in Britain? Seems to me that it is.

Lately I’ve heard acquaintances of mine (including Facebook friends I can’t exactly vouch for) railing against “thieving Gypos”. Nice.

Why the hostility to Gypsies and their close ethnic relations Roma? Maybe I should ask Nicolas Sarkozy and his colleagues in the French government.

France’s shameful crackdown on Romani people is, though, only one of a series of hostile measures taken by European governments against some of the continent’s 12 million Roma (see a report here on forced evictions of Roma in numerous EU countries). In Italy, for example, government rhetoric has been ramped up against Roma “camps” (see my earlier post on this here), a situation that could get even on worse if Italy takes seriously Colonel Gaddafi’s weird warning about a “black Europe”.

But why the anti-Roma feeling now? I reckon it’s probably the classic economic downturn + visible outsider group = convenient scapegoat formula, but whatever the cause the fact is that Roma are surely the most frequently reviled ethnic group in modern Europe. See an interesting overview from UN experts Jan Jarab and Judith Kumin here.

A new report from Amnesty on Slovakia offers some telling insights into how anti-Roma prejudice can routinely reproduce itself.

In Slovak schools Romani children are regularly shoved into “special needs” classes for those with “mild mental disabilities” or segregated within the schools – sometimes in separate rooms or annexes. Teachers do it partly because they fear “white flight” (and reduced funding) when the parents of non-Roma children withdraw their kids because there are “too many” Romani ones.

Or teachers simply display a wider societal prejudice. For example, Romani children are generally forbidden from even taking books home with them at night. One school head was unembarrassed about claiming that Romani children “never bring [books] back”, while “‘White children’ take the books home, because they know how to use [them].” And that’s a teacher talking!

The prejudice persists over generations. One eight-year-old girl called Valeria was put into a special class in her village school in Krivany because her grandmother (her legal guardian) was tricked into signing a form consenting to the move. The grandmother was illiterate and the school authorities similarly seem intent on keeping Valeria from attaining full literacy. Please take action here calling on the Slovak authorities to end this education segregation.

Reviling the Roma is becoming a new political blood sport. The next time I hear a politician or supposed friend of mine denouncing them, I’ll “de-friend” them immediately.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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