Friday

14th May 2021

Opinion

After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?

  • By resorting to litigation, national and European courts are defending the rights of Romani citizens for inclusion in the school system (Photo: saucy_pan)

Every year on 8 April, Romani people worldwide celebrate International Roma Day.

'Roma' in Hungary, 'Traveller' in Ireland, 'Sinti' in Germany, 'Ashkali' in Kosovo, 'Calé' in Spain and plenty of other Romani-speaking groups celebrate their shared culture, history and language emphasising its diversity and unity.

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At the same time, this day is important to raise awareness for the many difficulties and injustices that Europe's largest ethnic minority of about 12 million people still faces: extreme poverty, social segregation and last but not least the widespread racism against Romani people, so-called anti-gypsyism, that exacerbates their economic and social disadvantage.

Thursday's International Roma Day is special: 50 years ago, on 8 April, 1971, representatives of Romani communities from numerous European countries met for the first time in London and founded the political self-organisation of Romani people and designated a flag and anthem.

This day marked a milestone in the fight against anti-gypsyism and our claim for justice and equal rights. Thenceforward, Romani activists all over Europe have given our people a voice, initiated grassroots change and brought our political claims into the regional, national and European political arenas.

Since then, a whole new generation of activists and leaders has developed. Our Romani community has brought forth youth organisations, student unions, women rights and LGBTQI-organisations. They are important to represent the diversity of our people and give weight to our common call for participation, inclusion and promotion.

The official recognition of the Holocaust up to 500,000 Romani people by Nazi-Germany in 1982 was an important step for our survivors and descendant to find peace and regain their dignity.

The building Romani self-organisations and establishment of European networks gave us a stronger voice vis-à-vis governments and international organisations.

Resort to law

By resorting to litigation, national and European courts are defending the rights of Romani citizens for inclusion in the school system, like was the case in the Czech Republic and Hungary.

Eventually, the Council of Europe and the European Union recognised anti-gypsyism as a particularly widespread form of racism in Europe that leads to massive human rights violations and requires urgent action by European governments. These are many important successes of the untiring work of our activists.

But the inconvenient truth persists: structural discrimination is still part of everyday life for the members of Europe's largest minority - when looking for accommodation, searching for work, being in need for health care or entering the institutions of the education system.

Furthermore, the majority of the 12 million European Romani people still faces extreme poverty.

The widespread racism against Romani people, so-called anti-gypsyism, exacerbates their economic and social disadvantage.

Political leaders can still sow hate against Romani communities to reap popular support in electoral campaigns. Beatings, forced sterilisation, police violence and fire bombings by right-wing extremists against Romani communities are still a reality in Europe. The Corona pandemic only worsened this situation.

This year the EU member states and enlargement countries have the opportunity to open a new chapter and take structural measures in the fight against anti-gypsyism and for the inclusion of Romani people.

Under the still new EU Roma strategic framework for equality, inclusion and participation, officially adopted in October 2020, the governments are obliged to present this year their nationwide strategies for implementation.

In order to combat anti-gypsyism effectively, solid structural financing for democratic civil society and projects against anti-gypsyism are essential.

The establishment of a monitoring and information centres to record anti-gypsy agitation and violence can support those affected in exercising their rights. Too often, anti-gypsyist attacks are still under the radar.

To promote Romani inclusion effectively, governments and regional administrations need to move away from paternalistic approach and realise a permanent participation of self-organisations in the development and implementation of programmes for housing, healthcare, education and employment.

The EU's new framework is in many aspects well-meant and presents a holistic approach, but a central shortcoming remains the still voluntary character of the recommended measures.

It is not acceptable that the fight against structural human rights violations and measures to get millions of EU citizens out of inhumane living conditions is a voluntary act.

The evidence for the urgent need for action to improve the life of Romani people in Europe is oppressive and well documented by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, Amnesty International, Open Society Foundation and so on.

Governments have a responsibility to protect their citizens - this includes citizens of Romani ethnicity. Our next big fight is to achieve a legally binding framework for action against this unbearable situation.

Author bio

Romeo Franz is a German MEP with the Greens, and a former member of the of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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