Roma persecution – Antiziganism – intensifies in Europe

Perhaps the most oppressed people in history, Roma – commonly referred to as Gypsies – have been persecuted since they arrived in Europe in 1300 C.E.

The New York Times reports that institutionalized and societal prejudice against Roma is enflaming violence in Europe:


Prejudice against Roma — widely known as Gypsies and long among Europe’s most oppressed minority groups — has swelled into a wave of violence. Over the past year, at least seven Roma have been killed in Hungary, and Roma leaders have counted some 30 Molotov cocktail attacks against Roma homes, often accompanied by sprays of gunfire.


In addition to Mr. Koka’s death, there were the slayings of a Roma man and woman, who were shot after their house was set ablaze last November in Nagycsecs, a town about an hour’s drive from Tiszalok in northeastern Hungary. And in February, a Roma man and his 4-year-old son were gunned down as they tried to escape from their home, which was set on fire in Tatarszentgyorgy, a small town south of Budapest.


Experts on Roma issues describe an ever more aggressive atmosphere toward Roma in Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, led by extreme right-wing parties, whose leaders are playing on old stereotypes of Roma as petty criminals and drains on social welfare systems at a time of rising economic and political turmoil. As unemployment rises, officials and Roma experts fear the attacks will only intensify.


Persecution against Roma, as detailed in just one Amnesty International press release from yesterday, is nothing new. Neither is the unwillingness of authorities to stop the oppression. In the Czech republic, for instance:


Roma… continue to suffer discrimination at the hands of both public officials and private individuals, including in the areas of housing, education, health care and employment.

Not only do they face forced evictions, segregation in education and racially motivated violence, but they have been denied justice when seeking redress for the abuses against them.


The history of Roma persecution goes back hundreds of years ago. Throughout 16-18th century, Roma were hanged without trial in Europe. In 1921, nonetheless, Czechoslovakia shortly recognized Roma as “nationality.” In 1933, Hitler ordered sterilization of Roma. Later, up to half a million Roma were killed in the Holocaust. In just one act, 4,000 Roma were gassed and cremated in Auschwitz on August 2, 1944. Unlike the Jewish victims, Roma victims of the Holocaust are rarely researched or commemorated.

With some activism in Eastern Europe in the 1990s, Roma still face institutional and social discrimination in Europe. In Italy, the government fingerprints them. In 2008, bodies of two drowned Roma children were left at the beach while Italians and tourists vacationed a few feet away.

As late as 1998, the state of New Jersey in the US had anti-Roma laws. Popular American TV star Judge Judy has used the word “Gypsy” at least once as a synonym for a “thief” on her show after 2005. While Judge Judy’s remark can be explained perhaps by her lack of knowledge of Roma issues, the same cannot be said about influential people in countries with large Roma populations. In one such state, Romania, the president called a journalist “dirty Gypsy” in 2007.

While many Roma have historically assimilated (accepted, for example, Islam in the Middle East and Christianity in Europe), scores of them choose to keep their ancestral, migratory way of life despite hundreds of years of slavery, universal persecution and genocide. Others have established enclaves in different countries where they demand integration and respect. Roma supposedly left India as a result of foreign invasion to avoid persecution. Their common name “Gypsy” is a misconception that Roma originated in Egypt.

Many of the unassimilated Roma demand freedom of travel and not be regulated.
A unique case of stateless people, Roma do not demand independence or even political autonomy. The Roma persecution has brought about little outrage throughout the world. The problem, in this case, is definitely the lack of awareness.

In my home country Armenia, for instance, the word “Bosha” is an insult – while it used to be the ethnic name for the Roma who have either entirely assimilated or prefer to be called Lom. Their language, Lomavren, a unique mixture with medieval Armenian, has long vanished.

It is time that the world stand up against Antiziganism. Perhaps Amnesty International should adopt the cause of fighting Antiziganism as one of its main goals?

The Gift that keeps on Giving

The appointment of Daniel Fried, a career diplomat who has formerly been both Ambassador to Poland and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, as the new Special Envoy on the Guantanamo Bay detention facility suggests that the Obama administration is stepping up its efforts to persuade European states to accept detainees who have been cleared for release.

As things stand, there are approximately 40 detainees still held in Guantanamo who could leave tomorrow if a suitable home for them could be found. These individuals cannot return to their country of origin because they would face persecution, torture or worse at the hands of the local authorities. Several European states, most notably Switzerland and Portugal, have indicated willingness to accept a limited number of former detainees and a number of other European states such as Ireland, France and Hungary may yet be persuaded to the same.

Unfortunately, US efforts to gain European support for resettlement are being undermined by political grandstanding in Congress as representatives try to outdo themselves in synthetic outrage playing the not-in-my-back-yard card regarding the possibility of transferring GITMO detainees to US soil. This alarmist narrative makes it all the more harder to build bridges to potentially sympathetic European states.  Having created the problem, it now seems that some Congressional Republicans are also hell bent on torpedoing the solution.

Forced to Leave Home

Bloggers Unite

Every day across the world people make the difficult decision to leave their homes. War, persecution, environmental disaster and poverty are just some of the reasons why a person might feel that they have to leave their family, community or country.

Refugees leave their country because they have no other choice and fear for their own life or safety or that of their family. Refugees also flee their country when their government will not or cannot protect them from serious human rights abuses.

Right now, as you read this, millions of people around the world have fled and are waiting to begin their lives again. Tens of thousands of Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa wonder if today is the day their food rations will run out. Hundreds of thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand worry that today is the day they will succumb to illness without medical attention. A quarter of a million Colombian refugees in Ecuador fear that today is the day they will be sent back to face the violence in their home country.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the main agency mandated to provide protection and humanitarian services to those fleeing persecution, estimates there are almost 10 million refugees around the world. They have fled political and religious persecution, been caught up in ethnic conflict, and subjected to violence because of their sexual orientation. There are many reasons that people become refugees, but only a few ways to obtain the protection they so desperately need. International agencies and local organizations do their best to assist everyone, but caring for the world’s most vulnerable is a daunting task.

Amnesty International USA advocates for the rights of asylum-seekers in the United States, and for the humane and dignified treatment of refugees and migrants worldwide. As violations of human rights continue and the number of fleeing people rises, we must all raise our voices to protect the persecuted.