I have been putting off writing this post for days now. I don’t know how many of you have been following events in Italy involving the Roma community there, but the whole issue is becoming increasingly disturbing. I have written extensively about the Roma here in Greece and I am well-aware of the deeply entrenched animosity towards them. I have always felt that putting a face on what many people consider “a problem”, is important and necessary. I still do because we seem to have this unending ability to dehumanise people, making it easier to ignore, exclude or abuse them en masse.
Although, this post is based on events happening in Italy, attitudes towards the Roma is no different here or in the rest of Europe. They are probably the most openly discriminated against people in Europe.
Italy has begun fingerprinting the entire Roma population. The European parliament has “urged” the country to stop this racial profiling (rather than condemn the process altogether). Left-leaning newspapers, human rights groups and activists are outraged but world leaders have been silent on the subject. In this article from the Guardian, Seumas Milne writes
It has been left to others to speak out against this eruption of naked, officially sanctioned racism. Catholic human rights organisations have damned the fingerprinting of Gypsies as “evoking painful memories”. The chief rabbi of Rome insisted it “must be stopped now”. Roma groups have demonstrated, wearing the black triangles Gypsies were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps, and anti-racist campaigners in Rome this week began to bombard the interior ministry with their own fingerprints in protest against the treatment of the Gypsies. But, given that the European establishment has long turned a blind eye to anti-Roma discrimination and violence in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania, along with the celebration of SS units that took part in the Holocaust in the Baltic states, perhaps it’s no surprise that they ignore the outrages now taking place in Italy.
He also points out that
The persecution of Gypsies is Italy’s shame – and a warning to us all
The Guardian also has an article about the attitude of Italians towards the Roma. Sounds horribly familiar.
Many people are openly hostile to the Roma, accusing them – especially the newer arrivals – of avoiding work in favour of theft and other crime and shutting themselves off from mainstream Italian society in squalid, illegal camps. Rights groups working with Roma people say they face severe discrimination, some of it tied to more general anti-Romanian and anti-immigrant feeling.
One recent newspaper survey found 68% of people wanted all Italy’s Gypsies expelled, whether or not they held Italian passports. Another poll said more than three-quarters of people want unauthorised camps demolished.
This attitude seems to be sanctioned and reinforced by some of the highest authorities in Italy.
Italy’s legal system has already indicated there is nothing to stop discrimination against Roma. In a ruling handed down earlier this year, but only recently reported, the country’s highest appeal court ruled in the case of six people accused of anti-Gypsy racial propaganda that it was acceptable to single out Roma on the basis that they are thieves.
There was one particular event that prompted me to write about the racial profiling in Italy (as you know I don’t cover many stories from outside Greece). I had briefly seen on the CNN ticker a sentence about the drowning of two Roma girls in Naples. Then theriomorph sent me some links to the story.
WARNING: THE PICTURES IN THE ARTICLES ARE VERY DISTURBING.
Italian newspapers, an archbishop and civil liberties campaigners expressed shock and revulsion on Monday after photographs were published of sunbathers apparently enjoying a day at the beach just meters from where the bodies of two drowned Roma girls were laid out on the sand.
EveryOne Group is calling for an investigation into the drowning because of some suspicious circumstances.
the dynamics of what happened – as reported by the press – are unconvincing. There is something strange about the fact that four young girls who are non-swimmers would throw themselves fully-clothed into a rough sea (which can’t have been that rough seeing there were many other people, including several children, in the water at the same time). There is something strange about the fact that four young girls would dive into the waves in front of dozens of people, forgetting all about their traditional modesty. Unconvincing too is the fact that in a climate hostile to the Roma people, they would stop begging for money in order to abandon themselves to a joyous, carefree activity without fearing what people around them would say.
John Hooper from the Guardian also writes about what happened there on the beach.
From the Independent, this article entitled The Picture that Shames Italy
It was the sort of tragedy that could happen on any beach. But what happened next has stunned Italy. The bodies of the two girls were laid on the sand; their sister and cousin were taken away by the police to identify and contact the parents. Some pious soul donated a couple of towels to preserve the most basic decencies. Then beach life resumed.
The indifference was taken as shocking proof that many Italians no longer have human feelings for the Roma, even though the communities have lived side by side for generations.
That is what I want to say about these latest events in Italy. It is the indifference that pains me so much about attitudes towards minorities. That we can ignore what happens in their communities because we barely see them as human. We see them as “a problem” that needs to be dealt with. I posted the other day about how labeling people as “illegals’ dehumanises them and makes it easier for us to turn a blind eye.
I don’t want us to be like that but we seem incapable of anything else. I know we can’t walk around crying and weeping over every injustice that happens. That would probably render us utterly useless to do anything at all. But we can all care about our fellow human beings. If perhaps we saw ALL people as people, we would be less able to treat others in such disgusting ways.
Yes, I know what some of my “friends” here on the blog will be thinking. There she goes with her “Pollyanna, let’s all love each other” attitude.
Well, I make no apologies for my attitude.
I DO ask myself things like “what if that was MY child, husband, sister, friend.
I make no apologises for that.
I DO want to put a face to the two girls who died on the beach and those who are being targeted for racial profiling.
I make no apologies for that.
I DO care about what happens to minority communities in Europe with the rise of nationalism.
I make no apologies for that.
And I DO seriously worry for ALL our futures if we continue on this path.
I make no apologies for that.