The only thing necessary for the persistence of evil is for enough good people to do nothing

Roma Discrimination Continues

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

Read the full article here

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.

From CNN

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.

UPDATE: Questioning Transphobia also has a post up on this subject.

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12 Comments

  1. Xenos
    July 24, 2008    

    Well, Italy has been treading a road back to fascism for several years now, and Berlusconi takes it one leap further. The new immigration law there requires courts to hand out prison sentences of one-third longer to non-Italians — in clear defiance of several European laws and basic international human rights provisions. My advice is to avoid anything to do with Italy, until they elect a proper government that is able to respect the law and basic principles of liberal democracy. If they continue much further down this path, Italy could even be considered for suspension of its membership of the EU.

  2. July 24, 2008    

    Thank you for writing this post, DD. For what it’s worth, the fact that you state the most basic, most obvious, most essential and bottom line truth about this at the end of your post doesn’t make you Pollyanna in my eyes, but one of the few who is remaining in touch with why this really matters. Sometimes Often I feel like even the ‘allies’ writing about this in the press or online have lost touch with (if they ever had it) the fact that these are human beings. Children. Whole and real lives. That ‘social justice’ is not about blog hits or paper sales. A grisly form of entertainment and a way to acquire a certain kind of status.

    Writing about these things should be bearing witness in a way that implicates the reader in a deeply personal way and demands action and change and human improvement because all our lives depend on it. (And when I say things like *that,* people say it’s ‘histrionic.’ Well, the privileged ones for whom this is all abstract do.)

    I remain hugely appreciative of the courageous, honest, and empathic witness in your writing about the Roma people in the Mediterranean, DD. Writing this way requires skinlessness on the part of the writer, and few are able or willing to do this, and it’s the only kind of writing that can really effect change, I believe.

    I remain completely incapable of *not seeing* that this is us, regardless of who or where the ‘us’ is. I understand Xenos’ point about … Italy has been treading a road back to fascism for several years now, and Berlusconi takes it one leap further. … My advice is to avoid anything to do with Italy…, but the thing is, America is practicing this very kind of Fascism on immigrants here, and so are many, many other countries. I do not believe racism and discrimination are something we can avoid. Refuse our tourist dollars to Italy with a public statement about why, sure, or if we live there, join in the action of flooding the authorities with hundreds of thousands of non-Roma fingerprints. Find our ways to be activist wherever we are – active-ist – yes. But just wait it out? Didn’t work in 1939-1945. Go somewhere else? Where?

    Violetta and Cristina, 12 and 13 year old cousins.

    And the cap on the heartbreak, and the most egregious illustration of the psychosis, for me:

    It appears that several people present on the beach filmed the tragic event with their video phones and that the police have acquired some of these images. We have asked the authorities if we can take a look at these videos and meet the two surviving children in order to throw light [on the] case…

    Shades of Du’a Khalel Aswad.

    What, going to go back to the office after holiday and say to your friends over lunch: ‘hey, you want to see the gypsies drown?’ Okay, maybe one or two of these people who filmed their death turned their video footage over to the police voluntarily, but WTF were they doing filming it instead of trying to help them in the first place? In what world can they live with themselves? Okay, yeah, I know. In this one.

    We are sick unto death. And you know, we are responsible for it. We.

    .

    Thanks for the space to make a really long, long comment. I’m still really upset. And thank you again for writing this DD.

  3. Xenos
    July 24, 2008    

    theriomorph: I support all of the points you make. Basically, this situation is disgusting and you are right: it is not only Italy. All of the West is slowly degenerating into this systematic abuse of human rights.

  4. July 24, 2008    

    Thanks, Xenos. I keep thinking of

    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.

    and the fact that while this is everywhere, there are people in each war zone who still have the capacity to not only be moved but to move others. (And I am WAY too cynical and misanthropic a person for Pollyanna points of view; to me, this empathy and action is the grim and desperate requirement of being a human being, not an optional feel-good fiction.)

    Anyway.

  5. July 24, 2008    

    I’m actually just watching a news report and they show the pictures of the two girls on the beach with other people sitting a few feet away enjoying the beach. That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen or heard. It is being presented as a holiday tragedy in the MSM nothing more nothing less, but the reactions of the people around afterwards is disturbing. It is a sad world my friend, keep writing…ciao

  6. July 24, 2008    

    Greece

    Some years ago, a Roma mother of 13 children and grandmother of many more, while searching for anything valuable to her family in the Aspropyrgos/Liosia waste dump, was buried alive. No one cared and no one did anyhting.

    Some years later a worker at the same dump was buried alive and the dump closed for many hours if not one day, with all authorities trying to find his body, successfully I think.

    No other comment.

  7. George
    July 25, 2008    

    Diva, good article as always. Sad that these children died and hopefully the inept Italian authorities will do the right thing.

    My take on the photo of the Italians sunbathing in the backdrop of the Roma children’s bodies is that the fault lies with the Italian authorities. In the USA, the police would have cordoned off the area and kept people at a distance until the investigation was complete, and the coroner (CSI) etc arrived to remove the bodies.

    To me, it seems that the sunbathers were just being selfish and would have stayed there no matter who had died (Roma or Italian persons).

    Just a case of insensitivity and lack of good cordon control.

    Just my two cents..

  8. Michael Scowcroft
    June 18, 2009    

    George,

    In the USA, the police would have cordoned off the area and kept people at a distance until the investigation was complete,

    In the USA, during hurricane Katrina, there were thousands of bodies strewn all over New Orleans for weeks on end, left there for days just because they happened to be black (and this “insensitivity” is from the the richest country in the world).

    When blacks were shown on TV taking food from abandoned supermarkets to feed their children, they were described as “looters”. When whites were shown on TV, they were described as “looking for food”……So, before you get on your high horse to criticise southern Europeans for “insensitivity” and “lack of good cordon control” and other condescending crap against southern European people, look closer to home..(but you never miss an opportunity to swing your morality hammer at the inferior Hispanics, Greeks, Degos, Wops, Mexicans and Chicanos, do you George? You’ve been doing it since 2005 in here – but not anymore 😉 ).

    DD, I know how involved you are with Roma issues so i thought you might be interested in the latest example of discriminationa against the Roma community..

    You may have seen this already but this happened today and i am truly horrified:

    http://uk.news.yahoo.com/4/20090617/tuk-belfast-racists-target-romanian-migr-dba1618.html

    …so much for “tolerant Britain”.

  9. June 19, 2009    

    There is some confusion here. The people in the video are Romanians not Roma. Anyway, the discrimination you are illustrating is equally true for any minority group in Britain and across the world. The comments after the video are disgusting. I despair for my fellow human beings. So full of hatred and fear.

  10. Michael Scowcroft
    June 19, 2009    

    DD,
    The people in the video are Romanian citizens from the Roma community.

    Up to 20 families fled their homes off the Lisburn Road in the south of the city last night following repeated attacks on their houses. The 115 Romanians, most of whom are understood to be from the Roma community, were taken to the church in police mini-buses.’
    http://www.blather.net/zeitgeist/archives/2009/06/roma_families_attacked_in_belf.html

    Another blot on our terrible record towards the gypsy and traveller communities in Britain.

    Were you active in campaigning for Romany Gypsy human rights in Britain, DD?

  11. Michael Scowcroft
    June 19, 2009    

    I was more active generally in anti-racism in education.

    We definititely need more people like you back in the UK, DD.
    I know it’s hard to believe, but there has been a steady increase in racist incidents in British schools over the years. Instead of an improvement in race relations in schools (after the Macpherson Report), we’re actually seeing a deterioration:

    http://www.channel4.com/news/articles/society/education/revealed+racism+in+schools/529297

    Unfortunately, it’s the parents who are to blame, they are instilling racist, xenophobic and islamophobic attitudes into their kids from an early age – i think the parents should be educated more than the kids!
    It’s disheartening to think that these parents were young once and going to school at the time when you were probably an activist in anti-racism in British schools. Haven’t they learned anything?

  12. June 19, 2009    

    @ Michael Scowcroft

    The first video and news article you posted did not mention that they were Roma,hence the confusion. Anyway, that does not take away from the shameful behaviour towards them.

    I wasn’t involved in Roma rights while I was in England. I was more active generally in anti-racism in education.

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