Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Roma in Europe: Bigotry and Discrimination

This is a guest post by Sarah AB
I have just caught up with a very important – and chilling – report on travel restrictions on Roma (and others) in the Balkans, which deserves to be more widely read.  More of that later, but first some other examples of anti-Roma bigotry which have made the news:
Just a few minutes ago I came across this depressing little story from Slovakia about the segregation of Roma primary school children at meal times – if they cannot use cutlery (the reason given) then segregation hardly seems the best way of helping them learn. There have been several recent stories about abuse of Roma from public figures in Hungary. In Bulgaria there has been a similar  case.  A derogatory term for Roma, ‘Mangali’, appeared on the official website of the Bulgarian President, Rosen Plevneliev.  A file, which ironically contained information on Bulgaria’s Roma integration strategy, was entitled NationalStrategyIntegrateMangali.pdf. The employee responsible for this slur has been reprimanded and required to produce a written explanation for his behaviour.
A shopping mall in Skopje, Macedonia, has been accused of sending an email to a contractor requiring ‘the removal of all employees of Roma nationality from the food court due to many reasons that we previously discussed.’ The ERRC reports:
‘The cleaning agency, Land Service, rejected the request. According to the media report, the shopping centre made the request following food thefts from the centre. The agency engages Roma and non-Roma workers in this section – only the Roma were targeted on the basis of their ethnicity.The ERRC utterly rejects the action by the managers of City Mall, which violates the Macedonian constitution, as well as anti-discrimination and labour codes in the country. The action is also in breach of international human rights standards.’
These allegations are being disputed by the mall’s owners.
The issue of Roma asylum seekers has occasioned much discussion in Canada.  One of the most unwelcome contributions to the debate came from Ezra Levant on Sun News, in the form of a rant which went on for nine minutes and was broadcast live on public television throughout Canada back in March 2012.  Here’s a sample:
‘Gypsies aren't a race, they aren't a religion, they aren't a linguistic group. They're the medieval prototype of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a shiftless group of hobos that doesn't believe in property rights for themselves - they're nomads - or for others, they rob people blind! (00:00:09.60) “Yeah. No thanks. I'm not interested in calling them Roma, or Travellers, or having a Human Rights Commission investigate what we as a society have done them wrong and maybe dispatching social workers to them. Hah! The social workers will just have their wallets stolen.” (00:08:14.58)
He has recently apologised, but Roma activist Gina Csanyi-Robah suspects this may have been motivated by a wish to deflect hate crime charges. Here’s part of Levant’s apology:
‘There were some criticisms afterwards, but I dismissed them as coming from the usual soft-on-crime liberals and grievance groups. But when I look at some of the words I used last summer, like the gypsies have gypped us,  I must admit that I did more than just attack a crime or immigration fraud problem. I attacked a particular group, and painted them all with the same brush.

As the philosopher Ayn Rand explained the problem with stereotyping is that it's "the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism. It is the notion of ascribing moral, social or political significance to a man's genetic lineage... that a man is to be judged, not by his own character and actions, but by the characters and actions of a collective of ancestors.’
 Finally – back to that detailed report, published in December 2012, whose sole focus is precisely the issue which initially sparked my interest in the situation of the Roma in Europe. ‘Selective Freedom: The Visa liberalisation and restrictions on the right to travel in the Balkans’ opens with a quote from the European Commission, a warning which may seem more sinister in the light of the findings documented in the report which follows:
‘[F]ollowing the lifting of the visa requirement, some EU Member States witnessed significantly increased numbers of asylum applications by citizens from the countries concerned [...]. The Commission invites the authorities of the countries concerned to take all the necessary further measures to allow for the visa free regime to function smoothly.’
The Schengen agreement has made it easier for many Europeans to travel, but there is evidence that Roma individuals may be prevented from leaving their own country.  Steps such as making carriers responsible for checking the status of those they are transporting, and liable for any costs involved in returning illegal passengers home, are adding to the problem. Countries in the Balkans have been warned that cumbersome visa restrictions may have to be reintroduced if the increase in asylum seekers is not checked – and they are responding to this (polite, discreet) pressure with some pretty draconian measures.

As detailed on p. 18 of the report, border controls have been tightened up in Serbia. Travellers may be required to prove means of subsistence and the passports of ‘false asylum seekers’ are liable to be confiscated.  On p. 20 the Head of the Border Police is quoted explaining that those who look suspicious may be interviewed, and subjected to various checks – of financial status and possession of a return ticket for example.  It is asserted that Roma travellers are subjected to disproportionate scrutiny.  A Roma family was unable to travel to Sweden for a wedding even though they had return tickets and 1500 Euros.  A quote attributed to the Serbian Minister of the Interior appears to acknowledge that monitoring of travellers is carried out on ethnic grounds. “No-one from those communities will be able to leave the country if they do not have a return ticket, means to support their stay and cannot state the reason for the journey,” Dačić is quoted. (p.27) 

Macedonia has also implemented a law allowing the passports of failed returned asylum seekers to be temporarily confiscated (p.35) and a vaguely worded new law allows ‘random checks on passengers aimed to determine that they do not pose any threats to the public, national security, public policy, international relations or public health.’ This has been used to stop Macedonians suspected of wishing to seek asylum from traveling abroad.  On p.39 several instances of Macedonian Roma with legitimate reasons for travel – professional musicians for example – being prevented from leaving their own country are listed.  In a particularly sinister move, such people are likely to have their passport stamped ‘AZ’ making it still more difficult for them to travel abroad in the future.  In one instance (p.41) a border guard said he had been told not to allow Roma to leave the country. Veiled threats, which warn of unspecified financial penalties for failed asylum seekers, have been issued by the authorities (p.45).

The report concludes with an important reminder of exactly why it’s important to monitor these developments.

‘Exit controls based on the alleged or real belonging to an ethnic group are
discriminatory. …Whilst countries are free to regulate immigration, exit controls amounting to an outright restriction of departure breach both domestic legislation and international Human Rights standards.’ (p.68)


The Contentious Centrist said...

I expect this report has already been submitted to the UNHR Council? When can we expect a discussion and proper condemnation of these practices by European countries against their Roma citizens?

BTW, Ezra Levant may be a real pain in the ass but his apology seems as sincere and honest as anyone would wish such an apology to be. He seems genuinely alarmed at his own way of expressing his views, doesn't shy away from admitting it and does not follow it with a "but". Levant is not known for being intimidated by Human rights litigations against him. He rather thrives on them. Why the sneering innuendo that belittles the value of his apology?

Sarah AB said...

Thank you TCC. The apology is reasonable, but it has been about a year in coming, whereas I think the actual TV channel apologised last year. So the speculation that there might be some link with threatened legal action did seem as though it might have some basis.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Only "Reasonable"? Openly castigating himself for "stereotyping ..."the lowest, most crudely primitive form of collectivism."??

I've been trying to figure out who and what Csányi-Robah is, and, what do you know, "In January 2011 she was a featured speaker at a Never Again for Anyone event whose sponsors included the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network." and the group she works for "The Roma Community Centre had initially been listed as one of the parties slated to protest Kenney, along with other virulently anti-Israel groups such as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, Independent Jewish Voices, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and Jews Opposing Zionism.".

I don't suppose anti-Zionist sentiments (we know what that means these days) had anything with her sneering rejection of Levant's apology, Levant being a highly visible supporter of Israel and such?

Isn't Levant's apology what civilized, thoughtful people wish for? A sincere apology that admits to an understanding of the wrong that had been done without providing mitigating excuses? Don't we want more of this type of contrition? Doesn't it take time to work out the full realization of what he actually said?

Never mind. In the matter of forgiveness, I follow the Judaic instruction:

"It is forbidden to be obdurate and not allow yourself to be appeased. On the contrary, one should be easily pacified and find it difficult to become angry. When asked by an offender for forgiveness, one should forgive with a sincere mind and a willing spirit. . . forgiveness is natural to the seed of Israel." (Mishneh Torah, Teshuvah 2:10)

I have no idea what the Roma code of forgiveness is. I've recently learned quite a lot more about the suffering of Roma, from Isabel Fonseca's book and other sources. It was impossible not to learn also of the collaboration of Roma with anti-Jewish prejudices at different points in more recent history. I understood that to be a necessary evil, part of the need for survival in implacably hostile environment.

I don't see how you can justify this person's interpretation of Levant's apology, or separate it from her other political agenda.

Sarah AB said...

I did not know about her political agenda. Generally I'm aware of a lot of cooperation between those working against antisemitism and against anti-Roma bigotry, so it wouldn't have been something I'd look out for. (However I am aware of stories about one particularly nasty Roma advocacy site which is also antisemitic (Australian I think) but that was because it was being condemned by Roma activists. I am also aware of some tension over Holocaust memorial issues - but I'm still more aware of cooperation than conflict. Of course the Roma Holocaust is sometimes invoked by antisemites to belittle the Shoah.)

However what I *did* notice was that there seemed an unnecessary focus on the fact Levant is Jewish in some of the coverage of this whole story - but not, as far as I remember, from Roma sources in particular. You may of course be right about her motivation - perhaps the information about the legal threat has been distorted or manipulated in some way - but I still think it was an unpleasant rant and a delayed apology.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Perhaps the "delayed"" apology was due to Levant noticing the lack of disinterest in the whole affair. Perhaps he later considered that his reluctance to admit his own moral failure is a mirror image of the bad faith in which this complaint is being couched and decided to do the right thing, and not just the politically correct thing. To me the apology seems not only genuine but going further than strictly required in order to save face. But what do I know? Clearly you are in a much better position to judge the authenticity of the apology. After all, his rather vehement televised rants about Israel, Islamic antisemitism, and such, render him a suspect from the get go.

I'm always happy to learn from those who know better who is or is not to be believed.

The Contentious Centrist said...

Here is the apology:

bob said...

CC, I get your point, but I think your comments at Sarah are misdirected. I didn't read this as "snearing innuendo". It's reported quite straight. Myself, I was only vaguely aware of Ezra Levant, and didn't realise the backstory behind any controversy surrounding him.

I also think you might be reading overmuch into Csányi-Robah's anti-Zionism. She seems to be much more prominent in forging common cause than in competition. As well as the negative link about her here are some other relevant links:

The Contentious Centrist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Contentious Centrist said...

This is what Sara AB wrote:

"He has recently apologised, but Roma activist Gina Csanyi-Robah suspects this may have been motivated by a wish to deflect hate crime charges."

And then this:

" but I still think it was an unpleasant rant and a delayed apology."

It is a problem to me when I read someone so eager to make a point that they ignore context, background and plain English usage. There was no butting attempts by Levant but there was a very loud But from Sara AFTER she recognized that the matter is much more complex and that the reports and innuendos about good/bad faith by Csányi-Robah were not to be taken at face value.

If you mean by "reading overmuch into Csányi-Robah's anti-Zionism." that she may be a willing pawn in a game whose history and rules she is not completely aware of, I agree with you. But a person purporting to represent one of the most persecuted minorities in the world should not be making so actively and volubly common cause with anti-Zionist organizations baying for more destruction of the Jews. It does not inspire me to respect her at all. To me she is more like that Roma leader who tried to curry favour with the Jobbik party by resorting to antisemitism. Levant pisses me because he forgot this principle but he remembered it belatedly and apologized. Don't expect reading Csányi-Robah to follow suit.

Anonymous said...

"Exit controls based on the
alleged or real belonging to an ethnic group are discriminatory. "

If you lot want to criticise such behaviour I suggest you start at home before you turn to some bashing of racist East Europeans. For it was the UK who used to run quite unprecedented "Spot the Gipsy" checkpoints by sending out its immigration officers who then prevented dark looking people from boarding their flights at Prague Airport years ago. It was because Britain tried to put deportation costs at airlines and they were trying to avoid it. Canada solved the same problem by simply re-implementing visa duty for all Czech citizens. Obviously, EU countries have no such tool. So when some small East European country tries to limit numbers of Roma leaving for the West you can bet that the reason is a strong diplomatic and economic pressure applied behind curtain by Western countries.

Of course, another thing is the question "Why are Roma leaving Eastern Europe?". Nobody could deny existing racism ad discrimination in the place but the general image is a bit more complicated.

It s for example a bit cheap to single out the mentioned Slovak school for separating some (sic!) Roma kids during meals. This school cares for kids from one of the largest Roma slums in the country, worse that you could find in many thirld world countries. It is very easy to shout "How dare they to discriminate those poor underdeveloped children!" I think we should rather discuss why such slums exist in Europe and what we could do about it. Especially now when, as one Czech blogger pointed out, EU is taking money away from Cyprus to pay for golf courses and wellness centres (aka "regional development") in the Czech Republic.


bob said...


1. Yes, the West deserves to share the blame. Clearly, the Western countries to which Eastern/Central European Roma want to go have displaced responsibility for keeping them out to the sending countries and are at fault here. That's surely implicit in Sarah's post, which highlights both Schengen. She perhaps should have mentioned that part of the context of Levant's rant was the Canadian government's placing of Hungary on a safe list, making it impossible for Roma from there to claim asylum in Canada.

By the way, the Eurostat report last week showed that Serbia was the main sending country for asylum seekers in Europe.

2. Poverty and lack of opportunities are factors as well as discrimination as such in driving Roma emigration. I wonder what other factors are part of the "more complicated" you point to?

2. The Slovak school and its alleged big slum. The 2011 and 2001 censuses both said Medzilaborce has 600 Roma, 1% of the town's population, one of a dozen or so municipalities in the Republic with this size Roma population.

While I can see a school in an area with a big and poor Roma population faces particular challenges, which it is easy for westerners to be glib about. And yes, we should talk about why slums exist in Europe. But I don't think the lunch segregation is acceptable on any basis.

3. I can't comment on the EU golf courses - I hate golf with a completely irrational passion, so am happy to sign up in condemning any funded by the EU! But I'm not sure how that relates to the issue at hand.


In sum, I don't think Sarah's post in the least stigmatises or singles out Eastern European countries for condemnation.

Anonymous said...


sorry, I´m busy now and this needs a bit longer reply. Will get back to you asap


SarahABUK said...

Thanks - and sorry not to respond sooner. I certainly don't just want to target Eastern/Central European countries - and I suggested that the warning from the European Commission could be seen as sinister. It's a kind of collusion.

Anonymous said...


The Contentious Centrist said...

Google translates "CIGANE =U= LOGORE" as Serbian for "Gypsies to concentration camps". The evil stupidity of the human being never fails to amaze me. What is it about the Holocaust that it fires up the worst kind of imagination in people? How can anybody be so damned ignorant and pitiless? I recently read a quote from Norm Geras' blog that may explain it:

"Nicholas frowned. He had done much evil to the Poles. To justify that evil he had to feel certain that all Poles were rascals, and he considered them to be such and hated them in proportion to the evil he had done them."

From what we read in this article, malevolent stupdity is indivisible.