Thursday, 18 June 2009

Communities must stand up and resist this aggressive racism against the Roma

In recent days, a variety of news reports have highlighted incidents in South Belfast, where racist gangs have driven Romani families from their homes. Foreigners in UK, a news and information website for migrants in the UK, reports that "Romania's consul general has stepped in" and "is holding top-level meetings in Northern Ireland with Stormont's social development minister Margaret Ritchie" in an attempt to resolve the situation.

Over the previous weekend, two houses were attacked and their windowpanes smashed by racist gangs. Youths shouting "Combat 18 slogans" were said to be behind the attack. As a result, twenty Romani families have sought temporary refuge in a local church hall and leisure centre.

The incidents have been condemned by Amnesty International, who have insisted that "racist attacks are unacceptable and illegal. The Roma have every right to reside in Belfast and be treated with respect and dignity as any other citizen of the city." However, these are far from isolated attacks, and Amnesty has pointed to "a growing trend of discrimination against Roma people across Europe." In the Czech Republic, "far-right groups organized a march through the Roma-populated area in Přerov in the Czech Republic" and fascist attacks against Roma are rife and widespread. "In Slovakia, huge numbers of Romani children are denied" the "right to education without discrimination" and "are inappropriately placed in "special schools" or classes for children with mental disabilities, or segregated in Roma-only mainstream schools or classes where they study lower curriculums in virtual isolation from other pupils."

In Italy, where discrimination against the Roma has been official policy since the the rape and murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian immigrant last summer, authorities continue to forcibly evict the Roma from their settlements.

Although there have been expressions of concern from various European leaders over the more recent and vocal acts of discrimination, the fact is that such racism has been near-constant for centuries. And, whilst the aftermath of the Holocaust rightly forced the people of Europe to take action against anti-Semitic discrimination, the plight of the Roma has been ignored. Indeed, they are perhaps the only group of Holocaust survivors it remains permissible to be racist towards. Signs are that, with the recession only increasing the upsurge in the support and power of racist and neo-fascist groups across Europe, the suffering of a people who lost up to 500,000 of their number in the Nazi death camps is set only to increase.

If this is to be the case, then, and the authorities are going to remain passive - if not openly complicit - in violent racism against the Roma, then clearly this is not acceptable. Racists and fascists often try to hide behind a mask of respectability. They claim that they do not deserve to face violent opposition, and if they themselves are non-violent then this is indeed true. But acts of physical intimidation and harassment against minority groups cannot be tolerated. Communities must be prepared to use direct action against the fascist thugs in their midst.

Arguing for the free speech of bigots in suits, who wear the mask of "legitimacy" is one thing. Standing by whilst people are driven from their homes by the true face of such ideologies is quite another.

If the phrase "never again" is to mean anything, then ordinary people must not be afraid to confront this resurgence of fascist and racist violence with physical resistance.