For at least five centuries Romas and Sintis have lived in almost all European countries. Today up to 10 million Romas and Sintis live in Europe. Originally they come from North India – proven in the 18th century by linguists who show the relation of the language Sanskrit and Romanes. Although there is evidence of a peaceful coexistence of Romas and Sintis in the european countries in the middle ages, many stereotypes and prejudices against Romas and Sintis developed during the past centuries. These were later used by the Nazis in their propaganda and up to 500.000 were murdered by the Nazis. So, talking about Remembering and Understanding, I want to give a hint on Reflecting and Rethinking our prejudices on Roma and Sinti today.
Deconstructing the ”Gipsy problem”
There was a discussion at the EYV meeting about solving the ”Gipsy problem” in certain european countries, where they seem to be a more or less disturbing „phenomen“. Defining the presence of Roma and Sinti in a country as a ”problem” is one thing, degrading them as a „uneducated, lazy, smelly, money-grubbing childrenmachine making people with a lifestyle of stealing“ is racist. The general widely known term „All human beings are equal“ seems to be forgotten when it comes to speaking of minorities in a white society – in this case white european society. During the discussion I noticed a continuously differentiation between „We“ and „the other“. Solutions toward the so called ”Gipsy problem” were formulated rather in this kind of way: „We the educated Europeans need to help the uneducated…“, „We the civilized Europeans need to civilize the uncivilized..“ or „We the cultivated Europeans need to cultivate the uncultivated…“. The stereotypes the Nazi Régime used in their propaganda to murder 500.000 Romas and Sintis seems to have a revival. Seperation between We the Europeans and Them the Romas and Sintis, the Blacks, the Peope of Colour etc. are defined as a constructed dichotomy of good and evil. Because we see stereotyped representation of these groups („the others, the strangers“) in the media, school books and in the law, we believe these representations. We get influenced by the images we see, even worse we take them for granted. On the other side, we also see the representation of us the Europeans in the media etc. as the intelligent, good and civilized (apparently „the norm“). These are generalizing images, trying to oppress a minority and to motivate „episodes of everyday racism“
(Book by psychoanalyst Grada Kilomba called „Plantation Memories – Episodes of Everyday Racism“).
”I’m not Racist, but…
the ‘Gipsys’ take the money from the government and don’t want to work, because they are lazy!“ Nearly every sentence during the discussion in our EYV meeting started with „I’m not racist, but…“(e.g. „ALL the Romas steal“), which reminded me of: www.notracistbut.com, a website collecting every kind of racist statements published in the internet beginning with „I’m not racist, but…“. Racism is about politics and economics. Meaning it is about power and wealth. The privilege is given to one group and is being denied to other groups. Only a group with power can impose its racist beliefs on a whole society. The function of racism is to increase that groups privileges, power and wealth. More than half of the Romas in southeast Europe have to live with less than 100 Euro a month. Living condition are worse with less chance to take part in social or economic growing.
Children are suffering of discrimination in schools due to the effect of institiutionalized racism. The governemt isolates the Romas in slums or ‘ghettos’ in order to stabilize the formed segregation. This is how racism works: The privileged white european explaining his misery through the unprivileged Roma and Sinti. Modern racism emerged as a way of enabling and justifying ”white supremacy”. And not long ago, radical right-wing czechs marched in Nový Bor and Varnsdorf: „The right-wing extremists chanted “Gypsies must go” and “Free, social and national” – a phrase also used by members of the right-wing extremist National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).“ (Wave of Hate, SPIEGEL Online International, by Frank Brunner and also see: www.romea.cz).
Rethinking & Reflecting prejudices
The discussion showed once again how near we can be to the ideology of the Nazi Régime. Not even considering the consequences with certain statements we make (e.g. „stealing is in their blood“), we continue pointing our finger to a constructed enemy. Instead of critisizing images we absorb through the media or other information base, we run away from our responsibility unconsciusly supporting the oppression of a group. We are making prejudices to our own reality – but in fact there are just fantasies. By putting people into categories, there is no way for any objectivity and the potencial for degrading, discriminating and hating a group of people grows. I think all this suggests that it makes sense to fight the various stereotypes and prejudices collectively.
Rethink your thoughts and reflect about yourself always.