As Hungary Picks on Roma,
Racism Rears its Ugly Head
Widespread outrage has erupted in Hungary after an influential politician called the Roma ‘animals.’ That a founding member of the ruling party could be so blatantly intolerant has reawaken fears that the European Union nation’s is slowly sliding into authoritarian rule.
Diverse segments of the population jumped into the Roma’s defense, including the country’s justice minister, and a group representing Jews, who know a thing or two about the switch to dictatorship by a seemingly stable democracy. But for the Roma, it’s all deja vu.
Historically, they’re used to serve as scapegoats every time things don’t go as planned for governments with autocratic inklings. And Hungary of the last 10 years seems to fit the bill, with ever stricter attempts at controlling the press and laws designed to curb individual liberties.
The article by Zsolt Bayer, founding member of the ruling Fidesz party, is so the more hurtful to the Roma, since they’ve been an integral part of Hungary’s ethnicity and culture for over six centuries. After an inconsequential New Year’s Eve bar brawl, allegedly with the involvement of some young Gypsies, Bayer went ballistic.
‘They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals,’ he wrote on the following Saturday’s edition of the Magyar Hirlap newspaper, a particularly nasty slur against what constitutes seven percent of the country’s 10 million people. Most of them, of course, living in impoverished communities outside big cities.
The World Jewish Congress called on Hungarians to ‘speak out against such manifestations of racism.’ Justice Minister Tibor Navracsics said that there’s no room for anyone ‘who labels a group of people as animals.’ And we’d add, leave the animals out of this too, for in 10,000 years-plus of registered history, there has been not a single case of animal racism reported.
In any event, like the Roma themselves, we’ve all been there before, as intolerance and hatred seem to be an ingrained part of the human experience, like it or not. But no one needs to partake on it, though. So, we’re republishing an article we’ve posted two years ago, to once more, leave no doubt where our allegiances lie. Then, as now, the story tracked recent news events. Opre Roma.
Europe Push Against Gypsies
May Set Dawn of New Diaspora
Em France, police forced some 160 of them out of a Marseille camp, in anticipation of the coming presidential elections.
In the U.K., 80 families have been fighting eviction from the Basildon district’s Dale Farms for almost a year now.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Romanies, or Gypsies, or British Travelers remain vilified and marginalized as they have been since their origin, which can be traced back to the Indian diaspora in the tenth century.
There’s something about these “Egyptians” and their nomadic lifestyle that strikes deep-seated suspicions and fear at heart of the mainstream of the European society.
HIDE THE SILVERWARE
The latest effort in France to do away with the foreign-born Roma is in line with President Sarkozy’s reelection campaign theme, centered on security.
As an impoverished group, insulated from the society at large, they’re utterly vulnerable to widespread racism, prejudice, and police brutality.
Even within other less-privileged groups, they’re considered untrustworthy, when not being accused of thievery and criminal behavior, with or without proof.
But France is but one of the nations sharing the euro that decided that they’d no longer tolerate the sprawling and secretive groups of outcasts in their midst.
Italy, Ireland, even Hungary and Romania, once thought as their place of origin and self haven, have been engaged into systematic efforts to rid them from their lands.
And unlike other minorities, Romanies have had very few groups raising their voices on their behalf, apart from organizations fighting for general immigrant rights.
THE ‘CIVILIZED’ KIND
The British Travelers of Basildon, who claim a misguided “blood purity” line, hardly acknowledge that it only added another tragic layer of separation between them and everyone else.
With their immaculate trailers and legitimate furniture-selling businesses, the Dale Farms community is not just facing prejudice from the British society.
They’re also derided by their European kin and, in fact, share very few lifestyle traits with them, except perhaps their common “otherness.”
What has historically helped the Travellers in England, their quasi-acceptance at least in the outskirts of British society, is no longer current, given the renewed push for their eviction from the Basildon Council.
And the fact that for centuries they’ve been set apart from the continental Roma only adds to their woes. Not even the wisest fortune-teller among them could tell what will come next.
* Originally published on Sept. 2011.