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Issue #1641      June 4, 2014

Anti-Roma racism on the rise

Our friend Michael came to stay with us recently. We got on to the subject, as one does, of grandparents. Michael’s grandparents lived in Bethnal Green, and were butchers during the 1930s. He told us that his grandfather carried a hammer with him because as a Jew he feared physical assault by anti-Semites.

Earlier this year marches and events internationally highlighting the problems that Roma and travellers face.

Mosley’s British Union of Fascists were politically active in the East End of London. This rather stark image reminded me of the waves of racism than have scarred British history.

Before the First World war, the British Brothers’ League were also active in the East End and also targeted the Jewish population. They were formed in 1902 by Captain William Stanley Shaw and a local Conservative MP, Sir William Eden Evans-Gordon.

The League was apparently not at first anti-Semitic but opposed all Eastern European migration to East London. In the 1950s Afro-Caribbean communities bore the brunt as Mosley tried to win votes with his Union Movement in Notting Hill.

Promoting the slogan Keep Britain White, Mosley’s agitation encouraged Teddy Boys to attack the local black population.

Anti-Semitism is once again on the rise.

For example, we have seen recently the horrific killings in Belgium, where on May 24 a gunman killed four people in Brussels’s Jewish Museum. Racism against a range of groups continues.

Racism often functions as a device used by populist politicians to gather votes. In tough economic times, like the 1930s depression and the current ongoing austerity, racism can be electoral gold for the unscrupulous. If troubles can be blamed on an identifiable group, the racism can be nurtured and made to grow into deep-seated and enduring hatred.

While a wide range of ethnic identities are targeted, the demonisation of the Roma stands out. Nigel Farage stated in his LBC interview that individuals might be uneasy about living next to Romanians.

Ukip have stressed that Romanians and Bulgarians are likely to arrive in Britain increasing numbers. Romanian is, however, a code word, it seems – not for the population of that country but to a specific group who are, of course, the Roma.

Farage’s remarks follow an avalanche of tabloid media stories, particularly from the Daily Express, about Roma gangs. The Roma face racism right across eastern and western Europe and have been subject to hate campaigns in Romania too.

Racism against the Roma is, apparently, more acceptable than racism directed at other ethnic groups. Tabloid newspapers that in the 1970s conjured up the mugging crisis, demonising Afro-Caribbeans as more likely to commit crime, hammer away at the message that Roma are a source of crime.

Statistics are neither here nor there. Emotive imagery has an effect, irrational fears are stoked up and take hold.

Challenging racist populism is not easy.

I guess we all risk discriminating against a perceived “other.” From football to religion, there are many examples of dislike of another group. I can joke with Newcastle fans about the bitter conflict with my team of choice, Sunderland.

However an innocent game of football has been known to lead to violent conflict in north-east England.

The examples of religion as a source of identity and extreme conflict between groups, whose theology is apparently identical to others, gives rise to persecution in every continent of the world.

There are no easy solutions to fears, hatreds and resulting prejudices but political organisations need to openly campaign against racism. I am glad to say that the political party to which I belong happens to have a leader who works to challenge racism, Natalie Bennett.

Up for re-election this summer, Natalie is robust in presenting our Green Party policies on migration and migrants. She’s a powerful voice in campaigns against racism and all forms of scapegoating.

Natalie happens to be from another country, Australia. In recent years our party has worked hard to point out that diversity provides many benefits and that racism is a poison.

I think challenging the demonisation of the Roma is especially important.

There are a range of campaigns and groups promoting Roma rights. In particular we need to work to educate people about the Roma Holocaust.

Not only did Hitler and his allies attempt to exterminate Jews, they also worked to wipe out Roma, Sinti and other travelling communities.

While we don’t face the same kind of threat today, it is sobering that racist rhetoric elected politicians in the 1930s who went on to kill millions.

The Roma Holocaust is not well known – and, of course, during the 1940s it was difficult to convince the allied forces of Hitler’s extermination of Europe’s Jews, people like my friend Michael’s grandparents.

Some estimates suggest that 25 percent of continental Europe’s Roma were exterminated by Hitler and his allies. The anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of 1935 were amended to cover Gypsies and it is thought that other than the Jewish community, traveller communities suffered more than any other group from genocide.

Nobody is really sure how many died but estimates suggest at least 250,000 Roma were killed.

When politicians and tabloids raise fears about the Roma, we should remind them of where such fears led in the past. Fear leads to prejudice, prejudice leads to hate, hate leads to violence.

It is never ever justified. Saloon-bar banter needs to be countered with some stark presentation of the facts about where such banter led in the last century.

Roma communities, as the Economist has noted, are Europe’s “most marginalised ethnic minority.”

They suffer the worst health, education and economic prospects in Europe today. Populists, as we know, pick on those with the worst problems in their immoral pursuit of easy electoral success. We must shame them and the tabloids when they do so.

In tough times we may have legitimate concerns about wages being driven down. The solution is, of course, to work for stronger trade unions and effective minimum and living wages.

Incidentally the same arguments around migration have been used to oppose women working in particular sectors of the economy.

Migrants, particularly in the form of the Latin American Workers Association, have been at the forefront of campaigns for better pay, in their case for university cleaners as part of the 3 Cosas campaign.

Crime figures are dressed up to link crime to ethnicity, the ethnicity changes with the fashions of popular racism but it is false to associate crime with some supposed genetic or cultural manifestation of ethnicity.

White Europeans have a historical reputation for forming gangs, travelling to other parts of the globe and violently taking property from others. From the Australian Aborigines to Canada’s First Nations to the Iroquois of New York state and African nations, many have been victims of this crime wave.

It is of course described by the words colonialism and imperialism. However, there is nothing innate or enduring about a supposed European connection with imperialism.

The mechanisms and motives that led to racism need to be demystified and a good example of where racism has borne particularly bitter fruit is the Roma Holocaust.

It is vital that we make this example better known.

Derek Wall is international co-ordinator for the Green Party of England and Wales.

Morning Star

Next article – Federal budget 2014-15 – Myths, lies and deceit Pt 2

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