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For the dignity of Roma people in Europe: Roma Pride!

Weariness and despair could have finally caught up with us. Haven’t the Roma people -- Tziganes, Gypsies and Sintis -- been persecuted for centuries? Haven’t the stereotypes against them spanned several centuries, countries and political regimes? Wouldn’t it be illusive to think that one could “normalize” a situation that may appear desperate?

Indeed, in many ways, violence against the Roma people in Europe seems endless and the problems they face to be fully integrated into society appear insurmountable.

For example, in Central Europe and the Balkans, a rationale exists which pushes for their removal from public space, often even by physical eradication. They are thus confined to the outskirts of major cities. In many cities and villages, Roma people are packed into separated and walled districts without any access to running water, electricity or public services. It is particularly the case in Ostrava (the Czech Republic), in Michalovce, Košice, Prešov and Svinia (Slovakia), and in Tarlungeni and Baia Mare (Romania). In Baia Mare, the Roma people have even been recently evicted and relocated to a disused chemical factory with high levels of toxicity. Furthermore, there are countless urban ghettos in Bulgaria, where in 2011 the far-right Ataka party organized anti-Roma protests in some 20 cities under the banners of “Death to the Roma people!” and “Turn the Roma people into soap!” In Hungary, the Jobbik party’s paramilitary militia terrorizes Roma people, forces them to flee their villages, as in Gyongyospata, and regularly triggers extreme racist violence. All the while the Hungarian government uses the fight against benefits fraud as an excuse to set up blatant open work camps for Roma people.

Moreover, in France, despite the change in political leadership, expulsions and deportations are restarting and they continue to take place in Germany, Sweden and Italy.

Finally, daily racial discrimination in healthcare, employment, leisure and education persists in Kosovo, Portugal, Serbia, Croatia and Poland.

Whereas this worrying situation could have drowned us in despair, in fact it pushes us to an even greater commitment to the fight for dignity and equality of rights.

This is why, on Sunday, October 7, we will march in our countries, leading the unified European civil society across the continent, from Norway to Serbia, from Portugal to Poland, including Italy, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, to calmly but firmly proclaim together: “Roma Pride!”

Together, we will lead a mobilization both political and cultural, which will take the form of political gatherings or cultural events.

Despite what naysayers and those driven desperate by weariness may say, our hope to have the dignity of the individuals coming from one of the oldest European communities fully recognized is not in vain.

Indeed, at the institutional level, the European Union has made some steps in the right direction: For the first time, owing to the help of the Commission and of some members of the European Parliament who have been involved in the issue for a long time, all member states had to draft and present to the Commission a “National Strategy for Roma Integration” by the end of 2011.

However, how could some of these strategies really have an impact when they remain without funds or planning? How couldn’t we see that it is a way to avoid the issue, and so allow the perpetuation of violence and discrimination?

Above all, a Roma elite is emerging today in Europe, with a simple and clear objective: full equality of rights and responsibilities. This elite, composed of political women and men, intellectuals, artists and activists, is not alone. It is deeply rooted in the Roma communities across the continent and fully part of the European civil society.

Roma Pride is therefore a mobilization of and a support system for self-emancipation. It will be carried out by civil society regardless of the origins of individuals and organizations involved, since universalism is our inspiration, and the full integration of all, our shared demand.

This integration does not mean a threat to culture nor to the transmission of identities and traditions which, in their diversity, are part of the European heritage.

It means, everywhere, an end to racist murders, the dismantlement of the ghettos, an end to the stigmatization of Roma people for political purposes, an end to discriminatory laws and to “exceptional” amendments. In practice, these amendments target Roma people, as is the case with those concerning the Schengen agreements, which limit the freedom of movement in Europe. It means a determined fight to deconstruct stereotypes, to fight discrimination in employment and housing, and an end to segregation in education. It means, at last, the recognition of the individual and national responsibilities for the persecution of Roma people, particularly by the European countries allied with Nazi Germany during WWII.

In order to eventually obtain the full integration of all individuals into European society, to achieve the dignity of all and respect for equality of rights across the continent, let us send a clear signal on October 7 and let us march together throughout Europe for Roma Pride!

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Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement (EGAM) and, by country:

Albania: Aldo Merkoci, president of the Mjaft! movement, and Adriatik Hasantari, president of Roma Active

Austria: Claudia Schafer, CEO of Zivilcourage und Anti-Rassismus-Arbeit (ZARA), Alexander Pollak, president of SOS Mitmensch, and Andrea Harle, executive director of Romano Centro

Bosnia: Alma Masic, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Bosnia

Bulgaria: Krassimir Kanev, president of the Helsinki Committee, and Deyan Kolev, president of the Roma Center Amalipe for Interethnic Dialogue and Tolerance

Croatia: Mario Mazic, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Croatia

Czech Republic: Anna Sabatova, president of the Helsinki Committee, and Jarmila Balazova, president of Romea

Denmark: Anne Nielsen, president of SOS mod Racisme, and Ferdi Sabani, chairman of Roma Foreningen i Danmark

Finland: Janette Gronfors, coordinator of the Rasmus antiracist network and founding member of Nevo Roma

France: Cindy Leoni, president of SOS Racisme, and Alain Daumas, president of the French Union of Gypsy Associations

Germany: Serdar Yazar, spokesperson of the Turkish Union in Berlin-Brandenburg (TBB)

Greece: Ahmed Moawia, coordinator of the Greek Forum for Migrants

Hungary: Janos Farkas, president of the Government of the Roma Minority of Gyongyospata, and Erika Muhi, director of NEKI

Italy: Angela Scalzo, president of SOS Razzismo, and Olga Bala, president of Partita Romilor

Kosovo: Raba Gjoshi, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Kosovo, and Osman Osmani, director of Initiative 6

Latvia: Sigita Zankovska-Odina, researcher at the Latvian Center for Human Rights

Moldova: Nicolae Radita, president of the Roma National Center

Montenegro: Boris Raonic, president of Civic Alliance, and Teuta Nuraj, president of Nacionalni Savjet Roma i Egipcana

Norway: Kari Helene Partapuoli, director of the Antirasistisk Senter

Poland: Kasia Kubin, director of the Foundation Forum for Social Diversity, Paula Sawicka, president of the Open Republic Association, and Roman Kwiatkowski, president of the Roma People Association in Poland

Portugal: Bruno Goncalves, vice president of the Centro de Estudos Ciganos

Romania: Marian Mandache, executive director of Romani Criss

Russia: Svetlana Gannushkina, head of the Memorial Migration Rights Center

Serbia: Maja Micic, director of Youth Initiative for Human Rights -- Serbia, and Jovana Vukovic, coordinator of the Regional Center for Minorities

Slovakia: Irena Bihariova, president of Ludia proti rasizmu

Sweden: Mariam Osman Sherifay, chairwoman of Centrum mot Rasism

Turkey: Selcuk Karadeniz, president of the Roma Youth Association, and Cengiz Algan, spokesperson of Durde!

Ukraine: Zola Kundur, Chiricli International Roma Women’s Fund

ekathimerini.com , Tuesday August 28, 2012 (18:28)  
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