NEWS

Europe chasing away its Roma

On the evening of August 2 going on August 3 in 1944, Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler gave the order for the extermination of all Romany people at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Four thousand men, women and children were executed in gas chambers on what has become known as Zigeunernacht (or the Night of the Gypsies). According to official records, by the end of World War II, the Nazis had exterminated 80 percent of the Roma population in Europe, or half a million people. August 2 has been named International Remembrance Day of the Roma Holocaust, an event that was marked in the most sordid fashion in parts of Europe. In Hungary, a Roma woman was shot dead by unknown assailants and her daughter was injured in their home following a shotgun attack in the eastern village of Kisleta. Police said that there was no evidence to suggest that the attack was racially motivated, but experience leans in this direction. Last year alone, more than five Roma were killed in Hungary, where they form 7 percent of the population. Many Hungarians’ dim view of the Roma people was also reflected in June’s European parliamentary election, when the far-right Jobbik party won three of 22 seats. Here in Greece, there was the announcement yesterday of an initiative called «Lefkada: Unforgettable Holidays,» in which there is a call to find a more permanent solution to the Roma problem. On this verdant Ionian island, with its magnificent beaches and picturesque mountain villages, the only suitable location found to house a community of Roma was an illegal landfill. Now these people are being threatened with eviction from the malodorous dump. «There in the garbage, where they were banished, the authorities of Lefkada did their best to make their lives as difficult as possible, they refused them access to electricity, running water and a sewer system [allowing them just one tap and two toilets that broke down a long time ago and haven’t been fixed]. They dumped tons of garbage right behind the Romas’ makeshift homes and did nothing about complaints that Roma children were being chased out of school,» said the publication. A friend who teaches at a school in Aspropyrgos assures me that her Roma pupils have great aptitude for learning as long as they are given the motivation to stay in one school for a prolonged period of time. International studies on the issue have confirmed this as well. A study conducted in the Attica region of Zefyri in 2000-01 – where there is a large Roma population – found that because the Roma do not have a written language, they have well-trained memories and a knack for remembering numbers and arithmetic. The children surveyed were all aged 7 to 12 and were attending the first grade for the first time. The study initially surveyed 35 children, though the number dropped as they went to assist their parents at work, according to a recent report from the daily Eleftherotypia. Ethnic cleansing today is veiled and effective. When, for example, major banks in this country refuse to issue Roma people with mortgages, even though this is in violation of official agreements, they are forcing them into the nomadic lifestyle that often keeps their children from attending school regularly. Meanwhile, as racist attacks continue to be launched against the Roma in Europe, they will continue to move on, finding new places to live. In June, 100 Roma left Northern Ireland, in July another large group left the Czech Republic and headed for Canada. It appears that Europe may soon be clear of its Roma, just as Adolf Hitler had intended.