As I am away for a couple of weeks, and so am not posting new material on Pandaemonium. I am taking the opportunity to publish some of the shorter pieces from my Observer column that I don’t normally post here. This short piece, the last before normal service resumes on Pandaemonium, was published in the Observer on 24 June 2018 under the headline ‘Persecution of the Roma brings shame on Europe’.
‘The majority [of Roma] should be delivered back to the borders,’ thundered the interior minister. ‘We are not here to welcome these people.’
That interior minister was not Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s far-right Lega, in his rant against the Roma, when he called for ‘a mass cleansing, street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood’. It was Manuel Valls, France’s socialist interior minister in 2013, justifying the policy that Salvini now demands – the mass expulsion of Roma from their camps. The Roma, Valls claimed, ‘have lifestyles that are very different from ours and are clearly in confrontation’ with French values.
The Roma are Europe’s most unwanted people. Some 10 to 12 million Roma live across the continent. They have been here for more than a millennium – and have been ostracised and suppressed throughout that time. One in four Roma is thought to have perished in the Holocaust.
Today, they remain one of the few peoples whose demonisation and persecution is accepted in polite society. Across the political spectrum, politicians parade their prejudices, depicting Roma as thieves, beggars and child snatchers, as social threats.
In most European countries, Roma are the most despised social group. France is often criticised for its antipathy towards Islam. But whereas less than a third of the French population dislike Muslims, almost two-thirds have an unfavourable view of the Roma. So do four in five Italians, two-thirds of Greeks and Hungarians and almost half of Spaniards and Britons.
The Roma may be Europe’s largest minority group, but they are socially isolated and have no powerful figures to lobby on their behalf. That makes them easy scapegoats. It also makes it easy to ignore the hostility towards them. The silence is as shameful as the bigotry.
The painting is by Ceija Stojka (1933-2013), perhaps the most famous of Roma artists.