Ceija Stojka

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.


  1. damon

    Kenan hasn’t distinguished about the different gropups of Roma he’s talking about.
    There are those that are in the countries they are citizens of, and those who have migrated to another state.
    Particularly to western Europe. If they are from elsewhere, but are living in impromptu camps in France or Italy, they may well have broken the rules about open borders within the EU. You have to be in work and there are time limits etc. And maybe also rules about becoming a vagrant in another state.

    • rod sanchez

      not distinguishing reflects his subjects views -> valls & salvini do not see citizenship (national or EU or none) as a reason to rethink their bigotry towards the roma. That legal status only shapes the steps that can be taken against them.

      • damon

        I really think you have to go into far more detail than the original piece did, or that you just did there.
        If people from outside France had moved there and built shanty camps in woods, or like I saw in Paris a few years ago, along the canal opposite the Stade de France and also outside the main coach station, then it’s perfectly OK for the authorities to take those structures down. They also have a right to check the IDs of those people and see if they were legally in the country. If they were not, deporting them is entirely legal. Barack Obama deported thousands of people.

        Some of the reasons Roma migrants to Western countries are unpopular is not just down to racial prejudice, but because of the difficulties of integration and behaviour. There’s been a large group of Roma migrants practically living on the Marble Arch roundabout in central London for the last couple of years. The reason they are there is “to work” the streets around there. To “hustle” basically and make money anyway they can. Which can mean begging from the rich Arab tourists to possibly more illegal pursuits. To deny or ignore these things which you can easily see if you care to look, makes these kind of anti-racism pieces fall flat imo.

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