Friday, September 10, 2010

Europe’s most persecuted people?

by Ben Judah

September 9, 2010

President Sarkozy’s controversial roundup and deportation of thousands of gypsies currently living in France has been condemned by many quarters—the Pope, the president of the EU Commission and a UN committee. The Roma in question are EU citizens who had every right to move to France, but not to stay indefinitely without a job. Yet despite the high-level criticism of Sarkozy’s move, his policy signals a gathering tempo of persecution of the Roma people in Europe. Last week seven Roma were killed by a gunman in Slovakia, before he turned the weapon on himself. Eight similar killings have taken place in neighbouring Hungary over the past 18 months, and 30 firebombing attacks have been reported. In Rome, the mayor has begun demolishing shanties in effort to push the migrants out of the city. In both Serbia and Kosovo there have been ethnic stabbings of large numbers of Roma, who were driven out by Albanians after 1999 and are not welcome to return. Closer to home, Roma have been driven out of Northern Ireland in racist attacks. These developments should worry us all. As history has shown, the widespread maltreatment of a large, stateless minority can have devastating consequences.

Experts believe that there may be up to 11m Roma people in Europe today, making their population greater than Austria’s or Sweden’s. While fertility rates are dropping to record lows in the new EU member states, Roma numbers are exploding. If the numbers hold, 20 per cent of Hungarians and 40 per cent of the country’s workforce will be Roma in 2050—compared to just 6 per cent in 2006. In the coming decades, the danger is that a large proportion of the EU’s population could effectively end up being deemed second-class citizens.