Skip to main content

Europe’s war on the Roma

Jonathan Simon, professor of law | September 8, 2010

The latest target of “governing through crime” tendencies among politicians in the Euro Zone is the Roma. Often called “gypsies” the Roma have roots in Romania but are often citizens of the country in which they live, as well as of the European Union. Despite their legal status as citizens, the Roma increasingly find themselves subject to arrests and expulsions as if they were undocumented aliens with no legal rights. The Roma are often stigmatized as criminals, and accused of involvement in all kinds of scams and illegal activities, a stigma that goes back decades if not century. Along with Jews, the Roma were one of the ethnic groups targeted to genocidal extermination by the Nazis. Today, they are to be found in almost every large city in Europe. Economically marginal almost everywhere, the Roma are described as “nomadic” despite evidence that their irregular habitats are mostly the result of extreme poverty.

This summer President Sarkozy of France has made a major public campaign of expelling the Roma from France, irrespective of their French or EU citizenship. A series of sometimes violent round-ups, reminiscent of Jews being deported during the Vichy period, has generated considerable backlash from human rights organizations and activists throughout Europe. According to Elisabetta Povoledo’s reporting in the NYTimes, Italy is also targeting the Roma, dismantling long established “camps” and expelling the Roma from Italian cities.

Public debate on the issue often has racist and xenophobic overtones.

“There has been growing rancor against Roma and Sinti, in part because the media has hyped this issue, and in part because the government uses it as a means of gaining consensus,” according to Lorenzo Monasta, the president of Osservazione, a research center in Trieste that monitors discrimination against Roma and Sinti.

The critics say recent federal laws have also made life more difficult for Roma and Sinti here, even though more than half are Italian or European Union citizens. In 2007, the government passed a decree allowing European Union citizens to be expelled after three months if they lacked the means to support themselves. Then in 2008 a decree granted the authorities new powers to expel European Union citizens for reasons of public safety.

The public campaigns against the Roma have all the features of governing through crime in the US. Led by politicians facing significant policy and political resistance in their own countries (Sarkozy and Berlusconi), the campaigns involve removal of elements of society with little regard proving any actual legal guilt, but all done in the name of security and public safety. That these campaigns could unfold only sixty odd years since the Nazi genocide against the Roma, and in countries at the heart of the supposedly human rights cherishing European Union, is extremely troubling.

Cross-posted from Jonathan Simon’s blog Governing Through Crime.

Comments to “Europe’s war on the Roma

  1. The Swedish government was responsible for the most iron ore the Nazis received. Kiruna-Gällivare ore fields in Northern Sweden were all important to Nazi Germany.

    These massive deliveries of iron ore and military facilities from Sweden to Nazi Germany lengthened World War II. Casualties of the war have been estimated at 20 million killed in Europe. How many of them died due to Sweden’s material support to Nazi Germany, is not known.

    The Swedish drinking toast (skal) has a rather macabre background; it originally meant ‘skull’. The word has come down from a custom practiced by the warlike and terrorist Vikings who used the dried-out skulls of their enemies as drinking mugs, with the evident advantage that the mug held a large quantity of mead and could be easily replaced.

    The Viking raids are remembered: Spanish-speaking mothers warn their children that if they do not behave, the Norwegian (el noruego) will carry them off.

    In Lohja and Espoo near Helsinki they fenced off the school building with barbed wire, in order to ban children the access to a school.

    Sweden was silently pursuing principles of racial purity. During 41 years some 60,000 people were sterilized as misfits.

  2. Dear Professor,

    As SEVA already post a correction, unfortunately you haven’t corrected the gypsies / or Rroma (double R) have roots in INDIA not in Romania. I expect a lot more research from a Berkley professor .

    greetings from Romania

  3. Greg:
    Intolerance is always the first thing to go when a culture meets greed,immorality, corruption political malfesance during economic hard times.Looking for someone to blame maybe we should all have a hard look at our selfs.When a country starts burning books,people are not far behind sort of sound familiar.

  4. Great post. But I wanted to point out that the statement that “Roma have roots in Romania” is incorrect. Roma/Gypsies have roots in India, Romani language being closely related to Hindi. Romania just happens to be one among many European countries that have large Roma minorities (such as Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, etc.).

  5. “xenophobe n: A person unduly fearful or contemptuous of strangers or foreigners,..” American Heritage Desk Dictionary. Perhaps it was Bizet’s Carmen, the French Opera about a powerful Gypsy woman, or his mother’s warning, “hold on to my skirt or the Gypsies will seal you” that motivated Sarkosy to take action. No, my guess is that it was just the politics of fear; a tried and true recipe designed to feed the masses something they’ll like. It worked well here with the Chinese when the railroads were complete, the Japanese when they were our enemy and the braceros when we wanted their jobs. And now, some of us want to revise the Fourteenth Amendment to deny citizenship to children, stop construction of a place of worship on private property and burn a few Korans because we are a nation under one God. Xenophobia is also alive and well here in “River City.”

Comments are closed.