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Roma and the recession: new crisis, old racism

French police have 'cleared' more than 50 Roma settlements

French police have ‘cleared’ more than 50 Roma settlements

Fuelled by racist myths, a new wave of anti-Roma racism is sweeping Europe. KD Tait argues for solidarity

In October, Irish police kidnapped two young Roma children from separate Roma families. The parents and children were forced to undergo DNA tests, which proved… they were indeed related.

This followed the case of Maria, a Roma child seized by Greek police, whose parents adopted her from another Roma family in Bulgaria, who were too poor to feed her.

In all three cases the police raids were based on the fact that the children “looked different” to their parents – the Greek press dubbed Maria “the blond angel”, with the implication that she must belong to another “race”. This was a revival of the ancient lie that “Gypsies” kidnap children – akin to the infamous “blood libel” against the Jews.

 

A persecuted people

There are an estimated four million Roma people living in Europe. Since their arrival in Europe from India around 1300, they have been subject to systematic persecution and pogroms across the continent.

In what is today Romania, the Roma were enslaved until 1864. In World War II up to 1.5 million Roma were murdered by the Nazis, an equivalent proportion of their population to the Jewish Holocaust.

As a result of centuries of state-sanctioned violence and suppression of their language and culture, many Roma refuse to declare their ethnicity. This has led some Roma organisations to claim there may be as many as 14 million Roma living in Europe.

The reasons are clear. In Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria, Roma children are educated in segregated classes, or subjected to neglect and abuse in “delinquent schools”.

The situation is little better in the developed West. Since 2005 Germany has deported up to 50,000 Roma – refugees from the Kosovo conflict – back to Kosovo. Many were children when they came and only spoke German.

In Italy the rape of a woman by a Roma man in 2009 was the pretext for fascist gangs to launch murderous pogroms against Roma people. A year earlier a judge ruled that is was  “acceptable” to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that “they are thieves”.

In 2009 French police deported 10,000 Roma people to Bulgaria and Romania. Over the next two years, riot squads and armoured bulldozers demolished 51 camps and deported a further 10,000 Roma.

Interior Minister Manuel Valls recently called for the expulsion of the remaining 20,000 Roma in France – because they “had no intention of integrating”. He backed up his racist rhetoric by arresting a 15-year-old student on a school trip and deporting her the same day.

 

Capitalist crisis

The European recession has thrown millions of workers onto the scrapheap. The fear of unemployment, competition for jobs and race to the bottom in pay and conditions that this creates is the most effective way to discipline the workforce, but it is not enough.

The ruling class also maintains an arsenal of tactics to turn working people against each other. Their control of education, the media and the police enables them to sow fear and division to prevent workers from uniting against their common exploiter.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the ruling classes of Europe were turning to fascism to destroy the workers’ movements and save their system, the Jews were targeted as outsiders who “racially pollute” the “civilised” peoples of Europe. Just how civilised Europeans were, the Holocaust was about to demonstrate.

Today the horrors of the Nazis have made anti-Semitism awkward for mainstream racism to resort to. Anti-Roma racism, along with Islamophobia, has become the new form that extreme racism has taken in the current crisis.

The majority of Roma, victims of mass unemployment and state racism which prevents them accessing the education and welfare they are entitled to, cannot be accused of doing anything except struggling to survive. And yet the persecution of the Roma is escalating.

Driven onto the margins of society by official policies, which aim to dehumanise all Roma as criminals and parasites, it is not surprising that theft, petty crime or black market work is the only option for many of those excluded from society. When arrested, they are abused or deported by the police.

 

Solidarity

The working class, who make all of society’s wealth, share in common our exploitation by a ruling elite, whose filthy tabloids like the Daily Mail and the Express churn out daily dose of racist poison – against Roma, against Muslims, against migrants and against black people – to divide and weaken us.

The working class is an international class that recognises no reasons for discrimination or exclusion on the basis of nationality, “race” or religion. An attack on the poorest amongst us is an attack on all of us.

The cruel eviction of Roma and Irish travellers from Dale Farm in Essex two years ago drew hundreds of activists to take solidarity action alongside them. Despite our defeat on this occasion, the alliances formed remain a model for the future.

We should also fight to abolish the racist immigration controls, which benefit the bosses not the workers. Everyone should be entitled to a job and to equal access to the legal rights and social services of the country they live in.

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