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Archive for August 17th, 2008

Roma in Europe

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Someone pointed me to this article in The Observer on the Roma in Italy:

“Why do the Italians hate us?

On the morning of 17 July, Cristina and Violetta, along with their cousins Manuela and Diana, had made the regular journey from the dismal camp we are sitting in to one of Naples’s most popular beaches. Walking two miles to the nearest public transport link, and skipping aboard the local train that skirts the coastal cliffs of the city, the girls planned to sell trinkets – small wooden turtles carved by Nigerian immigrants – to daytrippers along the bay. At Torregaveta, after a long hot day with no sales, the sisters dared each other to jump from rocks into the sea. Violetta went first and disappeared, swept beneath the waves. Cristina, the eldest, jumped in to save her. Both drowned, clinging on to each other.

What happened next shocked the world.

The girls were recovered from the sea by a passer-by and later declared dead by a lifeguard who called for help as Manuela and Diana wept, banging their tiny fists on the corpses.

As the police arrived, their cousins, distraught and in shock, were taken away to contact relatives. Two beach towels were used to cover the dead Roma girls. And then something extraordinary occurred.

Summer beach life resumed around the bodies for three hours until an ambulance finally showed up. In the most striking image of all, a couple nonchalantly ate a picnic while looking on at the scene. Another threw a frisbee nearby. The indifference, picked up by newspapers and TV stations across the world, was seen by the country’s liberal elite to be the final straw. The most senior Catholic in Naples, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, was the quickest to point out the coarsening of human sentiment which the behaviour in Torregaveta represented: ‘Cristina and Violetta,’ he told the Italian media, ‘had faced nothing but prejudice in life and indifference in death; an unforgivable truth.’

In Rome, the government winced. Masters of realpolitik, they knew that the deaths of Cristina and Violetta, both born in Italy but full-blood Roma, had come at a bad time for the nation, forced in recent months to defend itself to its European neighbours on charges of discrimination against Gypsies and immigrants. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who swept to power for a third time on a thinly disguised anti-immigration ticket, was in the middle of a controversial yet populist programme of fingerprinting the country’s 150,000 Roma, some of whose families have been in Italy since the middle ages. According to critics it has become impossible to disguise the Fascist undertones of these actions, and they point to the fact that the first expulsions of Gypsies took place in 1926 under Benito Mussolini. The dictator’s political heirs, the ‘post-fascist’ National Alliance, are now coalition partners in Berlusconi’s government.

In May this year, rumours of an abduction of a baby girl by a Gypsy woman in Naples triggered an orgy of violence against Roma camps by thugs wielding iron bars, who torched caravans and drove Gypsies from their slum homes in dozens of assaults, orchestrated by the notoriously violent local mafia, the Camorra. The response of Berlusconi’s government? ‘That is what happens when Gypsies steal babies,’ shrugged Roberto Maroni, Italy’s interior minister and a key Berlusconi ally.

For the 10m Europeans all loosely labelled as Roma or Gypsies, life is an endless procession of marginalisation and prejudice. Corralled into settlements across the continent, 84 per cent of Roma in Europe are estimated to live below the poverty line. Perhaps even more shocking is the lack of a more detailed picture. Official indifference and reluctance on the part of the Roma themselves means data on life expectancy, infant mortality, employment and literacy rates are sparse. Yet all are likely to be lower than those of mainstream society.

The plight of the Roma has been a part of European life since their mysterious migration from Rajasthan around 1,000AD. Queen Elizabeth I was the first who sought to expel the Roma from England. German Emperor Karl VI ordered their extermination in 1721. In parts of the Balkans, Roma were traded as slaves until the middle of the 19th century. In the 20th century, hundreds of thousands of Roma perished in the Nazi Holocaust, known in Gypsy folklore as the Porrajmos or ‘The Devouring’. How Roma like Cristina and Violetta came to be born in Naples has more to do with the modern legacy of war in the Balkans. In the early Nineties, thousands of Gypsies crossed the Adriatic after the outbreak of fighting in Yugoslavia and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. For many of the Gypsies, the majority of whom were illegal immigants, lawless Naples was the place where they could disappear into the chaos.

Written by modernityblog

17/08/2008 at 14:43

Posted in Uncategorized