The Hatewatch blog is managed by the staff of the Intelligence Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

Anti-Roma Violence in Europe: A Q&A With Gwendolyn Albert

Posted in Anti-Roma, Europe by Alexander Zaitchik on July 6, 2010 - 8:34 am

On Friday, 26 June, CNN International broadcast a documentary called “Scars of Racism” (videos here, here and here). It told the story of a young Czech Roma (commonly known in the U.S. as a “gypsy”) named Natálka Kudriková and the neo-Nazis who almost burned her to death in an arson attack committed last year in the Czech town of Vitkov. It was a rare look by the international media into the anti-Roma violence that has plagued Central and Eastern Europe since the fall of communism two decades ago.

Violence against Roma has emerged as a leading human rights issue not just in the former Soviet bloc, but also across Europe. The perpetrators are often ideologically driven neo-Nazis, sometimes with ties to established political parties. Other times, they are local vigilantes taking the law into their own hands. In the past five years fatal attacks have been reported from Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia and Turkey. In Italy, six arsons over the last three years have resulted in multiple fatalities, including children.

Gwendolyn Albert is an American living in Prague who consulted with CNN on “Scars of Racism.” A resident of the Czech Republic since 1990, Albert has been reporting on the human rights situation of the Roma minority in Central and Eastern Europe for the past 15 years. She is currently consulting on research in this area for the Council of Europe’s Office of the Human Rights Commissioner and the European Roma Rights Centre. Hatewatch recently spoke with Albert about the rise in far-right violence against Roma, and whether international media attention like CNN’s recent documentary is making a difference.

Anti-Roma violence and racism has been a defining feature of post-communist societies since the early 1990s. Are governments finally getting more serious about tackling it?

No government is doing enough, not in Central and Eastern Europe, and certainly not in Western Europe. This violence is not limited to the former communist bloc. France and Italy are probably the worst places in Western Europe to be Roma right now. Italy has been the most publicized and most discussed case, but France has a number of discriminatory institutions in place that disproportionately impact Roma.

What are the most obnoxious elements of Italian policy?

Starting in 2006, cities across Italy have been adopting “Security Pacts” which give local officials the legal powers to target Roma for removal. These forced evictions of Roma have increased during 2010. The Italian police have been using disproportionate force during their evictions of Roma camps for at least five years. This has all been in response to Bulgaria and Romania acceding to the EU [European Union] in 2007 and the large outflow of Roma from both those countries to the West [migration within the EU is unrestricted].

In 2008, the Italian government declared a “state of emergency with regard to nomad community settlements”—this was a legal action unprecedented in post-WWII Europe, the declaration of a state of emergency with respect to a particular ethnic group. Their presence alone is defined as constituting the emergency and local authorities are empowered to fingerprint and photograph all residents of any “nomad community settlement,” including minors, to expel whom they choose, and to open up new camps and order people to live in them. Freedom of movement — of citizens, human beings, not just money and goods — between EU member states is one of the founding principles of the EU, but not where the Roma are concerned, at least not in Italy or France. ( continue to full post… )