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Roma are often depicted as untrustworthy and unwilling to integrate into society. But when too many non-Roma do not trust Roma it is very difficult to continue willing to be part of a whole. ‘Integration’ usually means the loss of Roma culture without being fully accepted by the majority population. Even educated Roma who have lived inside the majority population all their lives often face exclusion. The fear of being rejected is sometimes so present that some Roma have to hide their ethnic origin in order to continue living in the society instead of on the fringes of it. As long as marrying a Roma or allowing one’s children to do so is still a taboo for many, there can be no talk about the Roma’s unwillingness to integrate. Self-marginalization, when it is the case, is and has been a survival strategy rather than a free choice.
Many people accuse Roma of not doing anything in order to improve their own situation. This accusation concerns their financial situation as well as employment, education, or housing.
One has to keep in mind, however, that half of Europe’s Roma were enslaved for 500 years. During this time learning how to read and write or revolting against inhuman treatment was forbidden and harshly punished. Killings of Roma under slavery were so common that many cases were not even registered. Even today violence against Roma often goes unnoticed. Centuries of forced passivity make it hard to encourage human rights movements today. Demanding your rights is still dangerous. Roma activists in many countries face harassment and physical violence by the authorities as well as by the police.
In many eastern European countries the majority population claims that the Roma ruin their country’s reputation when they migrate to other countries. Apart from the fact that reputation is not a concept used in Western politics, it is the treatment of the Roma and not the way that they behave, which can be held against the states, from which they have come.
In a recent poll 70% said that Roma should be denied the right to foreign travel, even when all legal conditions are met.
The Romanians also view Roma as tarnishing the country’s international image and, in particular harming the country’s prospects for integration into Europe. This was aggravated last year when high profile articles appeared in the French media claiming that Romania’s Roma immigrants were responsible for rising crime rates in France. Other European media followed suit. As a result, the French government imposed stiff visa restrictions that affected all Romanians. The French government has since withdrawn these restrictions but damage to the Roma’s image remains. (Source: NDI report ‘Roma Political Participation in Romania’ February 2003).
In September 2006 a member of the European parliament, of Roma ethnicity, fell victim to the racist attacks of a Bulgarian parliamentary observer. Since this incident happened on the day when it was decided that Bulgaria and Romania would join the European Union the question arose if human and minority rights are really valued in Bulgaria.
Many people seem to believe that Roma are genetically inclined to commit crimes. This is nonsense. In many cases Roma are the first to be suspected of having committed a crime but the last to be rehabilitated when proven innocent. Whenever Roma do commit crimes the whole community is stigmatised and therefore judged and condemned for the act of an individual.
Common stereotypes depict all Roma as thieves. This is again the consequence of judging a whole community for the acts of individuals who just belong to the community. Every society has its thieves and criminals, but not for that the whole group is systematically stigmatised, as it happens to Roma.
Recognition of the crimes of which Roma were victims is, on the contrary, hard to obtain. Does anyone ever think about the things that have been stolen from the Roma? Roma were victims of the Holocaust: their valuables, especially gold, were taken from them before they were sent to death. In today’s post communist transition period, Roma often fall victim to pogroms or unjust forced evictions, during which their property is often being destroyed.
Roma steal babies
The myth that Roma steal babies is centuries old. Even today it is often repeatedly told. In 2006, Romanian press reported about a Roma women who had kidnapped a non Roma child. It later turned out that the women was not Roma but Romanian. Of course this fact did not hit the news. When Roma children are kidnapped by non-Roma, fall victim to violence, or are murdered this is hardly ever becomes a public scandal.
There surely are some Roma who deal in drugs just as much as you can find drug dealers in basically any country in the world. Roma are not genetically inclined to deal with drugs nor is drug dealing a part of Roma culture. When it does occur it should be regarded as yet another indicator of the hardships Roma face when trying to enter the ‘normal’ work market and of the resulting poverty, just as it happens to all vulnerable groups, including those belonging to the majority population.