Why Roma are coming to Canada
Roma have been targeted by skinheads and neo-Nazis as the scapegoats in the emerging democracies of the former Soviet Bloc countries of Eastern Europe. Frequent assaults, beatings, discrimination in housing, employment and other forms of persecution have become especially prevalent shortly after the fall of the communist regimes, in the 1990's. These groups who are persecuting Roma consider themselves to be nationalists, working in the interests of right-wing political parties that oppose democratic governments, and they believe that their countries should be free of Roma whom they consider to be inferior beings.
Killings and assaults against Roma either go unpunished or the police make a perfunctory report which then disappears into the bureaucratic machinery and is seldom acted upon. Roma have come to believe that they cannot gain any form of protection from the law-enforcement agencies in the countries where they live. They believe that the state cannot or will not protect them from violence.
In the Czech Republic, the government currently admits that over 60 Roma have been murdered by skinheads since 1989. The actual count is much higher but the Czech courts differentiate between racially-motivated murders and ordinary murders. In 1998, one Czech skinhead received 8 years for the murder of a 26 year-old Romani mother of six. She was beaten unconscious and thrown into a river to drown. In many cases, the culprits are not even brought to trial. The perpetrators are often related to officials in law-enforcement or otherwise "connected" and are thus often protected from prosecution. Sometime they are also egged on by statements from elected officials who publicly state that Roma should be eliminated or driven from their country. The number of assaults against Roma is not admitted to by the Czech, Hungarian or Romanian governments. However, the American researcher Paul Polansky, in his book Dvakrat Tim Samym (Living Through It Twice, published in 1997), reports that over 2,000 cases were recorded at that time.
Conditions in Hungary are just as bad as in the Czech Republic but not as well reported in the international press. Roma have been murdered, assaulted, raped and their homes burned down by gangs of neo-Nazis and skinheads. A popular pop-music song widely heard on public radio proclaims that the only way to rid Hungary of its Gypsies is to use a flame-thrower against them. Roma are forced to live in run-down ghettos, often as squatters in condemned buildings, because of the general poverty among Roma. In one Czech town a wall was erected around one Roma ghetto to shield the Czech population from the Roma. In both Hungary and the Czech Republic, Roma children are being sent to special schools for the mentally challenged even though most of the Roma children are not in this category. Children of Roma refugees from the Czech Republic now in Canada who had been placed in these schools have been judged by competent authorities of the Toronto School Board to have normal intelligence for their ages. Roma in Hungary, the Czech Republic and elsewhere, do not have access to equal education.
In almost all former Soviet Bloc countries Roma are second-class citizens and are living under apartheid conditions according to reports from many civil-rights organizations.
Roma in the Czech Republic, Hungary and other former Soviet Bloc countries are underemployed. After the Second World the the former Communist governments relocated them from their settlements and villages, mainly from rural areas, and brought them to the industrialized regions to be trained in blue-collar jobs. Instead of bringing in guest workers like Western European countries, the Communists often used the Roma. Many are now skilled tradesmen and a few have university education. After the end of communism, these assimilation programs ended. The Roma were often the first to be let go in the unproductive enterprises or lost their jobs to non-Roma from nearby countries who were preferred by the local employers. They also lost their former stateowned apartments once they were unemployed and unable to pay the high rents imposed after privatization of housing. They now do not have access to adequate housing in the Czech Republic, Hungary and most other Eastern- European countries.
In all the East European countries the Roma are victims of widespread prejudice and discrimination, going back to the 15th century when they first appeared in this area. Their folk mythology portrays the Roma in a negative light. In the past they have been accused of everything from child theft to cannibalism, and recent polls conducted by civil rights organizations have shown that the vast majority of non-Roma citizens would not want Roma as neighbours or to have to interact with them on a daily basis. While not actively supporting the skinheads and neo-Nazis or the ultra-nationalist thugs in Rumania, the religious fanatics in Bosnia or the ethnic cleansers in the former Yugoslavia, the general population condones their actions and usually feels that the Roma deserve what they get. Overt acts of persecution go unchecked and are ignored by the population in general. In Rumania, the police are the main persecutors of Roma according to reports by the European Roma Rights Center in Budapest.
Roma conscripted into the armies to do their national service in former Soviet Bloc countries are subject to widespread discrimination and persecution. They are placed in special details to clean out the latrines, peel potatoes, fill sandbags and do all the heavy labour and menial tasks required by the army. They are also beaten, ostracized and otherwise ill-treated by their fellow non-Roma conscripts. One Rumanian- Roma refugee in Canada described how he was forced to clean toilets with a razor blade while serving in the Rumanian army after the overthrow of Ceaucescu. He is a competent auto mechanic and now runs a garage in Canada but was not allowed to service military vehicles while in the Rumanian army. His story is typical.
In almost all East European countries there is an active policy of ethnocide against Roma. Most of the governments actively try to destroy the Romani language and culture in order to assimilate Roma into the general population. In many countries, the Roma birth-rate is greater than that of the general population and there are unfounded fears that Roma will become a dangerously large minority. There are close to 400,000 Roma in the Czech Republic, over three million in Rumania and 600 thousand in Kosovo. Population estimates for Western Europe are much lower, around 50,000 or less depending on the country. In the former Soviet Bloc countries Roma are thus a significant minority population and their numbers are rising. Because of widespread poverty and underemployment, roughly 80 percent of the Rumanian orphans are Romani children.
Attempts by American Romani families to adopt these Romani orphans have been frustrated by the current Rumanian government. The main types of discrimination or persecution are in areas of:
Copyright © Ronald Lee, October, 1998. Updated by Paul St. Clair, March, 2007.
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