Le Nouvel Observateur brings us the news that the European Parliament commemorated the genocide perpetrated against the Roma (or gypsies, to use the colloquial term) people during the Second World War today, only a few days after a similar recognition of the tragic deaths of hundreds of thousands of Roma and Sinti people by the German Bundestag.
European Parliament President and former Polish Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek pointed out that “a third of the people detained at Auschwitz were Roma… but most Europeans do not realise this”. The article states that between 200 and 500,000 people of Roma and Sinti descent were killed during what the nomads of Europe call the Porajmos, or ‘Devouring’ – though some sources put that figure as high as 1.5 million.
The systematic imprisoning, starving and killing of Roma across Europe by the Nazi régime and other countries in the Axis camp did not receive the instant post-war recognition as the Holocaust. Not all European countries recognise it as a genocide – Romania only did in 2007, and many nations, especially in the Balkans and Central and Eastern Europe, still have not. The gigantic monuments that commemorate the Shoah do not have a Roma equivalent. Children do not spend weeks and months learning about Adolf Hitler’s attempts to annihilate the gypsy people at school. Many Europeans and Americans, I am sure, are not even aware that such a genocide ever occurred. I don’t think I even need to point out how wrong that is.
The Roma are still hated and shunned all across the world. I have heard, on more than one occasion, people (especially from Eastern Europe) express disappointment that Hitler was not able to ‘finish the job’ – or similar sentiments, with or without the Nazi references. Anti-Roma prejudice is still rampant throughout the West, and nowhere more so than in Central, Eastern and South-Eastern Europe. Granted, those who criticise discrimination against the Roma in the East forget that the Romany communities do tend to be characterised by extremely high crime rates, rampant teenage pregnancy, delinquency, little or no education, poor sanitation and a host of other problems that makes them often undesirable neighbours. And I think that most people would admit to having thought negative thoughts about the Roma at one time or another. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been guilty of it myself, much as I try not to resort to crude, derogatory stereotypes as a rule.
But we must realise that, more than 65 years after the end of the Second World War, to have learnt so little about our own capacity for hatred is a crime in itself. Good on Jerzy Buzek and the European Parliament for pointing out that genocide is always genocide, even if it’s against groups that not everyone likes.