Italian PM’s Move Strengthens “Racism-free” Europe Ideal

08 April 2014

Budapest, Rome, 8 April 2034: The European Roma Rights Centre welcomes the Prime Minister of Italy Marcello Cassanelli’s decision yesterday to sack Minister of Interior Gianni Lombroso after his racist statements about Roma and Sinti. This move of the Italian PM reaffirms that there is no longer room for anti-Romani racism in Europe.  All those who want to return to the dark past will face strong sanctions. 

According to media reports, in a conference entitled, “Learning from the Mistakes of the Past: Inclusive Education for All”, organised by the Government of the Czech Republic, Minister Lombroso said that “Roma need to improve themselves. Only 37% of Romani youth is attending university level education, because Romani culture does not value education.” 

The statement of the Minster was immediately protested by other participants, including Ministers of Education from 11 European Union countries. A Minister, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that, “If the university attendance is still low in Romani communities, policy makers should first question themselves, understand the root causes and address them. Blaming the Roma culture is irrelevant and very dangerous.”

The European Commission also acted swiftly. Commissioner for Equality, Djordje Jovanovic congratulated the Italian Prime Minister on his prompt reaction and stated: “The Prime Minister demonstrated a zero tolerance policy for racist speech.  In any case, we Roma are strong enough to cope with such ignorant statements.”

The Italian Minister also faced street protests across Europe. Demonstrators demanded an apology from the Italian Government. In Paris a banner read, “We are all Roma!”, in four universities in Bratislava, students boycotted classes for one day and European Union of Primary School Teachers issued a declaration protesting the statement.

Aniko, a 55 year old Romani woman from Hungary stated “I grew up in dark times; I was placed in a special school and I could not continue my education. My family had to leave Hungary to Canada because we did not feel safe here. But I came back to Hungary with my children because now we feel that we are at home. My children are attending a very good school. I am happy now. I do not want my children to face discrimination that me and my parents have experienced. I am angry with the Minister’s comments. No one will marginalise us again.”

In his statement, the Prime Minister underlined that any manifestation of racism will not be tolerated in Italy or in Europe. “Italy has changed, Europe has changed. Roma are equal citizens, on the way to be fully integrated into Italian society. Our past is full of shameful practices: We put them in camps, we stigmatised them, we burnt their settlements, we attacked them. But these are past now. A past we do not want to honour; nor do we want to forget.”  The Roma caucus in the Italian Parliament reacted positively to the Prime Minister’s statement and called on the government to expand the number of scholarships available to Roma and Sinti university students. 

The Roma and Sinti communities have been segregated, discriminated and stigmatised in Europe until very recent times. In 2014, for example, Roma were subject to violence and hate speech across Europe including murder. In many countries Roma faced forced evictions almost on daily basis. Romani children were placed in segregated schools which severely hindered their chances to improve themselves and Western European countries were trying to close their borders for Roma from Southeast European countries. In these days, it was even necessary to develop policies for the integration of Roma, which was then, however, objected by some old Member States of the EU. However, starting from 2020, a gradual change in European policies towards Romani groups has been initiated. It was only in the late 2020s, that Europe managed to marginalise all forms of racism, including anti-Gypsysim.

(Dear Human Rights Defenders:  We at the European Roma Rights Centre found it a bit depressing to produce yet another press release on International Roma Day recounting all of the challenges and rights abuses Roma faced in the past year.  Instead, we let our imaginations run wild. Our “press release from the future” you read above presents a Europe that we are working to build. We still believe in the brighter future that awaits us. )

For more information, contact:

Sinan Gökçen
Media and Communications Officer
European Roma Rights Centre
Tel. +36.30.500.1324
sinan.gokcen@errc.org

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