Resisting hate ahead of the European elections
16 May 2019
By Benjamin Ignac
On 23-26 May 2019, millions of citizens across the European Union will be electing a new European Parliament. And what a time for Europe it is! You may have already noticed the increasingly toxic atmosphere and animosity towards Romani people and other minorities in several European countries, especially in the last few months. Much of this toxicity is, to no surprise, caused by the growing strength of far-right political parties whose candidates are stirring up national hatred towards Roma and using it as a platform to win votes in the upcoming elections.
Fascism on the rise
Have we forgotten what happens when prejudice and far right populism goes unchecked? In 1954, psychologist Gordon Allport tried to explain how prejudice manifests itself in various stages that eventually lead to the extermination of the undesired group. According to Allport's Scale of Prejudice, nationalist states often go through these five stages:
- Antilocution: Antilocution (speaking against someone) occurs when the majority starts generating a negative narrative about specific minorities, using hate speech and drawing on negative stereotypes.
- Avoidance: The majority society starts to avoid interaction with the undesired group. Ghettos or segregated settlements are being formed.
- Discrimination: The undesired group is discriminated against by denying them opportunities to be included in social, economic or political participation.
- Physical Attack: The majority society takes actions and rises against the undesired group through public protests, rallies, raids… These actions usually lead to vandalism, mob-violence, destruction of property, and physical harm to members of the undesired group. Such actions are often ignored or even supported by the ruling government.
- Extermination: The majority society seeks extermination or removal of the undesired minority. Some examples from our recent European history include the Final Solution in Nazi Germany, the ethnic cleansing in the Bosnian War, or the extermination of Serbs, Roma and Jews by the Ustashe in Croatia.
Governments which push Roma down in order to rise up
In April, protests against the Roma community have taken place in the northern Bulgarian town of Gabrovo. For four consecutive nights ethnic Bulgarians, some armed with metal batons, demanded Gabrovo to be cleansed of its Roma community. They smashed windows, threatened to kill Romani families, and set their homes on fire, burning everything they had to the ground. The authorities are now advising the Roma to flee the city. The ones who remain live in fear. Parents are too scared to send their children to school. According to local NGOs, politicians and lawmakers are using anti-Roma sentiment and rhetoric to mobilize voters ahead of European Parliament elections.
Earlier this month hundreds of Italian neo-fascists took to the streets of a suburb in Rome to protest against the arrival of a Romani family in the neighbourhood. Demonstrators blocked the centre's entrance and set fire to a car. People were heard screaming "You all have to burn" and "We don't want you here", one man even yelled “Whore, I'll rape you!" to a Romani woman. According to human rights organisations, the number of hate crimes has tripled from 2017 to 2018, when the right-wing League party entered the government in coalition with the Five Star Movement.
The leader of the Hungarian far-right party ‘Our Nation Movement’ - László Toroczkai - uses antigypsyism as a platform for his campaign. He announced this month that they will hold a protest against “Roma criminality”, emphasizing that 'if his political party will be elected, they would get rid of these antisocial and sociopathic people by re-introducing the Siberian model of prison slavery. He also calls for the formation of a paramilitary defence association called the “National Legion” whose job would be to protect the national Hungarian tradition and bring “order” to the countryside.
We have also received disturbing news that the local government and police department in Cakovec, Croatia approved what seems to be an anti-Roma protest to be held in June. The organizers, who are known far-right nationalists with fascist ideologies, appealed to their Croat compatriots to take action and stand against “the Roma terror”. Although local news confirmed the local government’s support of the protest, the prefect of Medimurje County Matija Posavec is refusing to give any public statements about his standpoint on this issue. His unofficial approval and silence is in line with his political platform for the European Parliamentary elections for which he is currently running.
Resist, react, vote!
It is demoralizing to be protested against, attacked, used as a political policy issue, and demonized by the majority. After the attack in Rome, Pope Francis encouraged the Roma to resist, and that is exactly what we must do. We need to resist the racism, we need to resist the hate speech, we need to resist the attacks against our moral and physical integrity. We must fight back but, as Michelle Obama put it, “when they go low, we go high”. We will not change their views about us if we fight violence with more violence. We have to challenge their perception about who we are and show them that we are not collectively responsible for all their problems.
If we don’t see that what is happening to Roma in many countries is actual fascism in action, then we have accepted that this is allowed, and we are all accomplices in it. It is our collective responsibility to stop tolerating intolerance! We need to call out our local governments for radicalising the citizens and condoning human rights violations against our people. We need to call out media for inciting racial hatred towards Romani people. We should engage in civil discussions with our non-Roma neighbours about the injustice we experience due to antigypsysim in our societies. We should call for public forums and community meetings to discuss specific issues that local communities have. If people are protesting against us we can react by joining forces and organising peaceful counter-protests. If people attack us, we must report them to the local authorities, civil societies and European institutions that protect Roma rights. If political leaders are using us for political gain – DON’T VOTE FOR THEM! The Roma vote matters and can change the current system, so vote for someone who will represent YOUR interests. Our voices need to be heard loud and clear.