The deaths of two small Romani children on January 1 and January 3 in Košice’s Luník IX and the Mašličkovo settlement in Slovakia went largely unremarked and unreported in the European media. One child froze to death, the other died in a fire. This last weekend has just brought shocking news of three more child fatalities in another fire in a shack in Slovakia.
All over Europe Roma face aggressive hate speech, and all too often Roma are subjected to racist violence. This holds true not only across Central and Eastern Europe but also in Western European countries such as Italy where the situation remains troubling. In the past three years, Italy has witnessed cases of violence by law enforcement officers against Roma, attacks on Roma camps and dwellings, and assaults against Roma individuals.
Debates about free speech and hate speech often gravitate around issues of content and context. The context of anti-Gypsyism in 21st Century Europe and the connections between hateful words and heinous deeds, pose profound and troubling questions for champions of free speech and opponents of content-based bans.
As I grew up in a mixed community in Subotic in Kosovo I was aware from an early age that our Roma neighbors were discriminated against just because they were Roma. In some cases our Roma neighbors were better educated than the non-Roma but that did nothing to change the negative perceptions of the majority.
“Ten people are dead. My community, myself, my family, my peers are hurt, and we are angry because we see this as an avoidable incident.”
Brigid Quilligan, Irish Traveller Movement
It’s been just over five months since the citizens of the Republic of Ireland were basking in the afterglow of the marriage equality referendum; the resounding ‘Yes’ vote gave the wider world an impression of a country ditching the prejudices of old for something altogether more edifying.