While the attention of the world media remains focused on the absurd and oppressive “Burkini ban” in France, a recent spike in hate crimes against Roma has gone virtually unnoticed. In three attacks within the last few weeks Roma have been firebombed, threatened and beaten at knifepoint in a toxic political climate where racism and xenophobia have become more pronounced. The response of law enforcement has been at best lax. The European Roma Rights Centre has been monitoring the situation of Roma in France for some years, and 2016 is looking decidedly grim.
In April this year, a 17-year old Romani child named Mitko became a symbol of the fight for Roma equality after an incident where he was kicked and beaten because he declared himself equal to a non-Roma thug. Three days ago Mitko received bitter-sweet justice as the courts found his attacker Angel Kaleev guilty of an ethnically motivated hate crime, but only issued a cursory sentence, which was then deferred to a probation with community service. Mitko, through the #RomaAreEqual campaign has become one of those powerful, almost mythical, human rights icons that people celebrate without knowing about their personal story and struggle.
This is his story.
“I want to say here, as unambiguously and as clearly as I can, that discrimination and prejudice against Travellers and Roma is racism and it must be named as racism and tackled as racism.”
Michael D. Higgins, President of Ireland
Seven months after the Carrickmines tragedy which claimed 10 young lives on a poorly maintained temporary halting site, the Irish Government stands accused in Europe of continued neglect and failure when it comes to accommodation for Travellers.
In a sickening display on the seventh anniversary of the firebomb attack on a Romani family home, a handful of neo-Nazis assembled in the Czech town of Vítkov to voice support for the arsonists. The attack injured three people and nearly killed toddler Natálka, who sustained third and fourth-degree burns over more than 80% of her body. The first speaker at the rally on the 18th of April issued a call to raise money for “the boys who are in jail”. Other speakers interspersed their abuse of Roma and refugees as vermin and scum with claims that ‘the boys’ received disproportionately severe sentences for the attack; incidentally, a sentiment shared by former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus.
Much controversy followed the recent appearance on TV of John Connors, the quiet-spoken star of the hit crime drama Love/Hate and advocate for Traveller rights on Ireland’s Late Late Show. Connors gave a moving account of the impact of racism upon his community, but what was controversial and sparked media debate was the hectoring and shrill reaction of the show’s host, Ryan Tubridy to hearing a few home truths about the state of hate in Ireland.