Historically, the Roma gypsy community have long faced prejudice across Europe. Up until the 1840s, Roma gypsies were frequently enslaved such as being sent to work on British plantations in the West Indies. Moreover, half of the one million settled gypsies in Europe were killed during the holocaust, being separately termed the Romani genocide. The present systemic marginalisation and discrimination against the Roma community in Europe is, therefore, nothing but a continuation of their historical plight. In turn, the European Union’s narrative of enforcing universal, inalienable human rights is inherently flawed due to the entrenched racism found in its member-states.
Flagrant levels of poverty and examples of discrimination in work and education continue to be prevailing themes in how Roma gypsies are treated in the most developed, seemingly tolerant region in the world. For instance, more than 70% of Roma Gypsies across Europe live in extreme poverty, most of them living in Dickensian shanty villages and temporary camps. Yet, what is perhaps most alarming is the increase in hate-crimes towards the Roma community in light of the increased success of European anti-immigrant populist parties. In April 2018, more than a dozen of Ukrainian neo-Nazi C14 activists launched a violent assault on a Roma camp in Kiev. The attack lead to one casualty and four people being seriously injured; and this is not an isolated case. In July 2018, a Romani camp in Italy was bulldozed due to being a ‘public health risk’ without rehousing its residents. What is more, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini has been vocal about gypsies and their expulsion from Italy. Naturally, if leaders are condoning this type of discrimination, it being curtailed seems increasingly unlikely.
Moreover, the infrastructure of states to help bring justice to these victims is also lacking. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted that the police have not only been by-standers in these attacks but also participants. The judicial systems are also reluctant to try Roma murder cases as hate-crimes in states such as Ukraine and Hungary.
It can be easily concluded there is great room for the European Union (EU) to step in to take a zero-tolerance approach against discrimination. Examples of this can be seen in the European Court of Human Rights in November asking the Ukrainian government to compensate the victims of the 2002 mob attack in Odessa. Yet, how this ruling took 16 years to come about shows that the European Court is not doing enough to end discrimination against Roma gypsies. Increased EU enlargement has also been criticised, where not all member-states are representing EU ideals of democracy, human rights and equality. The European Parliament’s vote to trigger Article 7 against Hungary is a clear evidence of this.
However, the alternative of deeper integration, as advocated by President Macron, still doesn’t ensure that these ideals will, in practise, help the Roma community, as their discrimination is also seen in the most developed member-states. For instance, France has had in place a mass deportation program since 2009. Additionally, Sweden, a state that annually ranks in the top ten for the Human Development Index and the Happiness Index, is also guilty of discrimination. For instance, in 2013 a list of 4,000 mostly Roma citizens was kept by the police authorities not for committing any particular crimes but just being seen as suspicious because of their ethnicity. This, thus, continues the debate of the reality of Scandinavian countries which are generally perceived as beacons of justice. Therefore, the role of non-governmental organisations such as the European Roma Rights Centre, which has helped push 500 cases in 15 countries against Roma discrimination, continue to be essential in ensuring justice and educating people on the Romani plight.
Yet, the ability of the EU to create effective frameworks that specifically deal with the discrimination and marginalisation of Roma gypsies continues to be undermined as the EU is only as progressive as its member-states. Furthermore, the reality that this article is part of a limited literature on the oppression of this community continues to highlight the scale of this issue. This alarming problem not gaining much traction in the media and on the EU agenda shows that the most tolerant region on earth still has a longer way to go than we perhaps first thought.