Across Europe, Roma people are fighting back against right-wing, anti-EU populism. It's time for progressive politicians to recognise their shared valuesby Zeljko Jovanovic / April 11, 2019 / Leave a comment
The celebration of International Roma Day this month took place under particularly grim circumstances. Two weeks ago in France groups of teenagers attacked Roma communities after a rumour spread on social media that they were kidnapping children.
Not long after in Italy, neo-fascist group Casa Pound and the far-right Forza Nuova held violent protests against the transfer of Roma people, including 33 children, to a reception center in a Rome suburb.
Despite all attempts of extermination in European history, we Roma have kept our language, traditions and culture. This is the spirit of forty-seven years ago this month—April 8, 1971—when we decided at a meeting in London that we no longer would tolerate being described as “gypsies.”
We were Roma: one people across Europe, who, through our rights in a democratic and open Europe, could travel freely between countries to meet with others who shared the same culture and identity. Symbolically, we marked our newly-found unity by adopting the Roma flag and the Roma anthem.
Since then, Roma have continuously supported the European project, and in the past decade, the European Union in its turn has drawn attention to the plight of Roma and urged governments to do more to include Europe’s largest and most disadvantaged ethnic minority.
Recently, it became clear that Roma and the EU share a common enemy: far-right populism. From Matteo Salvini calling for the expulsion of Roma to Viktor Orban comparing them to the internal “migrants” he rails against, right-wing populist leaders have vilified Roma in their electoral campaigns.
With depressing inevitability, they have then lashed out against the EU and its values of tolerance, openness and respect of the rule of law.
While there are such close ties between Roma and the European Union, why don’t pro-EU-candidates engage publicly with Roma voters, a few weeks before the European Parliament elections? After all, there are half a million Roma each in France and Spain. In Slovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria, Roma make up five to ten per cent of the population.
Mainstream parties should look to Slovakia for inspiration. There, a young, liberal and unapologetically pro-EU candidate, Zuzana Caputova, won the presidency last week.
Targeting the Roma vote was part of her strategy. After each round of victory, she thanked Roma voters in Romanes—the language Roma communities share across Europe. This was a bold and courageous gesture at a time when…