By Maximilian Popp
On October 24, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood under Berlin's gray skies to inaugurate the long-delayed memorial to the some 500,000 Sinti and Roma murdered by the Nazis. In her speech, Merkel noted that "far too little attention has been paid for far too long" to their wartime suffering. And, in a time when Sinti and Roma continue to be targets of right-wing attacks and even official oppression in Europe, she added that: "It is a German and a European task to support (Sinti and Roma) wherever they live, no matter what country."
But, almost two months later, this promise has already been broken.
On Wednesday, members of the Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid Committee of the Bundestag, the German parliament, will be presented with a report describing what has been done on this front. The answer: not much. The report finds that antiziganism, a term denoting racism toward the Sinti and Roma, is widespread in Germany -- and that Berlin is doing nothing to counter it.
The study was conducted by RomnoKher, a center for culture, education and antiziganism research in the southwestern German city of Mannheim. It documents how racism against Sinti and Roma has spread in Germany over the last two years, citing cases such as the following:
The study found that Sinti and Roma suffer discrimination in a number of areas, such as when they are looking for apartments, in the workplace and in government agencies. It also cited an increase in negative media coverage of immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria in recent months. Markus End, a political scientist and author of the RomnoKher study, says that the media made frequent use of "gypsy" stereotypes. "The government pretends like there isn't any racism against Sinti and Roma in Germany," he says.
The University of Bielefeld conducted a similar study last year that focused on "group-related enmity." It found that 40 percent of Germans would prefer not to have Sinti or Roma living in their neighborhoods. More than a quarter of them said that Sinti and Roma should "be banned from German city centers." Likewise, almost half of respondents agreed with the claim that Sinti and Roma have a tendency to engage in crime.
At the same time, three-fourths of German Sinti and Roma claimed to be frequently discriminated against in Germany. "It is telling that the German public is more or less unaware of this form of racism," says Ferda Ataman, an editor at Mediendienst Integration, a nonprofit organization that informs journalists and other media representatives about current issues related to migration, integration and asylum in Germany.
The Council of Europe and the United Nations have repeatedly criticized Germany for not being decisive enough in its efforts to combat antiziganism. Chancellor Merkel's government responded to an official letter of inquiry on the issue submitted by the environmentalist Green Party by saying only that no complaints had been submitted to the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency (ADS). But even ADS Director Christine Lüders warns that: "Roma regularly experience a climate of ostracism and stigmatization. Rejection of them reaches deep into the middle of society."
Author of the RomnoKher study End boils the issue down by saying that "natural catastrophes" cannot be blamed for the often poor health care and bad educational and work situations of the Roma and Sinti. Instead, he says, they are the result "of processes of discrimination, ostracism and persecution."
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