Sinti, Roma and Racism: Report Blasts Berlin's Inaction

By Maximilian Popp

Less than two months ago, Germany's government made a big show of dedicating a memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of Nazi crimes, pledging greater efforts to fight discrimination. But a new report chastises Berlin for doing little to combat the mistreatment and prejudice the minorities face each day.

Sinti and Roma celebrate the opening of a new support organization in Berlin in April 2012. Zoom
DPA

Sinti and Roma celebrate the opening of a new support organization in Berlin in April 2012.

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:

  • In Klinghain, in the eastern state of Saxony, an apartment building was attacked and set on fire. The inhabitants had previously been assaulted and berated as "gypsies." "Beat it, you Kanaken!" the attackers had written on a piece of paper, using a derogatory word for foreigners. Even so, police would later rule out any "xenophobic background" to the crime.
  • A man in northern Bavaria repeatedly abused several women on the German-Czech border. At his trial, he cited "hatred against Roma" as his motive.
  • In the western city of Gelsenkirchen, one or more arsonists set 17 mobile homes on fire in an area inhabited by Roma.
  • A stone memorial set up in Merseburg, a city in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, to commemorate Nazi deportations of Sinti and Roma was desecrated seven times between December 2009 and January 2012.
  • When refugees from Serbia and Macedonia were being housed in a former barracks in Schneeburg, Saxony, the regional newspaper wrote: "They number among the Sinti and Roma. Along with them, fear of crime came to Schneeberg." The far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) also convened a meeting of the municipal council. And in Bavaria, a representative for the Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), suffered no consequences after saying: "The most important thing is that the Roma disappear."

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.

Hidden Racism

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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