Across the continent Romani people are stigmatised and stereotyped with little public outcry. How can Europe overcome centuries of prejudice?
Romaphobia is one of the last acceptable forms of racism. It is acceptable in as much as it is palatable or understandable given the overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards Roma across Europe. Recent research by the World Bank explored social exclusion and attitudes towards certain groups in society with Roma communities across Europe, even generating negative attitudes comparable to paedophiles and drug takers in some states.
It is important to understand why this is the case. Romaphobia is present in casual conversations in homes and at work, in media portrayals of the carnivalesque Gypsy, when state authorities accuse Roma of abducting blond-haired, blue-eyed children, in the town planners who place Roma in ghettos, in political elites who target Roma for special treatment and bulldoze their homes, when authorities segregate Roma school kids from their peers, or deport Roma communities en masse.
There are several reasons that might explain why Roma are stigmatised. The first is exclusion. For centuries, Roma have been excluded from nation-building exercises promoted by political entrepreneurs, their difference harnessed as fuel to build the nation as ‘us’ (the majority) not ‘them’ (Roma). Roma, as a heavily constructed and policed identity, become necessary ‘others’ positioned outside of the nation. Roma then become easy targets for political elites who want to bolster their own popularity and power. An example of this is seen in Hungary with Roma culture and identity consistently equated with criminality by media and politicians.
Article by AIDAN MCGARRY
First published on: Political Critique