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Anti-Roma attacks show need to resist rise of the far-right throughout European Union

Romani_flagLast Monday saw the wonderful sight of Roma flags raised outside Downing Street, representing a small proportion of the 12 million Roma people who live within the European Union. The Roma suffer huge discrimination and abuse on differing levels in every country across Europe.

They were the first victims of the nazis, who shipped them off to concentration camps where they were subsequently joined by millions of others – Jews, communists, intellectuals, most of whom finally met their end in the gas chambers.

The far-right populist forces that are busy exploiting the era of austerity and recession in every European country are picking first on the Roma people, the Traveller community in general, asylum-seekers, and then moving on to any other identifiable minority.

A letter we delivered to David Cameron from Ladislav Balz, the chairman of the Europe Roma Network, had an unusual opening paragraph:

We would like to offer our services to help with the steps that are being taken by the coalition government to encourage the integration of Roma as accepted citizens in Britain.”

The network has brought together migrant Roma groups from the Czech and Slovak republics as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Their estimation is that the Roma and Traveller communities in Britain amount to 500,000 people.

The letter asked to meet the Prime Minister to discuss a national strategy to ensure these communities are recognised, respected and offered the opportunity of education and integration.

August 2 marks the anniversary of the Roma genocide by the nazis. It’s an event that should be commemorated across Europe as a warning of where the nazi movement started and where it led.

The electoral success of the far-right in France is truly terrifying. Twenty thousand of the French Roma live in formal settlements with no access to water and sanitation, and are often forcibly evicted and moved down the road to another place.

Often when suffering extreme violence from local racists they feel unable to complain to the police through lack of trust.

Marine Le Pen and the National Front abuse all minorities as they seek to blame them for the problems of unemployment and social services that are a product of austerity and inequality in our society.

Greece has a Roma population of over 250,000 and it has has been suffering pogrom-like attacks, aided and abetted by the Golden Dawn fascist organisation.

The abuse throughout Greece is accompanied by similar attacks on asylum seekers and the common refrain is that the police do nothing to protect minority communities.

To their credit, the left parties in Greece have organised effective anti-fascist events in Athens as a practical demonstration of solidarity against far-right attacks.

Zoni Weisz, a 77-year-old nazi Holocaust survivor, addressed the third EU-level Roma summit in Brussels last week. This man, who lost his entire family in Auschwitz, bluntly told the assembled gathering that a civilised society respects human rights, but still many Roma and Sinti are treated as second-class citizens.

The EU summit is of itself welcome but what is more important is an understanding of the seriousness of the growth of far-right parties across Europe and the danger it represents to everyone.

There has been a steady rise of racism in Hungary and in last week’s elections more than 20 per cent of the voters supported the far-right.

The main beneficiary of this trend is Jobbik, whose share of the vote went up from 16.67 to 20.54 per cent. In neighbouring Austria the far-right enjoy a similar level of support. Jobbik, like Austria’s Freedom Party, makes anti-Roma statements and promotes racist actions.

In the Czech Republic where anti-Roma prejudice is widespread, the far-right has openly displayed nazi insignia at its rallies – a strange echoof history for a country that suffered so grievously from the nazi occupation less than 70 years ago.

Not far away in Ukraine the Western leaders who were strongly opposed to the government of Yanukovych didn’t seem to be concerned about the neonazi far-right presence in that central square of Kiev who now behave in a racist way towards all non-Ukrainian minorities in the country.

However, there are two positives that we must draw. The EU did adopt a framework for national Roma integration strategies in 2011 even though “the commitment to combat discrimination and human rights abuses against Roma remains largely no more than a promise,” according to the European Roma Rights Centre statement.

The EU believes that some progress has been made since 2011 and part of the demands of the Roma and Traveller communities in Britain was for the British government to ensure that local authorities access European funds to assist with their education and other needs.

The lessons of history weigh heavily – the nazis successfully picked off one minority after another – which ended with the holocaust of six million and a total loss of more than 30 million lives during WWII.

The far right always present themselves as on the side of those who are suffering but instead of drawing the analysis that free-market economics and cuts in public expenditure inevitably lead to unemployment and poverty, they choose instead to blame minorities for either taking jobs or creating an anti-social ghetto in their community.

The folksy image of Nigel Farage drinking English beer, smoking a pipe and loudly complaining about not everyone speaking English hides the reality that Ukip represents a racist view of Europe and history and is actively recruiting support from the BNP.

The demonstration organised by anti-racist groups on March 22 and supported by the TUC was a good step forward, where the message of a united fight against austerity and free-market economics gave us all hope and opportunities.

The barren message of Ukip and the far right is that you blame one minority after another for the inability of our market-orientated economy to deliver the health, schools, housing and jobs that are needed by everyone.

This article first appeared in the Morning Star

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