More From Alder's Ledge

July 29, 2013

One Step Ahead Of The Hounds

Rabid Racism and White Europe

(Image via AP/Vadim Ghirda)

When African American slaves were on the run they had to keep out of sight and hide from the white population of the American South. But it wasn't just the hate filled eyes of their would be masters that the runaway slaves had to avoid, they also had to cover up their scent and trail. Bounty hunters would often deploy dogs to chase down fugitive slaves. Their packs of foaming mouthed hounds could pick up the slightest smell of a fleeing slave without so ever being in sight of the fugitive. Once on the trail the dogs would release a call to their master. This baying tell the ruthless hunter that their human prey was just down the path a little ways. And once the dogs were on the heels of the fleeing slave the game was about up.

Extreme prejudice was used once a slave was taken back into custody. Whips, chains, and torture were all used to subdue the spirit of the victim. The desire to crush the "rebelliousness" of the victim was the main priority of the slave owner. It was the necessity to break the desire for freedom that kept the whip so close at hand. Yet it was that very same desire for freedom that led the slave to run away time and time again.

Mankind is made with a desire to live free. It is an intrinsic part of our natural state that no matter how grotesquely oppressed it may become the desire for freedom always finds an outlet. Against all odds, against all obstacles, the longing we have for liberty finds a path out of our minds and into reality.

For the Roma of Europe the desire to live in a land of liberty cannot be denied. For this desire they risk physical abuses of all sorts. For this desire they risk death at the hands of radical hate groups. For this desire they cross border after border as they flee the oppression that has long kept them captive in Eastern Europe. For the Roma this desire for freedom was stoked with the ascension of their respective homelands to the union with Western Europe. It was with this hope that many have moved Westward.

The migration of poor communities to countries where economic growth is taking place is not a new concept. It occurred in waves of immigration here in the United States. The Midwest was essentially built by the first waves of immigrants seeking the benefits of America's economic boom. Yet Western Europe, currently in a state of stagnation, seems to think it is somehow immune to this natural desire of all mankind.

Extreme poverty is a form of slavery in the aspect that it keeps a people in bondage to the monotony of simply surviving from one day to the next. Given a glimpse of hope, even if it is what we call poor in the West, those kept in the chains of such poverty will always take the chance at running. For these runaways the end reward is a better future for their children. For these runaways the light ahead is a life lived with less hunger and less want. Yet for these refugees the dogs don't seem to nip at their heels till they arrive at what they once viewed as freedom.

Roma have always lived in France, Germany, England, Spain, and the rest of Western Europe. Their numbers in these countries have increased with each economic downturn due to the need for cheap labor in semi-free markets. Agricultural outfits have for decades utilized the Roma community as near slave labor as they utilize the desperation of Europe's most discriminated against ethnic group. So it is unlikely that we can write-off the latest upward tick of xenophobic attitudes across Western Europe to a make-believe "influx" of Roma from the East.

Yet in places like France this portrayal of the Roma, as invading Mongol hordes, is catching traction amongst both politicians and hate groups alike. The dogs that the Roma have to run away from lay in wait in the National Front and amongst the right wing politicians. The rabid response to the propaganda these organizations create is an ever increasingly racist France. By telling the same lies that Hitler did over a long enough time without relent these politicians have garnered support amongst their rage filled base. And in addition they have planted the seeds of for their bitter harvest.

One politician in particular has done more to rally the dogs of France in recent days then MP Gilles Bourdouleix. While visiting a Roma encampment Mr Bourdouleix told a reporter in regards to the Romani, "Maybe Hitler didn't kill enough of them." It wasn't till the media took the story and ran with that Mr Bourdouleix decided that his words were perhaps "poorly chosen". And yet the French MP didn't redact his words, no; instead Mr Bourdouleix decided to blame the reporter for the story and claimed he had been "misquoted".

An American would expect that a politician who openly used such hate speech would be dragged out of office by his own party. But the French didn't seem too eager to bring out the guillotine. Instead they seemed reluctant to denounce Mr Bourdouleix. Some might say that the French politician is receiving a relative slap on the wrist for his statement. Even though Europeans will be commemorating the Porajmos (The Devouring or the Romani Holocaust) on August 2nd, Mr Bourdouleix's comment was then repeated as an opinion poll on a popular French news website. One can only guess from our side of the pond how the French voted in such a poll.

So lets take a moment and pretend that Mr Bourdouleix's view of the Roma is even remotely viable. Let us take a look at what the Romani people would be fleeing from in the East if they are really "invading" Europe....

In Slovakia the citizens of the town Kosice have erected walls to "keep the Roma out". However the concrete walls in effect have created a massive ghetto that confines the Roma within. The claimed purpose of the wall drastically contradicts the actual purpose it serves for the "settled" citizens of Kosice. And that is to keep the Roma in one place where they can easily be attacked or gathered. Either scenario is far more sinister than the purported goal of keeping the Roma segregated (an already devious objective).

Across the rest of Slovakia the more discrete methods of segregation are institutionalized. Slovakia does not allow Roma to be in the same schools (if in schools at all) as the non-Roma citizens. Roma are run out of cities and villages alike by Slovakian police. Politicians in Slovakia use even more racially tainted slurs than French politicians. And vigilantism amongst Slovakian civilians is far worse than in France (though in 2012 French citizens did take to burning out Roma camps).

Then you factor in the abuses Roma face from Slovakian government directly. In recent years the European Roma Rights Center has documented 200 cases of Romani women who were forcibly sterilized by the Slovak government. In many cases the Slovak government obtains coerced signatures of their victims by either sedating the victim or operating first and offering consent forms afterward. In most cases the government does not fully depict what has been done until the woman finds out in a later exam. This very tactic of abuse would in any government indicate a state sponsored campaign of ethnic cleansing. Yet Slovakia denies every case due to the coerced signatures they obtain under duress.

"While I was on the operating table and under anesthesia, the doctor gave me some papers to sign. I asked what it was and he told me that it was 'something about the child'. I was not able to read what was on the paper because I was not fully conscious at the time. I only found out later that I had signed consent to be sterilised and now I cannot have any more children."
~Roma Woman Forcibly Sterilized in Slovakia

So lets take a moment and pretend that racist like Bourdouleix aren't spreading hate about the Roma. How can we blame a people for moving West when the East has offered them only unmitigated suffering? How can we blame the Roma for attempting to flee decades of abuse at the hands of civilians, governments, and brutal armies and militias? Should the Roma be expected to stay in countries like Slovakia where they are subjected to abuse without legal recourse? Should they be forced to have their basic human rights stripped from them while they live in hellish conditions? Or should the Roma be permitted to seek refuge in the West?

It is not hard to see that the Romani people have suffered for centuries at the hands of bigots like this French politician. They have endured more hardship than any other European minority of our time. They died in the camps alongside the Jews and yet they are widely forgotten. It was the Roma who bore the brunt of socialism's wrath. It was the Roma who were silently sacrificed to the purges of Communism. The other victims have had their names recorded. The other victims have had their stories told. Yet it is the Roma who are forgotten to history and forced to live beyond the realm of modern day Europe's prosperity. They are a people that have clung to existence by holding onto the fringe of Western society.

So why now that we have accepted the tolerance we so proudly boast about that the Roma still cling to the edge of our so called enlightened society? How can we, the Western world, accept this sort of deplorable segregation and institutionalized discrimination?

It is obvious when stepping away from the mainstream and looking in that the gap between the Roma and the rest of society has not shrank. Slurs for the Roma still are used like the word nigger was used in the dirty south. Portrayals of Roma in the media are still just as derogatory (if not more so) than they were during Hitler's reign. Pop culture has romanticized the Roma to the point that their image of the Roma is more vile than even some Medieval caricatures of the them.

If this gap is to be closed society must stop projecting upon the Roma what we would wish them to be and accept the Roma for who they truly are. We cannot expect the Roma to assimilate to the point of surrendering their culture (if at all). Instead our societies must take pride in the differences between us and celebrate the Roma culture for all it is and not just the parts we find favorable.

As for our governments, they must be forced to implement programs designed to integrate Roma into society. These programs must combat the segregation of Romani from schools (either forcibly or through "white flight"). They must combat hiring processes that would discriminate against the Romani in both Eastern and Western Europe. And they must desegregate housing across Europe and bring Roma out of ghettos and slums and offer humane living conditions for both Roma and non-Roma citizens.

These are not suggestions in all reality but rather demands for a civilized society. Without these the West cannot claim that we are free and open societies but rather repressive regimes in which "separate but equal" is accepted over "justice for all".

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Source Documents
(Note: not all sources listed)

New York Times

Eurasia Review

Mint Press News

France 24

Huffington Post

New Europe

European Roma Rights Center

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