More From Alder's Ledge

September 29, 2013

The Canary In The Coal Mine

Laying At The Bottom Of The Cage
(Roma In Europe series)

In every society there is often one group of people whom the rest of society deems it acceptable for the rest of society to discriminate against. For the groups within that society which set just on the edge of the boundary between being acceptable targets of discrimination and not being on that same plane, these are the canaries. Their well being, or lack there of, acts as an indicator for what awaits the rest of society’s vulnerable minorities. If the accepted scapegoat is abused relentlessly the rest of society’s minorities can expect no better treatment in the near future. If however the said scapegoat is tolerated then the rest of society’s minorities can, within reason, expect to be tolerated as well.

In the Arakan state of Burma the canary has always been the Rohingya people. Their song as of late has been that of a warning of their impending death. Many have already passed away. Yet the world ignores their plight as the Kaman and other minority groups in Burma now suffer the same fate. The Rohingya are the scapegoat upon which the aggression, the hatred, and the blame for all of society’s ills can be placed. The sheer weight of this burden lends itself to their sad songs as their women, children, and elderly slip through the grate.

The reason groups like the Rohingya in Burma and the Romani in Europe spend so much time calling out warnings that no one hears is almost unexplainable. Their sorrow can be heard with every passing day if only the world had ears to listen and a heart with which to feel. And perhaps it is in that one aspect of our relationship with these groups that we can see just to what extent these groups are true canaries in the coal mine.

Europe’s Canary 

Prior to the rise of fascism in Germany in the mid 1920’s there was a silent battle that history has all but forgot. It was a struggle that society’s most neglected and abuses minority began on it’s own and would end with millions more by their side. It was a horrific fight for survival that was ignored by the very people who would later end up in the same camps. It was the beginning of the Romani peoples’ “devouring”.

In the early days of the Holocaust the Germans appeared at times pacified with their attempts to simply kill off the mentally handicapped and those deemed to be a drain upon civilized society. While it is debatable as to how the Germans viewed the Roma in regards to the race laws (mostly enacted against the Jews) the results of these actions is not. Soon after the first gassing of mentally handicapped and terminally ill patients the Germans began to clear Roma ghettos around major German cities. Some were moved to camps located near city dumps and other unsanitary locations in an attempt to lower the quality of life to a point where death and disease were inevitable. These smaller ghettos were designed to overcrowd the camps and create drastic shortages in food, water, and other basic necessities of daily life.

The most direct result to the German public however was the sudden disappearance of the “gypsy” community from many German cities. This minor reward to an ethnocentric and bigoted society was enough for most German citizens to overlook the mistreatment of the Roma themselves. Small incentives like this would only serve to prove to the German government that the citizens of their society were capable of being bought off when it came to their moral standards and the treatment of other human beings.

When Roma were soon driven out of camps in forests and community areas the German people nearly celebrated even more. There was little to no public response that would prove to be unfavorable to the deportation and cruel confinement of entire Roma families. The lack of dissension amongst society proved to the German government once again that the songs of Europe’s canary were falling upon deaf ears.

With the opening of Germany’s first concentration camps the only real sound of dissension came when Germans suddenly realized that these camps were not meant just for Jews and Roma. When the fear that they could be next finally arose the German people were awoken to the reality that it was already too late. German citizens, not of Jewish or Roma origin, who would join the minorities they had ignored were said to need reeducated on what being a “good German” really was. The songs the canary had sung for so long were already silent as many Roma already lay dead at the hands of the well rooted fascist regime.

Today in France and across the rest of Europe the song of Europe’s canary is approaching it’s last notes. Warning cries have been falling upon deaf ears for some time now as countries like France have continued to deport and cruelly detain entire Roma families. This has only been added to as countries like Sweden are added to the roster of fascists ready and willing to join the ranks of oppressors. A lesson that history so brutally taught Europe just a couple generations ago is now being drummed back up as these tyrants beat their chest and push their boots upon the Romas’ backs.

The bigotry that had been seen in Europe prior to the World War Two (though doubtful it ever really faded) is approaching the same levels today as it was back then. People who call themselves tolerant and open-minded when it comes to drugs, sex, and religion are now willing to sacrifice their morals when it comes to race. And with this one point, this one area of selling out to power hungry politicians, the liberties of Europe are pushed closer to the edge. For where they give an inch the governments to which they bow will take a mile.

"Stockholm City Kept Roma Registry Until 1996"
- The Local
"Majority Of French Believe Roma Should Leave France"
- France 24

"French Police Clear Roma Camp In Centre Of Roubaix"
- BBC News

"French Minister Calls For Roma To Be Sent Home"
- Irish Independent 

What is even more surprising however is the sheer rate of speed at which governments like France's have been able to capitalize upon their citizens' bigotry and callousness. Two short years ago the French government was risking everything when they sent wave after wave of Romani families off to Eastern Europe. Now the French public seems to be just as heartless as their government as they quickly begin to cheer the government on in it's new round of deportations. There is little to no empathy in the sounds of France's collective voice as it bids farewell to the Roma who have called France home for countless years.

So what lay ahead for France's remaining minorities now that the canary has been ignored?

Muslims in France, and rapidly across the rest of Europe, are filling in the role that the Jewish population had played during fascism's last march across the continent. In an eerie manner, the Muslim population has begun to feel the same level of discrimination that Jews had felt in the late 20's and early 30's. Where the Germans had created laws to increase the level of violent oppression the Jews had felt, France refuses to uphold laws. Where the Germans had forced the Jews to wear yellow stars, France strips the Muslims of their religious clothing. Yet no matter the small differences in the approach; society at large has vastly ignored the sudden increase in discrimination against a group they quietly deem to be the "new comers".

This of course is not factual since Mosques and Muslims have been part of Europe for countless generations. Yet it is the same bigoted response that Jews faced in Germany as their leaders and government encouraged the discrimination that these such accusations encourage. By clarifying the line of demarcation between "us verses them" the society takes the next step and government gets to increase it's control.

Where we should had seen this with the Roma over the past couple decades we are now approaching the point of being too late to see it with the rest of Europe's vulnerable minorities. By allowing the French (and other governments as well) to deport and harass Romani citizens we give the green light for those same leaders to do equally depraved acts to the rest of society. If a group can be singled out for unjust and inhumane acts of oppression and discrimination than any other group can be made the scapegoat as well.

If the portions of Europe's minorities that set on the fringe of society are to be spared, the rest of society must decide to take a stand against the oppressors. For it is in their silence that fascism is fed. It is in their ignorance that tyranny plants it's seed. And it is in their apathy that the roots of future dictatorships take hold.

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