Roma Face Discrimination in Europe

Roma people, an ethnic minority group in Europe, suffer from widespread violence, poverty and widespread discrimination in employment, education and housing. Compared to other groups in Europe, Roma people have poorer health, lower life expectancy, less education, lower income and live in worse housing. Roma women are subject to forced sterilization.   Although there are no longer anti-Roma laws on the statutes in Europe, the mountain of reports from the Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI), show that virulent anti-Gypsyism not only survives but is growing in many countries.

For decades, the Council of Europe (COE) in particular has worked to fight anti-Gypsyism, through its Dosta! (Enough) Campaign. Increasingly, scholars and activists in Europe are turning to media to help combat this form of racism. This video (28:25) produced by the COE, features a panel of experts, including a number of sociologists, explores the problem and efforts to address it:

This pervasive discrimination have led some to make the case that the Roma people share much with African Americans in the U.S. Among those who draw this parallel is Robert Rustem, from the European Roma and Travellers Forum. He writes:

Rather than recognise the plight of Roma as an urgent social and political issue, too many European governments ignore the application of their own laws, see Roma as primarily the concern of local councillors or the criminal justice system or simply do nothing at all. A similar intransigence served as a call to action for the African-American leadership in the 1950’s. It responded by mobilising support among black and white people and set out to pour shame on America’s political elite. Bus boycotts, sit-ins, marches, demonstrations and the emergence of more militant political forces such as Malcolm X, focussed the international spotlight on the injustice of Jim Crow apartheid and created the political pressure needed for lasting change. There are those in the Roma community who believe that similar non-violent tactics may now be needed in Europe to end the cycle of good intentions, warm words and neglect that has marked the post-war discussion of the ‘Roma Question.’

Rustem concedes that the Roma issue remains “on the fringes of political activism” in Europe. Still, Rustem and others in Europe who are committed to equality for Roma people say they will be looking to the anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington August 28th for inspiration.


  1. ignoblus

    No laws on the books? In Italy, the Supreme Court ruled that it was acceptable to fingerprint every Rom, including every child, on the grounds that “all Gypsies were thieves.” (

    Meanwhile, Hollywood still uses “gypsy curses” as plot devices. (“Drag Me To Hell” by Sam Raimi; “Thinner” based on Steven King.)

    I’ve never thought about the analogy to the American civil rights movement before, but there is certainly a lot of similarity to antisemitism. People without a country who ought to just evaporate but stubbornly refuse to do so, etc. I’m Jewish, and I’ve felt very much invested in the welfare of Romani peoples. I’ve thought I would include the Romani in Israel’s Law of Return if I could.

    Thanks for this. Also, does a fair job keeping up with anti-Roma persecution.

  2. No1KState

    I know that anti-Roma persecution has a long history, but could some of the fearmongering come from the conservative nationalists movements that are also anti-Islam?

    Also, just very simple – :sigh: D*mn.

    • That’s definitely true in the UK. The papers (e.g. Daily Express AKA Daily Spew, Daily Star AKA Black Hole, Daily Mail) which are prone to running inflammatory stories about Muslims demanding and getting this and that at public expense are the same ones that complain about Gypsies whenever they turn up (because there is a shortage of places for them to settle, and the normal place for them to do so seems to be around towns, and that land happens to be green belt land on which nobody is allowed to build).

  3. ignoblus

    It’s not unrelated. When people become xenophobic, they lash out at the Roma because the Roma are, by definition, foreigners where ever they are. But I think the anti-Roma sentiment is more traditionally far right (simultaneously a strength and a weakness).

    • No1KState


      I’m absolutely where you are. I just don’t understand the big deal – outside of prejudice. If it’s been their way of life for centuries, why the desire for them to change, you know?

      And about this notion that a people have to have a country – that whole notion gets under my skin. What if for the Roma, everywhere is their country? And what about African Americans? In what sense is the US authentically our country? We’ve done our part, certainly, but…we’re certainly better off than the Palestinians, but I think it’s an apt, though not perfect, analogy: a foreigner in your own country.

      • ignoblus

        There are two thing to know. One, is that nations are the organizing principle of power in the world today. The biggest challenge to that is… The United Nations. Or the European Union. We might wish that it weren’t so, but there’s no getting around it. Two, is the history of nationalism as a theory for maximizing political representation. Prior to the rise of nationalism, there were empires where it was taken for granted that people were ruled over. Then, all of a sudden, there was a question of how to draw borders so that people would feel best represented by their government. Ethnic divisions were taken as the best way to produce the greatest sense of political belonging in each nation (true only because enough people believed it), which meant there were “The Jewish Question” and “The Roma Question.”

        The US is different from most other nations on Earth in that it is (in theory, at least) not a nation of a specific ethnicity. Not, for example, the way France is French or Germany is German. Why the celebration over German reunification? It’s the same idea that once mutated into the Nazi “Blood and Soil” belief. There are only a few multi-ethnic states: Belgium continues to threaten to split in half; Scotland is threatening to secede from the UK; Quebec keeps threatening to secede from Canada; Lebanon has had some terrible civil wars. It doesn’t seem that people are ready for the next step beyond nations as they’re currently constructed. So the Roma continue to suffer persecution.

        • No1KState

          What would that next step be?

          I don’t have much of a problem with nations like France and Germany, though there is racism no doubt. But the basic theory of ethnic boundaries I feel is fair because it seems to be impossible for any particular ethnic/racial majority to regard the ethnic/racial minorities with respect – Africa, with it’s colonial borders (that probably need to be withdrawn, and SA’s white minority, is the exception. (Except Sudan who follows the general rule.) Even Japan ethnic minority complains of discrimination, the most notable example being that they’re not recognized by the govt but are still discriminated against by the general population.

          So anyway, I would like to hear what the next step would be because the status-quo doesn’t really work for everyone. And my problem with the UN is the 5-permanently seated nations who’ll admonish everyone and each other (ie, 4 criticizing 1) but never correct their own injustices or Israel’s and even try to justify them.

          • ignoblus

            The problem with France is that it’s French, which privileges the French over all non-French people living there! For now, I think we need to continue to push for greater multiculturalism and for greater freedom of movement across borders. Borders need to be seen as political constructions rather than as somehow natural. The UN and EU are things to promote, in my view; I’m not an anarchist.

            I do think Israel (as a Jewish state) and a neighboring Palestine (as a Palestinian state) are essential for the time being, because antisemitism has been so intimately tied to the development of nationalism. Frankly, I don’t think Jews would survive waiting for a better world, and it’s a double standard to have no problem with France’s existence but have a problem with Israel’s existence. Also things like the Basque autonomous region and protecting what’s left of Native American sovereignty over their dwindling reservations. So far, only a few Roma have expressed desire for anything like a sovereign region, so we have to respect their desires. But anti-Roma discrimination and prejudice need to be more widely reported.

            As for the UN, there are other problems beyond the security council. The general assembly is a simple democracy without any protections for minorities (except intervention by the Security Council or recourse to Westphalian sovereignty). By and large, international law is hardly law at all, but pure power politics. If you look at the human rights apparatus in the UN, it’s a farce. Heck, former Nazi Kurt Waldheim was Secretary General. There probably needs to be a “judicial branch” with power to check the “parliamentary branch” that already exists.

            It’s a big problem because the idea that countries are somehow natural is very deeply ingrained. Though they’re a weird group (anarchists waving American flags?), you can look at some of the theorists for the Anti-German Communist Current. (

            By the way, last night my wife started watching “The Riches” (2007-2008) on Netflix about a family of Irish Travelers. It’s a really good show — except that it’s completely and totally racist. An entire series based on anti-gypsy stereotypes!!


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