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“The Gospel has helped the integration of the Roma people”

An EU report denounces that “Romani people are subject to persistent antigypsyism, a specific form of racism”. The Roma community asks Europe to “take concrete measures”.

FUENTES Protestante Digital AUTOR 45/Jonatan_Soriano,5/Evangelical_Focus 09 DE OCTUBRE DE 2020 17:00 h
The Roma population is the largest ethnic minority on Europe. / [link]Caroline Hernandez[/link], Unsplash CC0.

“Where is the essence of humanity when every single day Roma people are excluded from society and others are held back simply because of the colour of their skin or their religious belief?”, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, pointed out in her State of the Union address on September 16.

“I am proud to live in Europe, in this open society of values and diversity. But even here in this Union these stories are a daily reality for so many people”, she added.

Days earlier, German Roma MEP Romeo Franz had presented a report for the integration of the Roma population and against discriminatory attitudes, which was adopted by the European Parliament's Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee.

The document stresses that “Romani people are subject to persistent antigypsyism, a specific form of racism. Despite continuous socio-economic development in the EU and efforts to ensure Romani inclusion both at EU and national level, the overall situation of the Romani people in the EU did not improve”.

Persistent and growing discrimination

The Roma population is the largest ethnic minority on Europe, with a total of between 10 and 12 million people. However, the discrimination they face continues to be reflected in the repetition of certain patterns collected by official data.

In 2019, 68% of school- age Roma left school prematurely. In 2016, according to the latest data from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, about 80% of the Roma living in the nine Member States of the Union with the largest Roma populations, live below the poverty line. Moreover, the average rate of Roma who neither study nor work has grown from 56% in 2011 to 63% in 2016.

“It is a shame that in 2020 the European Parliament is still asking Member States to take action on the issue of antigypsyism”, the evangelical pastor of Philadelphia (Spanish Romani Christian denomination), professor at the Philadelphia Evangelical Bible School and director of the Association for the Memory of the Romani Genocide, Miguel Palacios, told Spanish news website Protestante Digital.

Talking from a Spanish context, as a reflection of the situation in Europe and the Union, Palacios believes the problem is that “we have been dragging along anti-Roma laws”.


“Clear timeline with binding objectives, measures and targets”

The report “calls on the Commission to set out binding objectives, measures and targets for the Member States, a clear timeline and clear and binding progress requirements”.

It regrets that “despite the EU Framework for National Roma Integration Strategies (NRIS) and the cohesion fund, the overall situation of Roma in the EU has stagnated and progress in the areas of housing, employment, education and healthcare has been limited”.

The European Commission has announced a new 10-year plan to promote the inclusion of the six million Roma living in the EU. The main goal is to halve the poverty gap between the Roma and the rest of the population in the different Member States.

Each country of the Union will have to present a national strategy in this regard before September 2021.

The Director of the Open Society Roma Initiatives Office, Zeljko Jovanovic, believes that this initiative “cannot give results unless it becomes a pivotal part of what governments will do when they invest in all the trade policies that will be critical in whether Roma people are losing or gaining jobs”.

“The Commission needs to innovate and spread the message of possibility in European societies, so that stigmatisation and racism is confronted by stories of accomplishment, possibility and hope, so that what governments need to do is not in vain”, Jovanovic said.

[photo_footer]About 80% of the Roma in the EU live below the poverty line.   / Wikimedia Commons [/photo_footer] 


Interview with Miguel Palacios

Question. The European Parliament has said that in Europe “antigypsyism is a specific form of racism”. What do you think?

Answer. I think it is correct. UNESCO has already spoken about antigypsyism from three important perspectives: symbolic, material and institutional antigypsyism.

Symbolic antigypsyism has to do with spoken, sung and written speeches, images, documentaries and films where there are clichéd elements of discrimination against Roma.

Material antigypsyism is clearly hate speech and affects issues such as employment or housing. Roma are separated into groups of houses in the suburbs. They also have more difficulties accessing a job or completing education.

Finally, there is also anti-gypsyism at the institutional level, by people working in education or in the media, through programmes that are based solely on stereotypes

Q: One of EU's recommendations is to "set objectives, measures and targets", as well as "a clear timetable". So far, any of the several plans developed by the EU to combat antigypsyism, has succeeded. Why?

A. There are people in the European Parliament who know what is happening. We have fought hard to get the history of the Roma taught. In Spain, for example, there is not a single page in textbooks that explains the presence of Roma since the 15th century.

It's important that the European Parliament is on top of this issue and calls for some compliance.

Unlike anti-Semitism, we have not been able to get antigypsyism recognised. Racism in all its forms is a scourge, whether against Jews, blacks or Roma. It is shameful that in 2020 the European Parliament is still asking Member States to take action on this issue.

Q. What measures do you think are necessary to find answers to antigypsyism in the short term?

A. The first need is to teach the history of the Roma people in schools. When our history is made known, centuries and centuries of great suffering at the hands of the same perpetrators are discovered. That is why we must begin to teach the reality of the sadly forgotten Romani holocaust, for example, at different levels of the education system.

Books have been written about anti-Semitism, films have been made, specific studies have been made, but not about antigypsyism.

If the European Parliament, UNESCO or other parliaments want to get involved, they must take concrete measures. For example, the creation of an observatory against antigypsyism, which has also been a recommendation.

In addition to education, coexistence is also necessary. A few years ago we organised a trip to Auschwitz with Roma children from the evangelical church of Philadelphia and non-gypsy students. And we had a very impressive experience, because at the end of the trip the non-Roma children embraced the Gypsies, crying and asking for their forgiveness.

Thirdly, the media also needs to be involved. Some time ago I received a call from a TV station looking for a Roma boy for a stereotypical programme. I recommended two boys to them; one who was studying chemistry and was blond, and the other who was a historian and had red hair. They told me that they were not interested and that neither of them matched their approach.

Q. Is there antigypsyism among evangelicals?

A. Within the evangelical sphere I have never felt discriminated against. One of the principles of all evangelicals is love for all people. Years ago, I was proposed for the board of directors of the Evangelical Council of Madrid without asking for it and I am very grateful for that.

Also, our denomination is open to non-Roma brothers and sisters. We have non-Roma members, including preachers and pastors. We are united by the Bible, doctrine, and faith.

Q. How can the biblical worldview help overcome antigypsyism in different European countries?

A. The Gospel is a good tool for integration. Four years ago we visited the European Parliament as a church to present all the work we have done in Spain since the mid-1970s.

The parliamentarians who received us asked us where we had been before and why we had not made ourselves known until then, because the work of integration that we as pastors of our denomination do in our churches is very important.

The Romani pastor not only preaches the gospel, but also does a great job in integrating his congregation Roma people in general into society, so that the children go to school or the young people do not go into street vending.

He is also a bridge with local institutions. The gospel has helped a lot the integration of Roma and for society to recognize the stereotypes it has.




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