Roma Protest their Mistreatment

by Kevin Jon Heller

In an important first, Roma gathered in Rome on Sunday to protest their continued harrassment and persecution at the hands of the Italian government:

The first national demonstration of Gypsies brought hundreds of people to the capital Sunday to protest recent episodes of racism in Italy that have targeted Roma and Sinti people, as they prefer to be called.

“We’re being used as scapegoats” to gain political advantage, said Stoyanovic Vojislav, a Serbian Roma and one of the organizers of the colorful demonstration, which involved about a dozen organizations.

Roma communities and illegal immigrants are increasingly blamed for rising crime in Italy, although statistics do not reflect a marked change over previous years.

The demonstration, Vojislav said, will make Italians understand “that the Roma are very different from how we are depicted” in the media and by some center-right politicians. More than half of the estimated 160,000 Roma in this country are Italian citizens, while most of the remainder are from Romania – since 2007 part of the European Union – or from the former Yugoslavia. But they are usually treated as foreigners.

“This is the first time in six centuries that we are demanding our rights,” said Santino Spinelli, another organizer, who is a popular Gypsy musician and a professor of Roma culture at the University of Trieste. “We are demanding to be integrated because we are citizens like any others.”


Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right government has promised tough legislation that would allow the police to shut down unauthorized Roma camps. The government also wants to carry out a census of people living in the camps. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said last week that the issue of the Roma camps would be resolved by the end of the year.

Many of the demonstrators on Sunday wore black triangles, like those that the Nazis forced the Roma to wear in concentration camps.

“Today is a great day for the Rom,” said Gina, a Roma from Romania who did not want to give her last name. “Remember that if you forget history, it can repeat itself.”

The protest came two days after Italian authorities forcibly destroyed a Roma camp containing 120 people, including 40 children. Most of the camp’s occupants were Italian citizens who had been transferred there — with a promise of a decent living situation, no less — after their previous camp had also been dismantled. They are obviously still waiting.

A final thought: it’s revealing — but not surprising — that the article calls the protesters “Gypsies” while noting, in the very first paragraph, that they prefer to be called Roma. I somehow doubt that the International Herald Tribune would be so dismissive of other minority groups’ preferred appellations.

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