European Parliament: Shouting matches over Italian "census" of Roma - Járóka finds it reasonable, Post calls for a halt
The European Parliament experienced a stormy debate last week over the most recent anti-Romani statements by Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini. The minister announced that he is planning a census of Romani people in the country and the deportation of all who do not have documents.
Salvini was harshly criticized primarily by MEPs from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats group, the Greens, and other factions in the EP. Support for him was expressed by MEPs from the European People's Party, the European Conservatives and Reformists group, and naturally by Salvini's "mother" group, "Europe of Nations and Freedom".
The Italian Interior Minister proposed a census and the deportation of Romani people whose documents are not in order in mid-June. Before that he advocated a hardline argument against allowing boats to dock in Italy that had rescued several hundred migrants in the Mediterranean Sea.
Salvini leads the ultra-right Lega party in Italy, which was previously a rather marginal party but won 17 % of the vote in March. The party built its electoral success on strongly anti-immigration, racist rhetoric.
In the discussion on the floor of the EP almost 30 MEPs made appearances, most of whom were Italian. MEPs of Romani origin Romeo Franz, Lívia Járóka and Soraya Post also joined the debate.
No Czech MEPs joined the debate, but the standpoint of the European Commission was delivered by the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Věra Jourová of the Czech Republic. "I condemn all communications, and intentions - direct or indirect - that negatively affect my nation, the Roma," MEP Járóka said at the beginning of the debate when delivering the stance of the European People's Party.
Járóka then went on to express a certain comprehension for Salvini's behavior. "According to the most recent reports, the communications and proposals of Mr Salvini for a census of Roma are explained as being because he wants to ascertain how EU financing has been used, and he also wants to discover what the conditions in the Romani camps are like," she said.
"In that regard, Salvini's remarks are partially truthful, because it is necessary to ascertain whether EU funds are being used to improve the situation of Romani people or not," said Járóka, who belongs to the FIDESZ party led by Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán. Another MEP of Romani origin, Soraya Post, disagreed with that assessment.
"Dear Lívia, you have greatly disappointed me, but I will not discuss that here," Post, who is from the S&D group, responded to her fellow MEP. "Salvini has demonstrated to us what we can expect from populist, ultra-right governments: Absolutely no respect for either domestic or European law. Such governments say 'no' to people in need and leave them to die in the sea. Such governments want to register Romani people so they can deport them. Such governments assault, criminalize and exclude those who do not align with their narrow-gauge racial ideas."
"I demand that the nationalists and the ultra-right begin to behave like human beings and stop hunting Romani people as if they were some kind of game!" Post, who is from Sweden, said at the end of her emotional speech. The Greens also harshly objected to Salvini and his policies.
"This parliament 10 years ago clearly stated that the creation of a database of Romani people in Italy is illegal and that such a practice cannot be tolerated," said MEP Romea Franz, a Romani community member from Germany. "Mr Salvini, you are criminalizing an entire minority in Europe. You are supporting hatred and racism. Do you want the same pogroms to happen in Italy as are happening in Ukraine? Mr Salvini, do you want Romani blood on your hands?"
"I am a Sinto Rom, and my family survived the Holocaust," Franz said. "I am here to tell you there is no room in Europe for National Socialism and racism."
Other MEPs asked Salvini to resign because in their view he is committing crimes. Many MEPs reminded Salvini of Italy's Fascist past.
"It is time to recall Europe's tragic history. The last time that laws against Romani people were adopted was 1938, during the Mussolini Government," said MEP Ana Gomes (S&D).
"Salvini must be brought to trial in Italy for inciting hatred and racial discrimination. We must stop the Fascist Salvini!" said Gomes, who is from Portugal.
MEPs from the "Europe of Nations and Freedom" group, which brings together hateful, populist parties from all over Europe, argued that Salvini was elected by Italian citizens who want the policy he advocates. "We are already tired of these lies about minister Salvini and these assaults on him. We are not racists, we just want security, respect for the law, and justice, and for that reason the citizens of Italy voted for us," said MEP Mara Bizzotto, elected for the Lega party.
"Read the newspapers, watch television, every day you will see reports about the problems caused by Romani people. Ask the police, the mayors, the citizens who have the misfortune to live next door to the Romani camps. Italians are tired of Europe giving Romani people millions of euro for integration with no results," continued Bizzotto.
Post responded by calling Bizzotto's appearance racist and xenophobic. MEP Elisabetta Gardini (European People's Party) then said she believed the left was abusing the debate and attacked Italy's former Minister for Integration, current MEP Cécile Kyenge.
"You say we are racists, but you were not born in Italy and yet you are able to represent Italy here, how is that possible?" Gardini shouted at the former minister. Another argument was unleashed after the intervention by MEP Mario Borghezio, another Lega member.
"If the police arrest Romani people during the commission of a crime, those people are incapable of giving an address. Romani people, just like other Italians, must follow the laws, otherwise that would be discrimination against all other citizens," Borghezio said before shouting at his opponents - despite the fact that the microphone had been turned off - that the criticism of Salvini is just "left-wing propaganda".
At the end of the entire exacerbated debate, Commissioner Věra Jourová made her appearance. "I admit that when I first heard that remark about the census of the Romani people, i.e., counting people based on the principle of their race, I was personally shaken and I began to investigate how these matters came about, what can be anticipated next, how the next developments will unfold. Naturally I must also take into consideration and respond to many e-mails and news reports I receive from people who are very concerned about this in Italy, and it is not just Romani people who are affected by such remarks," the Justice Commissioner said.
"We want good collaboration with the Italian Government, it's a Government produced by free elections. I believe good cooperation and dialogue and progress in the matter of the integration of Romani people can be aided by the Romani people themselves," she continued.
"I recently studied some documents related to the conference in Wannsee, where the continuation of the practices of the Nuremberg Laws were at issue, that was also about a census of people on the basis of their racial origin. I do not like to draw historical parallels, but I must say that a parallel does offer itself here, we should recall that we already have experienced this in Europe, that we are playing with fire if we let such matters run and take on a life of their own. It does not matter where it is in Europe, it cannot be allowed to happen that we will relativize our fundamental values, that we will let hatred run amok. I think this is a wake-up call for all of us. Please, let's stop this in time," the Justice Commissioner said at the close of the debate.
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