Romani Rose: States that collaborated with Nazi Germany have not come to grips with that past
In an interview with the German daily Bonner General-Anzeiger published in mid-February, Romani Rose, chair of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, discussed the situation for his minority in Central and Eastern Europe. When asked why many Roma living in Bulgaria and Romania were better off before 1989, Rose said the same applied to many post-communist states.
"More than 80 % of the Roma had jobs then. Today there are regions where 90 % of the Roma are unemployed. That is a formidable lack of prospects," Rose said. With respect to the high EU subsidies being offered for Roma integration, he asked that the use of those finances be reviewed. "That money cannot just be allowed to leak away, or what is even more surprising, to not be drawn on at all. The only possible interpretation in that case is that these countries do not intend to change the state of our exclusion from society," he said.
According to Rose, strong anti-Gypsyism particularly reigns in the states that collaborated with the Nazis during the war. "The Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia have never thoroughly come to groups with their shared responsibility for the crimes committed against Jewish and Roma people." He believes this is related to the current rise in neo-Nazi parties in these countries. "We also have the NPD here [in Germany], but there is also broad resistance to it. That's the difference," he said.
Rose's opinions are considered objectionable at the very least among historians. The states concerned were either occupied by the German Wehrmacht during Nazism, or were governed by puppet regimes installed by Hitler's Germany. It is true that with the exception of the Poles, most of the populations of those countries either passively or willingly collaborated with the Nazi regime, as did the German population. On the other hand, the Nazis murdered no small number of the members of the ethnic majority populations in those states. Primarily, however, there were no democratically elected governments in those countries to support the genocide of the Roma as executors of the people's will. The post-war communist system prevented those societies from freely coming to terms with the ideological inheritance left them by the Nazis. After 1989, democratically elected governments only hesitantly supported research into the history of the Holocaust.
In relation to the recent temporary removal of Roma people from France, Rose said the main reason for the French government's repressive policy was that French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been facing massive criticism over his domestic policies. The Roma people in question served as his scapegoats. Their deportation was just a maneuver to draw attention away from the deficiencies in other areas of his policy. "I am very glad the EU resolutely rejected him, as did the French public. Silvio Berlusconi is playing the same tune, by the way," Rose said.
When asked how things are in Germany, Rose said that according to research performed by his organization, 76 % of Roma people in Germany face discrimination in education, housing and jobs. "This horrid fact also explains why the better part of the Roma and Sinti minority live anonymously [not expressing their ethnicity]," he said. Rose did point out that today some Roma have been presenting themselves as Roma in a program on the second channel of German public broadcast television, including the head commissioner of the criminal police in Kehl, a journalist in Hamburg, an advertising expert working for the well-known Metro firm, and a department head at a nuclear power plant. "Many Roma are also working in sports, in the past one of the most famous German footballers was Roma, as was Jean-Marie Pfaff, a former goalie for Belgium," Rose said. When asked what he says to people who mostly only encounter Roma as beggars, he points out that Roma are not the only people who beg. "Most Roma people live normally in society. Based on the behavior of some individuals a myth has been created about the character of the entire nation. That won't get us anywhere."
Rose, who was born just after the war, lost 13 relatives in the German concentration camps. Since 1982 he has been chair of the main organization of German Sinti and Roma. At the end of January he managed to have Roma survivors of Nazi persecution speak in the German Parliament for the first time ever. "Unfortunately, it was too late for many of the Holocaust survivors who would have loved to have been there. That generation is dying out," Rose said.
After two years of wrangling, this year a key memorial to the Holocaust of the European Roma will finally be unveiled in Berlin. Rose's organization has fought for this memorial for more than 10 years. Rose has also personally sharply criticized both the Czech and German governments for permitting the operation of a large-scale pig farm on the site where Czech Roma suffered during WWII at Lety by Písek.
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