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Germany: New study shows anti-Romani prejudice has deep roots

Berlin/Prague, 15.9.2014 23:21, (ROMEA)
Romani Rose (PHOTO: sintiundroma.de)
Romani Rose (PHOTO: sintiundroma.de)

At the end of August the results were published of what is the most extensive study to date on the opinions of the German population about Romani and Sinti people in Germany. The research was performed for the Federal Anti-Discrimination Center (the ADS) by the Institute for Research into Conflict and Prejudice and the Institute for Research into Anti-Semitism, using a sample of 2 000 adults.

According to the head of the ADS, Christine Lüders, the findings are "dramatic". Lüders says indifference, lack of awareness and rejection are creating a fatal mixture that prepares the way for discrimination against Roma and Sinti.

The indigenous Romani population of Germany call themselves Sinti and have a significantly different culture from that of other Romani people living in the country. According to estimates, members of these minorities comprise around 0.2 % of the German population.

The aim of the study was not just to verify the stance of the population toward this minority. It focused in particular on people's existing knowledge about the minority, how they handle prejudice and stereotypes about them, how such beliefs are transmitted and what the importance is of this topic in society; answers to those questions could explain the high percentage of dismissive attitudes about Roma and Sinti noted in previous surveys.

Racism out of ignorance

One of the most important results of the study was the finding that every third inhabitant of Germany claims it would be "very" or "rather" unpleasant to have Romani neighbors, with every fourth Christian Democratic voter making that claim. Only one in 10 members of the younger generation share that belief.

No other group in Germany encounters such a low level of sympathy as the Roma do. Half of the population believes Romani people are to blame for this hostility because of their own behavior, half of the population considers travel restrictions for Romani people to be a tried-and-tested means of reducing problems with them, and every fifth inhabitant of Germany has a significantly dismissive attitude toward Romani people.

Romani Rose, chair of the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma, is disturbed by the findings. "The study shows there is significant aversion to Sinti and Roma," he says,"which is why it is possible for such deeply rooted prejudices to keep being reactivated."

Rose believes this view of "Gypsies" as "the enemy" is quite common in Germany. "This study is a warning sign," ADS director Lüders said of the results.

What is particularly striking is that people of all ages and social statuses do not consider Roma their equals. "That means we must all take action to better integrate the Romani minority," Lüders said.

On the basis of these new findings, the ADS will be asking the Government to commission regular reports on discrimination and racism so that the degree of their social exclusion and any eventual developments in it will be more visible and the functionality of any counter-measures chosen will be reviewable. The ADS wants to use campaigns to familiarize the public with the topic, as the study has shown that many people in Germany know nothing at all about the Roma and Sinti.

Greens call for action

Romani Rose says the study has revealed some positive aspects as well. "Of those surveyed, 80 % knew the Roma had been persecuted by National Socialism," he said.

That is a very decent result for the country that perpetrated those abuses. However, there are deviations between the age groups of respondents familiar with such information.

The age group from 25 - 34 knows very little about Romani people, while older inhabitants are better informed about them, revealing a lack of current instruction about them in the schools, particularly in the decade after the unification of Germany. The Government and the larger political parties have not yet responded to the report, but the opposition Greens have issued a detailed statement.

Volker Beck, the Green spokesperson for domestic policy, and Tom Koenigs, the Green spokesperson for human rights policy, said that "It is disgraceful that racist prejudice continues to be so widespread almost 70 years after the genocide of the Sinti and Roma. It is high time for a change in the administration, in the media, in politics and in the schools. We must systematically research the conditions for the creation of antigypsyism, the forms it takes, and raise awareness about Sinti and Roma. A group of experts on both practical and theoretical aspects of this should be entrusted with that work, we will ask for it in the Bundestag. Racist prejudices against Sinti and Roma threaten peaceful coexistence in our society. This mainly is a problem of the majoriy society accepting them. Health care, language courses, participation in the housing and labor markets, a school's inclusion of the children obliged to attend it, all of this is a call for action."

"Most of the federal government is looking to enact a law that would deny refugees from the Western Balkans the right to asylum. Some administrative courts, however, have been casting doubt on the federal policy of rejecting asylum requests filed by Serbian Roma as manifestly unfounded," said a representative of the Refugee Council from the state of Schleswig-Holstein in response to the report.

Catalogue of requirements

The ASD and the Central Council of German Sinti and Roma have compiled a catalogue of requirements, not just of the government, but of educational and research institutions as well. They want to see measures and programs for inclusion avoid ethnicizing these problems and restereotyping Roma and Sinti, arguing that program titles such as "Romani Integration Strategy" could spark even more aversion, as they create the mistaken impression that most Romani people, unlike the rest of the population, are not integrated.

Research to date on this issue has lagged behind, which is why the ADS and Central Council say there is a need to establish an independent university department for the systematic survey of this issue, just as one has long existed in the field of anti-Semitism. Fair access to education, they say, is the key to equality, and an educational academy should be established for the creation of top-notch Romani professionals by facilitating information about educational opportunities and providing tutoring.

Participation in the development of society is only possible when members of minorities are involved - otherwise it can happen that even high-quality integration meausres will not be accepted by minorities. That is why the ASD and Central Council recommend the various states conclude binding agreements with Romani organizations in this area.

Stigmatization of Romani people arises mainly as a result of media reporting on the situation of Romani refugees, most of whom are unsuccessfully attempting to acquire residency in Germany because local authorities and schools in their home countries have long not made it possible for them to participate in the labor market or the schools. The ASD and Central Council say the state should recognize that there is systematic discrimination against Roma in the countries of Southeastern Europe in the areas of education, employment and health care and should ensure that refugee children can succeed in German schools despite the deficits of their circumstances.

Most of the respondents to the survey consider Romani people a foreign element at the bottom of society who allegedly often create their own problems for themselves. The German population doesn't know how to distinguish among Romani people as individuals and is unfamiliar with the diversity and normality of the life of the Romani people, which is why there is a need to improve the knowledge of journalists and teachers in this area.

Criticism of the study

The new study is also encountering criticism from many German Sinti. Richard Laubinger of the Sinti Allianz Deutschland group said some of the questions used by the survey created false impressions.

For example, the question of whether restricting entry by Romani people onto German territory might improve the situation suggests that most Romani people living in Germany are of foreign origin and have only recently immigrated. "We Sinti are not just arriving here. We have been living in Germany and at home here for more than 600 years. We may have been here longer than many of the ancestors of many other Germans," Laubinger said, who is asking the ADS to leave the Sinti out of such studies in the future,"and for we have had good relationships with our neighbors here for decades."

What does this mean for the Czech Republic?

The Týden.cz news server in the Czech Republic commented on the publication of the results of German study as follows: "It's not that long ago that Germany and other Western countries were charging Central and Eastern Europe with racism over its approach to Romani people. However, all it has taken has been a few years during which thousands of Romani people, mainly from the Balkans, have begun moving to Germany, and the Germans have started showing themselves to be 'racists'."

Týden.cz forgot to add that according to a recent, similar survey conducted by the STEM public opinion poll this March, nine out of 10 inhabitants of the Czech Republic do not want to have Romani people as their neighbors. Sociologist Jan Herzmann told the media that such a high percentage, from a scientific point of view, means "practically everyone" in the country shares that view.

Such surveys in the Czech Republic have not yet been as extensive as the one now published in Germany. However, that does not mean Germany is either less or more racist than any other country where open racism rules and people have no problem admitting to it.

Hidden racism toward ethnic minorities can be transformed into open racism, mainly in cases of serious crises, and can lead to violence. That is why extensive new studies of the issue are so valuable.

Markus Pape, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Anticiganismus, Germany, Průzkum, Předsudky



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