MEP Romeo Franz tells Romani demonstrators in Brussels: Politicians must consider us Roma equal partners
On 8 July, 70 Romani people from Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Hungary, Slovakia, the UK and elsewhere demonstrated in front of the European Parliament in Brussels together. ROMEA TV broadcast the demonstration live.
"In our countries - in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria - our governments do not want to hear what we have to say. For that reason we, as citizens of the EU, have decided to demonstrate for our rights here. We Roma have been living in Europe for more than 900 years and we are a part of it," said organizer Štefan Pongo.
The protesters are bothered by the fact that EU money sent to the Member States in order to combat poverty is instead apparently ending up in private hands while the situation of tens of thousands of Romani people living in poverty is not changing at all. They also pointed to the growing radicalization of societies and warned against the racial hatred that ethnic Roma have been subjected to many times in the past.
The organizers are proposing the establishment of a Romani Congress to which Romani representatives from all EU Member States would be elected. Czech MEP Tomáš Zdechovský (Christian Democrats - KDU-ČSL) spoke to the demonstrators at the beginning of their protest.
"It's combating poverty, enormous unemployment, and in some countries, it's also human rights that the Member States have to change their approach to," he said. In his view, what is appropriate is a harsher approach toward countries that do not facilitate Romani people's access to education, for example, or that are maintaining the existence of ghettos populated by Roma.
"The European Parliament is already doing rather a lot for such change," Zdechovský opined, reminding the demonstrators of the regular organization of Roma Week at the EP. "It's necessary to constantly present positive examples and draw attention to the fact that the situation of Romani people in Europe is not a good one. Many Romani people are living on the edge of poverty, do not have the education they need, and many live in circumstances that are not acceptable in the 21st century. You need to keep assembling, regularly, not just today, but also in the future, in even greater numbers, and reminding Europe that the Roma were the first to be exterminated by the Nazis, to be interned in the concentration camps," he said before going on to recall the impact of efforts to assimilate the Roma during communism.
Zdechovský then received the organizers' "Charter of the Romani People", in an envelope, from those present. He and the German MEP Romeo Franz, who has Romani roots, then opened it.
Franz spoke to those present in Romanes. "The Roma are not a problem, the Sinti are not a problem. The problem is racism. It's up to us to work with the majority. Antigypsyism is the reason that Romani people live in poverty, and politicians have to see that they must consider us equal partners. We do not want to be victims any longer, we want equal participation in inclusion strategies for our people," he declared.
Speakers warn that the number of excluded localities is increasing
Emil Voráč, the director of the Khamoro organization, which works in the Sokolov area of the Czech Republic, also addressed the demonstration. In his speech he pointed out that subsidies for projects focused on aid to families and the socially vulnerable are being abused there.
"We did not come here because we want more than anybody else. We did not come here because we want preferential treatment. We came here because we want justice. We want democracy to create room for all of us. The Roma are being removed, even though we have been living in a democracy for 30 years [in the Czech Republic]. Billions have been spent on integrating Romani communities. During those 30 years, the number of excluded areas has risen by 550 % [in the Czech Republic], paid for with resources from those subsidy programs. That's the problem," Voráč said.
Another speaker was the Romani activist Jozef Miker. He pointed to the fact that there are people among the Roma who also contribute to trafficking in poverty [in the Czech Republic].
Miker also highlighted the role being played by young Romani men and women who are studying. "The world belongs to educated young Roma. We older people are here to support the younger ones. They have our backs, they are the ones making sure there will not be discussions about Romani people without Romani people. We must be represented when it comes to discussions about us," Miker said.
"We must work so that our children don't curse us for the lives we have prepared for them, so that our parents don't turn over in their graves. History must never repeat itself, concentration camps and labor camps must never again be built for people of a different skin color, or religion, or sexual orientation," Miker said.
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