William Lazarus Bila: Roma joining the bandwagon on anti-refugee campaigns
I am angry and disappointed. Despite the recent Hungarian Migrant Quota Referendum being deemed invalid and not succeeding in obtaining enough voter participation to have any significant meaning, the Hungarian Prime Minister and his followers have already begun spinning this failure into a success story for the delusional and uninformed. We need to stop this, for Europe.
Deutsche Welle reports that a total of 147 Roma Minority Self-Government leaders signed a statement condemning the migrant quotas and calling for people to vote “No” in the referendum. How can any Hungarian Roma support the call for this referendum, speak out against migrants as a danger, and support racist anti- immigrant ideology? To do so is at the very least an embarrassment. In my opinion it is extremely shameful, morally reprehensible, hypocritical, grossly negligent, possibly ignorant and absolutely anti-European. Ladj. Inexcusable. Is it understandable or forgivable? Let’s examine this.
Freedom of movement of European citizens, i.e. freedom of movement for labor, capital, goods and services, is a fundamental cornerstone of the Union. Roma benefit from this and have been allowed to leave the unemployment and discrimination of their home countries to look for work and take control of their lives. Many Roma in Eastern Europe benefit from remittances sent by family members from North America and Western Europe. Why would any of us want to prevent any other people from basically doing the same? Where is our solidarity with other Roma and our solidarity with the migrant groups from places like Syria? They want the same thing we do: safety and the right to live their lives away from persecution. We Roma are ourselves aware of the racism and discrimination that exists against us and against any newcomers across all of Europe. We suffer from it. How can we repeat this injustice and subject others to it by joining in this game of picking on the refugees? This is not solidarity. This is not the behavior of rationally thinking adults. We know that when populist leaders no longer deem the Syrian asylum seekers as a threat, the next target will be us. So, why do any of us participate in subjecting others to the same wrongful discrimination we have experienced and will continue to experience by repeating the cycle of scapegoating? We want a culture change, we want acceptance, but if we cannot demonstrate it ourselves, how can we expect others to change their way of thinking?
These Roma leaders were motivated by short-sighted opportunism. In supporting the referendum they offered a complete surrendering of their power. Standing with the oppressor, they may have hoped to be remembered and rewarded in the future, but power doesn’t work that way. There is no reason for anyone to follow through on such promises.
Who are these leaders and why did they say this? Do they really speak for a significant portion of Roma in Hungary? Were there any special circumstances why they would be more fearful now than in the past about their situation getting any worse? What could prompt such a stance? Do they see any irony in standing up in support of anti-European Orban, when it is the European Union who is working on their behalf to bring about change for Roma within Hungary?
Roma have no future within a Europe of divided nation states.
This wave of anti-migrant sentiment is not unique to Roma in Hungary. It is happening among Roma in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Germany, France and other countries. We have Roma groups that have completely succumbed to Islamophobia, unaware of the fact that across Europe we also have Roma who are Muslims. Perhaps a certain amount of ignorance can be forgiven, as we all have something to learn about other people. It is a life-long process to learn about others. The first part of that learning process, however, should be awareness of our own behavior. We should learn to recognize situations when someone, anyone at all, has been labelled as “the other”.
We cannot support populism, nationalism, or any phobia that dehumanizes “the other”. Falling victim to the disease of dehumanization is easy for any human being, and that is understandable, but not speaking up about it when we see it happening in our own communities is not forgivable. We have to speak up. Now.
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