Europe’s racism: Blonde angles and closed borders

Two events have made me ashamed of being European in recent weeks. First, more than 300 human die in the waters of the Mediterranean of Lampedusa trying to reach Europe. Poor and persecuted, woman, men and and children drown in the sea. The response of many, including Italian prime minister was  shock and recognition of the tragedy. However, the only policy response was muddled and shameful: it is about strengthening Europe’s borders. The stated goal is to also prevent people smuggling, but it is cynical to respond to the death of migrants with stronger controls.

Just a few days ago, European media, from Greece to Britain reported about a ‘blond angel’ found in a Roma camp in Greece. The immediate assumption of the many media reports was that the child, who was not biologically related to her parents, was abducted and that it must have been from Scandinavia or somewhere north due to the blonde hair and green eyes. The racist imaginary in these reports is striking on many levels. Besides (mostly unconsciously) drawing on old stereotypes about Roma abducting non-Roma children, it assumes that blonds cannot be Roma and the assumption that the child was used by the family. While European media might have been more sensitive if the case had involved Jews, Roma remain fair game for such stereotypes.

Much attention is paid when Front Nationale wins a by-election or the Freedom Party does well in Austria. However, the real worry should be elsewhere, the racism of the media that seem acceptable and the willingness of Europe to let refugees drown off its shore to protect some imaginary splendid isolation. Both events highlight that isolationism and xenophobia are no longer a national concern, but a European one and that just being European (and favoring European integration) is not enough. Europe needs a debate about racism and how we marginalize millions of Roma (and others) in our midst and we need a debate about migration and how Europe has become an immigrant society and how it needs to confront refugees risking their lives and often lots of money to get to Europe not with more border controls, but with more openness and support for those in need.

Don’t let the Roma represent themselves, they can’t be trusted

Some interviews are best without any comment. Here is an interview with Bela Kurina, who represents the Roma Democratic Party in the Novi Sad assembly. The party caught some attention in May already for not having a SINGLE Roma representative among the six candidates it received after winning 6.4 % of the vote in local elections. Kurin, a former official of JUL and DSS, noted that there are Herzegovinians, Slavonians and Montenegrins on the list, but Roma could be too easily bought to be put on the list.  It isn’t clear who the president of the party is as Blic notes that the president is Tomislav Bokan, who also used to be a DSS official and for the SRS and put three family members on the party list [comment by Kurin: if there were 78 Bokans, they would all be on the list of the party].  There have been some suggestions in Danas, that its electoral success might have been helped by, how shall we call it, some financial assistance to voters.

Now Kurin gave an interview a la for the Vojvodina show politbiro that was re-broadcast on RTS in the talk show “Da mozda ne” on 13 December 2012.

Here are some highlights in English:

“Imagine that we would have Roma on the list of candidates for councilors. This is something I could not allow. You know what happens, not just here, but also in general in Serbia in parliament that the seat [of an MP of councilor] belongs to the person and not the party and that he can decide with whom to be. We simply did not want to have people in the party who will sell themselves… The only party that until the end of the four year mandate [he has a bit of hard time getting that straight], the Roma Democratic Party cannot be manipulated with and not one councilor can be bought because these are people with a material basis and serious, and I think that there is no price for buying councilors of party.”

“We asked from them for the city cleaning considering, as you know, this is Roma business, or rather Roma mostly work there… we were promised this by [the DS] and when we asked for this after the formation of local government, this [option] was for a reason I don’t know eliminated.”

“We also asked for half of the gardening services…in the end we ourselfs said, don’t give us the gardening services, just give us the cleaning services. If we manage this, we can see what we can do, but they did not give it out, they want to control everything.”

And thus the incorruptable Roma Democratic Party broke with the Democratic Party and joined the Progressive Party in their new city government. Now they got their control over the cleaning services, as well as Urbanism (including tourism). And thus the benevolent non-Roma can unselfishly employ some more Roma in Novi Sad.

[thanks to Dušan Pavlović for drawing my attention to this interview]

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