The murder of George Floyd was a terrible act fueled by nothing else but pure evil. For me, as someone who is devoted to social equality and justice, it is quite encouraging to see so many of my fellow Kosovars condemning it and standing with black people. They are not hesitant to use the word “racism.”
But then again, seeing where we, the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians stand in society, the level of poverty we are faced with and the exclusion we find ourselves in, I feel that many Kosovars are unfortunately hypocritical.
Well-known singer Rambo Amadeus recently said, “Racism in the Balkans cannot be measured by how we position ourselves toward the blacks, because they are not part of our society. It is rather measured by our behavior toward the Roma. How many of them do you know personally? How many of them are you friends with?”
Indeed, I myself meet and come across many Kosovars, other Balkan people and even Europeans who present themselves as rather open-minded and anti-racist; and they truly are, on all the world’s subjects except for the Roma. Because, when it comes to the Roma, well they “keep an eye open.”
For many, this kind of behavior is simply natural. A product of hundreds of years of oppression, discrimination and exclusion. For many, unfortunately, a Roma person simply doesn’t count as a real human, they are similar to black people during slavery in the U.S. who were worth 3/5 of a person.
All those years embedded with such perceptions have made these behaviors a part of our DNA. For both sides. The Roma, who see oppression as something completely normal because we continue to believe that asking for a bit more may provoke the “Gadje” (the term Roma use to describe non-Roma) to take from us even this little we have. For the Gadje, if you oppress Roma, you do no harm.
That’s why many open-minded and anti-racist people usually have a second thought when they are faced with a situation to allow, or maybe it’s better to say, to not allow the Roma to pass through their land; they are eager to use Romani workers for the dirtiest of jobs and pay them a pittance or often not at all; or pass by Roma begging in the streets, kick their money box and regard them as nonhuman, of course fully confident that these Roma arrived at this station in life as a result of their own fault.
I’m therefore happy to see many of my fellow Kosovars standing against racism in the U.S., saying that black lives matter, but then again I’m quite uncomfortable because I know that for many of them, Roma lives don’t matter, or at least not in full, maybe 3/5.
And Kosovo is not alone in this. Anti-Roma sentiment is all over the globe. You see, 9 out of 10 Italians don’t like the Roma; 7 out of 10 French; 6 out of 10 Greeks. Extremist organizations, individuals, public officials and politicians continue to openly discriminate against the Roma at an alarming rate.
While thousands are now protesting in the U.S. against racial discrimination and injustice toward black people in America, in Hungary last month, the neo-fascist organization “Mi Hazánk Mozgalom” (Our Homeland Movement”) and other far-right groups massed on the streets of Budapest in a racist show of strength to protest against so-called “Gypsy crime.”
A forgotten history
Younger generations tend to forget that the Romani people have always been part of European society’s machinery. They were used or shall I say, exploited specifically by the crown, the church and the landowners, to build European societies and nations. Roma were always considered lower than serfs and in some instances, legally enslaved.
The Roma people were also kept in degrading conditions and excluded to make sure that poor non-Roma didn’t rebel against their lot in life. This ensured that whatever your station in life, there was always someone lower down who could do the dirty work and who could be exploited further, so that you could survive in the system of exploitation.
Even now in many villages the best Roma is the one guy who still works for the locals, morning to evening, for whatever they give him. The locals consider him “the best Roma in the village.” The rest who don’t want to work for them are “bad Roma.” They are seen as rebellious and/or traitors.
You are not regarded as a good person if you don’t work as a servant. You may even be considered a criminal, as you are no good for the purpose you are supposed to be for and therefore must be eradicated.
That’s at least how some still feel in Hungary nowadays. In parallel to numerous messages that come from the U.S. that racism must be eliminated, some Hungarians sent the message that “Eradicating Gypsies = Eradicating crime” by writing it on the Roma Holocaust Memorial in Budapest.
Are you a part of the problem or solution?
The Gadje in Kosovo have to understand that we, the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, want a truly multiethnic and multicultural society, where we are treated as equals by the state and across wider society.
We want a Kosovo where we have access to the same opportunities as everyone else, where we are empowered to exercise our rights and our responsibilities.
A Kosovo where we can have decent employment, both publicly and privately, working with dignity to provide for our families. Where we have access to and make use of decent quality public infrastructure, where services are available and accessible locally. A Kosovo where the health system improves our life expectancy. A Kosovo where Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian women are not oppressed and underrepresented.
We the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians of Kosovo are mobilizing to achieve these goals and bring those solutions. You, the Gadje, must understand that if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem.
That problem even has a name: Anti-Gypsyism. It’s defined as the prejudice against the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptians, or the expression of negative stereotypes in the public sphere through hate speech. It’s also a wider spectrum of discriminatory expressions and practices including various implicit or hidden manifestations. Something, that is not only to do with things said or done, but also things that are not said or done.
The color of our skin doesn’t define us.
The murderers of George Floyd must be held responsible. That is important because it will show the world that George’s life mattered. That all black lives matter.
Feature image: Courtesy of the author.