I spent this past week in Budapest with a group of 40 incredible volunteers from around the world who care deeply about the unjust treatment the Romani [Roma] people experience. Kristen, Matt, Dave, Miriam, and I attended the conference together and we learned a great deal about the issues surrounding the Roma in Europe. The week was a wonderful time to reconnect with the other YAGMs and served as an extensive learning experience for all of us; we were largely uninformed about the topic because the American media hardly covers the events involving the Roma. We were also given time to form initiatives that we will pursue at our volunteer placements and/or at our homes.
In addition to discussing where anti-gypsyism and stereotypes come from, we analyzed how different forms of media portray the Romani people, learned about the attacks against Roma in Hungary in 2008-2009, attended a demonstration against racism, and simulated a hearing of the ‘Extraordinary Commission on the Roma Problem in France.’ Needless to say, it was a full week.
In 2008-2009, attacks against Roma in Hungary left six people dead, three people seriously wounded, and one person received minor injuries. Shotguns were used in every attack and Molotov cocktails were used in three attacks. Four people have been arrested for their involvement in the attacks but a ruling has yet to be made.
Here is a link to outline the events: http://www.red-network.eu/?i=red-network.en.items&id=396
In 2010, a number of Roma from Romania became refugees after they settled in France in accordance with their rights of free movement as European Union citizens. The French government initiated a repatriation program, which expelled thousands of Roma from the country only to send them back to countries they left by their own means. France’s leaders then pledged to spend three months breaking down half of the 539 illegal Romani camps that, according to them, were sources of illegal trafficking and horrendous living conditions. During this time the French government gained popularity for taking strong action against the Roma minority, but it was also criticized for discrimination of the Roma and questions were raised by the European Commission to in order to determine if France violated European laws of free movement.
A link about the situation: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11020429
On Friday afternoon we attended a demonstration in Szent Istvan’s Square to end racism. As a sign of solidarity through the ages, there was a group of traditional Hungarian folk dancers who first performed for the crowd and then taught us all to dance. After dancing together a young Roma man performed a song about the 2008-2009 attacks, and then a number of white balloons were released. It was beautiful.
As I said earlier it was a full week but we all came away with knowledge of the Roma situation in Europe and motivation to take action towards change. I really enjoyed my time at the conference, and, in accordance with the initiative that I developed, will keep you updated on news about the Roma minority.