For pride and the respect of the European Roma’s dignity: ‘Roma Pride!’
BENJAMIN ABTANWe had to walk for a good half-hour, on a narrow path, through the wild grass, under the blazing sun, sometimes even through the mud, to finally reach the site of the former Roma concentration camp in Lety, about an hour’s drive from Prague. There, where still-incomplete historical research indicates that between 1,000 and 1,500 Roma people died, we found only a tiny plate, lost in the middle of the field, briefly explaining what had happened 70 years ago. Constantly churned up by the wind, the foul odor of thousands of pigs was ever-present: today an industrial pig farm defiles the site, together with the memory of those who died.
An additional symbolic violence: a sign with the European Union flag certifying the receipt of grants by the farm from the EU hangs from a fence. A few hundred meters from there, above the mass graves, the Czech government decided to build a small memorial, difficult to access and bordering agricultural fields.
What does the defilement of the Lety site tell us?
It tells us about an attempt to erase a past that will not go away; about the indifference regarding certain sufferings and certain individuals; about the connection of the genocide then to today’s racist violence.
But it also tells us a story of commitment to memory: a manifestation of dignity and solidarity, with which human rights militants, Roma and non-Roma, have organized the first European commemoration on this site. Eighteen countries were represented at the event, which spoke of the shared sentiment of European belonging, of common attachment to the values of democracy.
In this way, the defilement of Lety expresses part of contemporary European history.
Indeed, all over the continent, racist acts of violence are perpetrated against the Roma people. They sometimes take the shape of physical violence, from aggression to lynching or murder; of territorial segregation or settlements; of neighborhoods separated by walls where the electricity and running water are cut off. Racist acts are equally to be found in discourses marred by stereotypes or even calls for hatred from authoritative figures, particularly elected officials or ministers. Racism is present in political measures, in particular ethnically targeted expulsion; in daily discriminations in all sectors of life. Roma children are forced not to attend school or to attend second-rate schools designed especially for them, thus destroying all hope for the future. And everywhere, the racial persecution is articulated by relentless social domination.
“Roma Pride!” is the name of our civil response to this deadly dynamic. It is in order to manifest equality and dignity in Europe that we come together to enthusiastically organize, on the same day (Oct. 5) in more than 15 countries, this fourth edition of Roma Pride.
This mobilization is rooted in the solidarity with which millions of people all over Europe are engaged in local or national, individual or collective initiatives against racism and discrimination. Roma Pride is possible due to the inalienable attachment of the citizen to human rights and the values of democracy all over the continent.
Roma Pride aims to give the youth hope for the future, and to fight for their right to benefit from a good education, an education that would allow them to find their way, to shape their own life without the suffocating constraints imposed by racism. It also strives to re-establish the dignity of the living and the deceased, by trying to convince the Czech government to relocate the pig farm, in order to heal a painful wound in our memory.
Moreover, it aims to consolidate solidarity networks, which can function as safety nets against racism and as stepping stones toward an egalitarian society. Equally, it seeks to push the European, national and local authorities to engage in and promote active, incentivizing and binding policies which will lead to an end to racial and social discriminations.
And finally, the Roma Pride intends to be a joyful celebration of the diversity of Roma identities and cultures, which have been for centuries organically linked to European ones.
Let’s come together for the Roma Pride on Oct. 5 in more than 15 countries and celebrate, across Roma cultures, a Europe of Dignity and Human Rights!
Benjamin Abtan is president of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement - EGAM. The above article was signed by a European Collective of Roma and antiracist NGOs from 27 countries.