Monday, 21 October 2013

EUROPEAN RACISM AND GYPSIES: the new "Distant Mirror"

There is a new "Distant Mirror" that Europeans need to look into and see what is staring back at them. Is what they see in this societal mirror freedom and democracy, pluralism and social justice, an open society for all people with the promise for progress based on merit criteria? Or is the societal mirror darkened by the suffering of non-white immigrants, non-Christian communities, roaming gypsies trying to survive another day begging in the streets?  

The recent revelation of a four-year old blonde child (Maria) apparently of Bulgarian origin found to be living with Greek gypsies has attracted a great deal of attention throughout the European mainstream media and government. This international news headline almost coincided with that of a gypsy teenager arrested and deported from France. In the case of Maria the blonde child, presumably sold, traded, abducted or given to gypsies, the media and politicians have been using it to invoke fear and dread of child trafficking that involves gypsies. INTERPOL has informed the Greek government that the little blonde child is not on the list of missing persons internationally, nor is she on any national register. The issue of child trafficking is global and in Europe it has been centered in the Balkans, involving money making operations and everyone from lawyers to corrupt public officials. However, this is an issue in which white Christian Europeans are at the center, and Roma elements used as a pretext to cover the illegal operations.

In the case of  Leonarda Dibrani that the French deported with her family to Kosovo in early October 2013 the media has been trying to present as an isolated incident of a bureaucratic problem for which the Socialist government in Paris is responsible. Both cases are a manifestation of the racism that runs very deep across Europe, the scapegoating that people seek in difficult economic periods, the common street prejudice that becomes part of folklore and a segment of the population accepts as real as the sun as the earth's source of light.

This article is not intended to comment on the legal aspects of these cases, nor on their legal merits and of those involved in them. Instead, this is an attempt to place the issue of gypsies in European society in some historical context and to explain why such cases attract so much international media, political and public attention, considering that these are mostly "human interest" stories with political subplots, at a time that there are so many serious societal problems.

In neither the French case of the deported teenager nor of the Greek case of the Bulgarian girl living with gypsy parents is there much emphasis on the deep historical roots of anti-gypsy mindset and practice that dates as far back as the 13th century, and it remains as the longest and most vibrant racist mode of though in Europe. The unfortunate reality is that the media and politicians simply take for granted the assumptions of the majority of the population about gypsies, always remembering to place the issue in "politically correct" terminology.

From the time of the Ottoman Empire's expansion into the heart of Europe in the 16th century until the Nazi holocaust that included gypsies as targets for extermination, Europeans have entertained anti-gypsy (antiziganism) tendencies that remain deeply imbedded in white Christian culture. That gypsies took white children is an old tale, but in reality gypsy children with one non-gypsy parent were taken from their parents at the age of five to be raised by a Christian family in 18th century Austria, while in 18th and 19th century Romania gypsies were used as slaves by rich landowners, monasteries and princes. In today's Europe, a few gypsies do not collect or steal children, but they do work with unscrupulous lawyers and corrupt public officials to sell children mostly from Eastern Europe to childless parents. This too is a reflection of the European institutional mainstream, and not necessarily of gypsies who sell everything from scrap metal to fruits and vegetables.

In folklore, the Europeans invariably associated with Satan worship, witchcraft, non-conformity to indigenous culture, thus anti-social and anti-establishment "untouchables" of Europe with origin in India, moving into Europe around the same time as the Seljuk Turk attacks on the Byzantium in the 13th century. By the 15th century when the Black Death was in full swing, gypsies lived throughout Europe. Many Christian Europeans assumed that gypsies were carriers of the Black Death, largely because they were roaming from one place to another, thus carrying the disease.

The Roma (gypsies) were the target of every European society from Tsarist Russia to the Iberian peninsula. Besides expulsions from local areas, gypsies were also subjected to torture, such as flogging, cutting off their ears, branded with irons, etc. Society needed a scapegoat for calamities that befall upon it and it was convenient to have the gypsies that were the ultimate outcasts and underclass of society. Representing the lowest social ladder of European society, and having no permanent affiliation with any societal institution, gypsies were believed to be potential enemies of the institutional mainstream against whom one must always be on guard. Free from institutional constraints, they have always been free to make a living in any manner, especially illegal activities that include trafficking, prostitution, narcotics, and especially theft.

But why do we have the persistence in the public mind about tales of gypsies stealing children. Actually, in Romania there was a tradition of a Christian family offering to a gypsy woman a sickly child, partly because it was assumed that gypsies were healers. Without any institutional legitimacy, or social respect, the gypsies because easy targets for Nazis who executed between 500,000 and 1,5 million in the 'other' holocaust. Unlike the holocaust suffered by the Jews in the hands of Nazis, the gypsy holocaust is mentioned, but very few people and no institution or government would bother treating the gypsy holocaust like the Jewish one, because white Europeans simply do not feel guilty about Germany eliminating hundreds of thousands of gypsies, mostly non-white, non-Christian, non-conformist.

In today's Europe, there are those who want gypsies out of their country, or at best concentrated in ghettos, which is essentially what exists, although they are very dispersed. In many former Communist countries of Eastern and East-Central Europe, the segregation is legalized, and it includes separate schools for gypsy children. Nevertheless,  the Christian majority often complains that gypsies are a drain on the precious resources of the state, everything from health care and education to other welfare benefits, including those of child rearing. Given that the "gypsy" issue is one that conservative political parties across Europe see as a problem for society, France above all during the Sarkozy presidency, neo-Nazis and neo-Fascists have also used the issue as part of the anti-immigration trend targeting Muslims and Africans.

According to the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights the incidents of racist violence has been rising in the last decade or so.  All across Europe the victims are gypsies, Muslims and African immigrants. 
Given that the political climate is against them as parasites and outcasts, gypsies have been subject to violence by hate groups. Because the police and courts are a reflection of society, they turn a blind eye to violence against gypsies and to violence within gypsy communities. Although the Council of Europe and human rights organizations have put together reports of anti-gypsy crimes, hardly anything is done because there is a presumption of guilt for the gypsy that mainstream institutions and society at large regard as parasites and a social stigma.

Hitler struck a sensitive cord in his propaganda when he argued that people do not want to bother with the structural political, social and economic causes of why things are not going well in society; people want, in fact they need, according to Hitler, someone specifically to blame for their problems and to hate. Society needs someone to blame and hate for its problems, so why not the roaming gypsies that are not part of mainstream society, they are not of the same God and country.

The gypsy girl that France under a Socialist president deported, as though it needed more evidence that even middle class French Socialists can be just as racists as their conservative counterparts under Sarkozy illustrates that white Europeans feel no guilt for their racism; just as post-WWII Europe simply brushed over the gypsy holocaust victims, focusing primarily on the Jews. The case of the four-year old blonde Bulgarian girl living with Greek gypsies is another case illustrating that society is ready to use such incidents to cry out against gypsies "milking the welfare system" by claiming as many children as possible; of gypsies posing a threat to the otherwise outstanding social fabric; of gypsies representing a stigma on a society that would be better off if they were either in concentration camps with the illegal refugees or out of the country or back behind the old "Iron Curtain". The ultimate irony and a reflection of the hypocrisy of racist society is that the ethnic prejudice toward the Bulgarian child is overlooked because an even larger "social enemy", namely the gypsy, is the target. Let's face it, there is hierarchy in prejudice and racism, and some ethnic, racial and religious groups rank lower than others!

These two cases illustrate nothing about the gypsies, but speak volumes of white Christians, of European "open society under democratic regimes", of a white European value system that has more in common with the mindset that prevailed during the Black Death and the age of witchcraft in the Elizabethan era. The Distant Mirror, as Barbara Tuchman entitled her book about societal prejudices, and religiously-sanctioned and government-supported acts of injustice in the age of the Black Death, remains very much a part of the 21st century. I have no doubt that it makes many Europeans feel better about themselves that are are gypsies around because a good scapegoat, especially one that does not induce guilt feelings, is always good to have around. Is there a better distraction that politicians and the media can use than gypsies to redirect the attention of people from structural problems ranging from unemployment and lower living standards for the middle class and workers to crony capitalism that has been institutionalized as corporate welfare. None of these are "real problems", as long as we have the gypsies around, along with the Muslim and African immigrants invading white Christian Europe.

Postscript: reply to comment from Linkedin member:
 "Social exclusion" vs. societal integration was an issue with the Jews under the Czars in the Russian Empire. The question is why was there social exclusion of the Russian Jews, who lived in a semi-marginalized existence, vs. the gypsies, most of whom are in the periphery of the economy, both legal and underground, while a small percentage across Europe are part of the social mainstream. Since I wrote the article on the gypsies, the second one I have written in the last three years, first entitled "Europe's Werewolves" in connection with French racism, there has been a deluge of commentary by the media, politicians and commentators against gypsies from Ireland to Bulgaria. I maintain that Europeans feel no guilt immersing themselves in racism known as anti-tsiganist.  Despite numerous warnings issued by the European Commission, the European Parliament, the United Nations, Vatican and all the international human rights associations, a number of governments, most notably the French where the neo-Fascist party of Marine Le Pen is gaining in popularity, have continued blatant discrimination and persecution of the Roma. Europeans are even more anti-tsiganist now than they were five-ten years ago, Racism is on the rise and in the mind of the prejudiced Christians gypsies are right there along the Muslims who make every effort to integrate in mainstream society. Pure and simple, it makes white Christians feel good to have a scapegoat for their problems, instead of looking at themselves in the mirror.

No comments: